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War on Gaza: Israel will 'punish' Palestinian Authority if ICC issues arrest warrants

Israeli media report Netanyahu is 'unusually stressed', and his government have told the US it will hold PA responsible
Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and US President Joe Biden on 18 October 2023 (AFP)

The Israeli government has told US President Joe Biden’s administration that if the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues arrest warrants against Israeli leaders, it will "punish" the Palestinian Authority, two Israeli and US officials have told Axios. 

The ICC has been investigating possible war crimes committed by both Israeli and Palestinian fighters since 2021, with the probe taking in events going back to the 2014 Gaza war.

Recently, there have been reports that the court, which is based in the Dutch city of The Hague, is poised to issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior political and military figures in Israel.

Two US officials told Axios that the Biden administration has told ICC officials in private that "arrest warrants against Israeli leaders would be a mistake and that the US doesn't support the action".

“We are quietly encouraging the ICC not to do it. It will blow up everything. Israel will retaliate against the Palestinian Authority,” a US official said.

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Over the past few weeks, Israel has told the US that it has information suggesting PA officials are pressing the ICC prosecutor to issue arrest warrants against Israeli leaders, two Israeli officials told Axios.

As a result, if arrest warrants were issued, Israel would "consider the Palestinian Authority responsible and retaliate with strong action that could lead to its collapse". 

One way of "punishing" the PA, which exercises partial civil control over parts of the occupied West Bank, would be for Israel to freeze the transfer of tax revenues it collects for the administration in Ramallah, leaving it facing bankruptcy.

The threats come as senior Israeli figures seek to lobby the ICC not to issue the arrest warrants.

Netanyahu 'frightened and stressed'

The Israeli media has reported that Netanyahu is "frightened and unusually stressed" by the prospect of being issued with an arrest warrant, and that as a result he has been acting like "an elephant in a china shop", hammering the phones and seeking to put pressure on the ICC by any means necessary.

Israel's News 12 channel reported that, as part of this campaign, Netanyahu contacted the headquarters of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a body established by the families of those abducted and taken to Gaza during the Hamas-led 7 October attacks, and asked them to use their relationship with the ICC to lobby on behalf of him and other Israeli figures at risk of being targeted over Israel's war in Gaza.

In February, about 100 families of the captives travelled to The Hague to file a lawsuit against senior Hamas officials. Since then, News 12 reported, they have developed "friendly" relations with the ICC's prosecutor, British lawyer Karim Khan. Netanyahu is reportedly hoping this relationship can be used to sway the court in his favour. 

Other Israeli officials have revealed that they are worried the ICC has already issued the arrest warrants in secret, and that senior Israeli figures would only find this out when they landed on European soil and were faced with the prospect of arrest.

The US official who spoke to Axios said that while there is pressure on the ICC prosecutor to issue the arrest warrants, the Biden administration does not believe the move is as imminent as the Israelis think.

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