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Israel wants India by its side against ICC ruling, Delhi silent

The Indian Express has learnt that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom he described recently as a “great friend”, asking India to speak out against the decision, and to send a clear message to the ICC “to stop this assault on justice and common sense”.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian | Mumbai |
Updated: February 11, 2021 7:43:13 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu at Hyderabad House on 15th Jan. 2018. Express photo by Renuka Puri.

Israel is pushing “good friend” India to take a stand against a ruling last week by the International Criminal Court claiming jurisdiction over Palestinian territories, but Delhi, still navigating its way through the big shifts in West Asia, is reluctant to be drawn in, official sources said.

The Indian Express has learnt that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom he described recently as a “great friend”, asking India to speak out against the decision, and to send a clear message to the ICC “to stop this assault on justice and common sense”.

Delhi has not responded to Netanyahu’s February 7 communication, which came two days after the ICC ruling. Instead, the sources said, it has been conveyed through diplomatic channels that since India is not a member of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, it would not want to comment or take a position on any of the court’s decisions or rulings.

Israel, which is also not a member of the Rome Statute, has condemned the ICC ruling as “outrageous” and said the decision had exposed the court as “a political body”. Israel said the ICC “has no authority to make such a decision” since Israel does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction and the Palestinian Authority is not a sovereign state. Netanyahu called the ruling “antisemitism”.

The ICC’s majority 2-1 decision on February 5 was made on the basis of Palestine’s 2015 accession to the Rome Statute after its acceptance as a “non-member observer state” of the UN General Assembly in 2012. The court made it clear that the ruling was not a determination of Palestinian statehood.

The ruling came 14 months after ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said there was “reasonable evidence” that war crimes were being committed in Palestinian territories of West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. She named both the Israeli Defence Forces and Hamas as possible perpetrators.

Israel, which sees India as a “like-minded” nation, expected a positive response from Delhi, especially as the ruling could be a precedent-setter and may come back to bite on Kashmir or other troubled spots, sources said, pointing out that “shutting our eyes to the court does not mean the court does not exist”.

India, which had participated actively in the Preparatory Committee for the Establishment of the ICC, had however abstained from the motion to adopt the Rome Statute, for several reasons, including jurisdictional issues, fearing that the ICC might exercise its jurisdiction in areas such as Kashmir and the North-East, which it considers “internal issues” that are hands off for international actors.

The spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs offered no comment to questions from The Indian Express on Netanyahu’s appeal to Prime Minister Modi, and the reasons for India not saying anything on the issue.

A diplomatic source said it was “not a break or make issue” in bilateral ties, nonetheless a positive response from Delhi would have been “important”.

Earlier, Modi had called Netanyahu on February 1, three days after a blast outside the Israeli embassy in Delhi, assuring him of all cooperation in the investigation into the low-intensity explosion, which Israel said it was treating as a terrorist incident. On January 26, Netanyahu had tweeted greetings to “great friend” Modi on India’s 72nd Republic Day.

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