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ICC prosecutor says Israel's Netanyahu is responsible for crimes including starvation

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is seeking the arrest of leaders of Hamas and leaders of Israel, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah. The ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, has accused top Hamas leaders of crimes in the October 7 attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARIM KHAN: Extermination as a crime against humanity. Murder as a crime against humanity and as a war crime. The taking of hostages as a war crime.

INSKEEP: The prosecutor adds that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his defense minister are responsible for crimes, including starvation and intentionally causing deaths in Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KHAN: Unfortunately, these crimes continue to this day.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is watching all of this from Tel Aviv. Hi there, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: A pretty significant move here.

ESTRIN: Very dramatic. It's the first time the ICC prosecutor is targeting a close ally of the United States. It's not a done deal yet. It's up to a three-judge panel to decide whether to actually issue the arrest warrants. But, you know, the judges could likely rule quickly within days or weeks because an expert panel has already reviewed the evidence before the prosecutor put out this decision. So if arrest warrants are issued, these leaders may have a very hard time traveling. You know, all countries of the European Union are party to the ICC and many others - a very, very serious move for Israel's Netanyahu. This could brand him a world pariah, just like Vladimir Putin in Russia, who faces an ICC arrest warrant.

This could also put pressure on Hamas' political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, who's in Qatar, perhaps less so for the Hamas leaders in Gaza who are in hiding. But big picture, Steve, this could have a snowball effect, not just for leaders. It could bring international sanctions against Israel. It could also affect the genocide case Israel's facing at the International Court of Justice.

INSKEEP: In what way, if at all, can Israelis push back?

ESTRIN: Well, the government in Israel is trying to marshal support around the world. It's calling for countries to come out and pledge not to extradite Israeli leaders if these arrest warrants are issued. And Prime Minister Netanyahu is making the case that this sets a precedent against all democracies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: What a travesty of justice. What a disgrace. The prosecutor's absurd charges against me and Israel's defense minister are merely an attempt to deny Israel the basic right of self-defense.

ESTRIN: Israel does have some support around the world, like from President Biden. He called this move outrageous. He spoke at the White House for Jewish American Heritage Month yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Whatever these warrants may imply, there is no equivalence between Israel and Hamas.

ESTRIN: A spokesman for the U.K.'s prime minister also said the ICC move was not helpful for stopping the war in Gaza. Israel at home is trying to show a united front, Steve. The vast majority of parliament in Israel signed a statement calling the ICC move antisemitic. What is interesting is that Israel's opposition leader, Yair Lapid, is calling for a big diplomatic move to thwart this. He's calling for a kind of a peace process, something that the U.S. has been trying to orchestrate between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

INSKEEP: Oh, big deal involving the Saudis, involving the United States, involving Israelis. And this has been talked about for a while. Is it likely to happen, though?

ESTRIN: It didn't look likely because of Netanyahu and his refusal to commit to some kind of political horizon for Palestinians, a independent state one day. But the ICC move could change the chess moves Netanyahu's looking at now. And the argument the Israeli opposition leader is making is that this could be a lifeline for Israel. The ICC, he argues, won't try a leader in a historic peace process.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.

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