US House seeks to sanction ICC after warrant seeking for Israel’s Netanyahu

Approval in Senate unlikely, but vote illustrates continued unconditional support for Israel among US lawmakers.

The International Criminal Court, or ICC, is seen in The Hague, Netherlands
The International Criminal Court is based in The Hague, Netherlands [Peter Dejong/AP Photo]

United States lawmakers have passed legislation that aims to sanction the International Criminal Court (ICC) due to the efforts by its prosecutor to seek arrest warrants for top Israeli officials for alleged war crimes in Gaza.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 247-155 in favour of the Illegitimate Court Counteraction Act on Tuesday. The bill would bar US entry and restrict any US-based property transactions for ICC officials involved with the request by prosecutor Karim Khan for arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The vote is viewed as largely symbolic, but it illustrates the unconditional support that persists among the majority of lawmakers in the main parties in the US.

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro said several procedural hoops remain before any sanctions could be enforced.

While US President Joe Biden expressed “deep concerns” about the bid for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Gallant, he has strongly opposed sanctions against the ICC, saying they were “going too far”.

The proposal is unlikely to be passed by the Senate, which is narrowly controlled by the Democrats, said Zhou-Castro.

“It’s unclear whether or not the majority leader there will even take up this measure [and] allow it to be voted upon,” she said.

The final hurdle would be the White House itself, she added, noting that Biden’s opposition means that the threat of a veto looms.

‘International bureaucrats’

Last month, Khan said he had reasonable grounds to believe that Netanyahu, Gallant, and three Hamas leaders – Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Mohammed Deif – “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Netanyahu said the ICC prosecutor’s decision was absurd and that the move was meant to target all of Israel. Neither Israel nor the US are members of the ICC, whose 124 member states will ultimately decide whether to enforce any warrants issued by its judges.

While the US measures are not expected to become law, their approval in the House by almost every Republican and about a fifth of Democrats reflects continuing unconditional support for Israel despite the building international criticism over its eight-month war on Gaza.

“The US firmly stands with Israel and refuses to allow international bureaucrats to baselessly issue arrest warrants to Israeli leadership for false crimes,” said Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson in a statement.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller had told reporters: “Our position as the administration is we don’t support sanctions [against the ICC]. We don’t believe it is appropriate at this time.”

Netanyahu said he was “surprised and disappointed” by that stance in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

Biden announced on Friday that Israel was offering a new roadmap towards a permanent peace, starting with a six-week complete ceasefire.

Netanyahu, however, has insisted that his country will pursue the war until it reaches all of its goals.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies