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Netanyahu is blinded and cornered by the gathering of increasingly dark clouds

James M. Dorsey



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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other leading Israeli figures appear blinded and progressively cornered by the gathering of increasingly dark clouds.


The clouds, including three separate legal proceedings in international courts against Mr. Netanyahu, other Israeli officials, and the Israeli state, and mass anti-Israeli protests across the globe, threaten to turn Israel into a pariah state.


Add to that stepped-up US scrutiny of the human rights record of Israeli army units, even if the Bidem administrative has refused to take punitive action.


On the principle of ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire,’ Israeli conspiratorial allegations that assertions levelled against it in the court proceedings are the product of anti-Semitism and bias against the descendants of genocide victims hardly constitute a substantive response. They are unlikely to dig Israel out of the deepening hole it has dug for itself.


Mass grave at Al-Nasser Hospital. Source: CBC


In the latest development, International Criminal Court prosecutors have virtually interviewed witnesses and medical staff of two destroyed medical facilities in Gaza, Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and Al Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, about mass graves found on the hospitals’ premises.


The court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, cautioned during recent visits to Israel and the West Bank that Palestinians in Gaza “must have access to basic food, water and desperately needed medical supplies, without further delay, and at pace and at scale.” He warned Mr. Netanyahu’s government: “If you do not do so, do not complain when my office is required to act.”


With Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israel, in response to US pressure, this week reopened the Erez Checkpoint, the sole crossing on the northern edge of Gaza, allowing aid trucks to enter the Strip,


From Mr. Khan’s perspective, that may be too little, too late.


Israeli officials fear that the court is on the verge of indicting and issuing arrest warrants for Mr. Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Israel Defence Force (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt. General Herzl Halevi.


The court is reportedly also looking at indicting Hamas leaders for atrocities committed during the group’s October 7 attack on Israel.


Western diplomats suggest that Mr. Khan may wait to hand down indictments to prevent court actions from complicating Qatar and Egypt-mediated ceasefire and prisoner exchange negotiations between Israel and Hamas.


Caught between a rock and a hard place with his ultra-nationalist coalition partners threatening to bring Mr. Netanyahu’s government down, the prime minister dampened hopes for a deal by insisting Israeli forces would launch an offensive in the southern Gazan enclave of Rafah, home to more than a million Palestinians displaced by the war, with or without a truce.


Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in a bind. Credit: Reuters


“Netanyahu needs a way out. The way out is to blame Hamas” for a failure of the ceasefire negotiations,” said former Israeli Middle East peace negotiator Daniel Levy. “It seems that the Secretary of State and the (US) president have given Netanyahu a way out” by putting the onus on Hamas,” Mr. Levy added.


On his seventh visit to Israel, Mr. Blinken pressured Hamas, saying it would bear the blame for any failure to get a ceasefire deal.


“We are determined to get a cease-fire that brings the hostages home and to get it now, and the only reason that that wouldn’t be achieved is because of Hamas,” Mr. Blinken told Israeli  President Isaac Herzog at a meeting in Tel Aviv.


Beyond the ICC investigations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is deliberating whether South Africa’s assertion that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza has merit. Separately, the court is formulating an opinion requested by the United Nations General Assembly on the legal consequences of Israeli policies in occupied Palestinian territory.


The legal proceedings, particularly in the International Criminal Court, threaten to undermine an already shaky key pillar of Israel’s global positioning: claiming the moral high ground that has been a fixture of Israeli policy since the creation of the state.


Claiming the high ground was a major driver of Israel’s successful attempt in Western countries to conflate criticism of the state and Zionism with anti-Semitism at whatever cost. It also was as much the impetus for Israel’s visceral campaign against the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as was concern about its potential economic and military impact.


Israeli border police and soldiers block Palestinian protesters in the occupied West Bank. Credit: EPA


“Netanyahu is very worried, and not only Netanyahu. This was the moment the whole Israeli elite, which was involved in the occupation and the war in Gaza, was afraid of… This is going to change the whole game,” said Israeli columnist Gideon Levi, one of the most outspoken critics of Israeli policy and the military’s Gaza war conduct.


Responding to a potential indictment, Mr. Netanyahu insisted that Israel would stay its course, regardless of whether the criminal court acts or not.


“International bodies like the ICC arose in the wake of the Holocaust committed against the Jewish people. They were set up to prevent such horrors, to prevent such genocides. Yet now, the international court is trying to put Israel in the dock. Branding Israel’s leaders and soldiers as war criminals will put fuel on the fire of ant-Semitism,” Mr Netanyahu said.


Mr. Netanyahu’s agitation against the court is problematic for multiple reasons. Indeed, an indictment of the prime minister and other senior officials may fuel anti-Semitism, but that does not give them license to act as they see fit in potential violation of international law.

Nor does it legitimise neglect of reasonable grounds to suspect Israeli leaders of war crimes, irrespective of whether they are genocidal or not.


Moreover, the threat of increased anti-Semitism stems from Israeli policies and actions that failed to recognise Palestinian rights, allowed the Palestinian problem to fester, and turned it into a binary us-or-them proposition, not a potential ICC decision.


In the same vein, Mr. Netanyahu contradicts himself by applying the lessons of the Holocaust to prevent future genocides, or for that matter, war crimes in general, to Jews but not to others.


The contradiction in Mr. Netanyahu’s assertions is compounded by a long-standing Israeli policy of military sales to regimes across the globe potentially guilty of war crimes, such as the Myanmar military junta’s ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.


Only a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that acknowledges Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian rights as equally valid is likely to put an end to violence and stymie anti-Semitism.


Hostage families speak outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Credit: Al Jazeera


Indicating the cleavages in Israeli society, family members of the more than 100 remaining Hamas-held hostages, including two captives released in November, have filed a complaint against Hamas at the ICC.


Hamas kidnapped 250 people during its October 7 attack on Israel. More than 100 were released in a Qatar-mediated exchange in November for 240 Palestinians incarcerated by Israel. An unknown number of the remaining captives have since died, many killed in the fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants.


“Perpetrators should be held criminally accountable for the atrocities they committed. We trust that the ICC has the capacity to bring about justice for the hostages and their families,” said Shelley Aviv Yeini, a member of the Hostage Families Forum.


With no mention of an ICC investigation of Israeli leaders, Ms. Aviv Yeni expressed “our belief in the integrity and professionalism of the court.”


A cat with nine lives, Mr. Netanyahu has proven that one underestimates or writes him off at one’s peril.


Even so, Mr. Netanyahu’s space to maneuver is narrowing. Meanwhile, the gathering clouds are turning ever darker.



Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar, a Senior Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and Adjunct Senior Fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and the author of the syndicated column and blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.


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