J Street does not endorse Palestinian approaches to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the ICC Pre-Trial Court’s decision on jurisdiction vis-a-vis “the Situation in Palestine.” At the same time, we believe a new anti-ICC Senate letter circulating for signature is an unnecessary act of political posturing that purports to seek clarity regarding an already crystal-clear position of the Biden administration, while providing fodder for those who are pushing it to embrace the Trump administration’s appalling attacks on the ICC, its personnel and the rule of law.
The Biden administration has already clearly and definitively stated its disagreement with the Pre-Trial Court’s decision on jurisdiction in comments by the State Department which the letter itself references. Yet the letter then treats the administration’s position as somehow unclear or inadequate, stating that: “We encourage you to issue a more forceful condemnation of the Court’s actions.” The letter even implies in its opening line that the administration has not only failed to oppose the decision, but that it is therefore lacking in its support for Israel.
Even more concerning is the letter’s assertion that the United States should “stand in full force against” the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision, mirroring language in a nearly identical May 2020 Senate letter that was then used by the Trump administration to justify its outrageous imposition of sanctions on ICC officials and their families later that year. More than 80 non-governmental organizations, including J Street, the ACLU, American Jewish World Service and Amnesty International, condemned Trump’s sanctions as an appalling attack on justice and the rule of law globally, and a betrayal of the US legacy of establishing institutions of international justice in the aftermath of the Second World War. In this context, the new letter’s repeated use of this language must – and will – be read as a call to maintain and enforce these unprecedented Trump-era sanctions, which damaged US credibility and the cause of democratic values on the world stage.
It is also important to note that the letter would put Senators on the record using the term “disputed territories” instead of “occupied territories” to describe the area beyond the 1949 Armistice Line or “Green Line.” “Disputed territories” is terminology favored by those opposed to a two-state solution and who, counter to law and fact, deny the existence of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories. This difference in language is incredibly consequential as a matter of law and policy, which is why – in contrast to previous Democratic and Republican administrations alike – the Trump administration attempted to strike all references to the occupation from official US discourse. Senators who support the longstanding bipartisan consensus positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should not sign a letter containing this rightwing linguistic Trojan Horse.
We therefore urge Senators not to sign this letter. Instead, we encourage them to issue their own statements reflecting their views on recent developments at the ICC, if they wish to do so.