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Israel must stop boycotting International Criminal Court

haaretz Haaretz Editorial, 6 January 2010

Former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak has recommended that Israel join the International Criminal Court at The Hague that tries those indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Barak, who spoke on Monday at a legal conference in Jerusalem, says that Israel will benefit from its participation in the court despite the risk that IDF soldiers and officers, and even Israeli politicians, may be brought to trial.

Israel was one of the countries behind the ICC initiative, but changed its stance at the last minute, once settlements in the territories were included in the list of serious crimes under the court’s jurisdiction. At the end of 2000, following an intense debate in the government, Israel signed the Rome Statute from which the International Criminal Court was established, but said it would not ratify its signature because of concerns that the institution would be used for political ends. Since then, Israel has stuck by its refusal to join the ICC and be answerable to its judgments.

Barak said that “Israel is part of the international community, and it must conduct itself in accordance with the interpretation that is common in international law.” As president of the Supreme Court, Barak changed an entrenched approach that rejected court involvement in security considerations. In a ruling on the issue of the route of the separation fence, he established the formula of “reason and proportionality” in the exercise of security authority in the territories. His approach also guided the current court president, Justice Dorit Beinisch, in last week’s ruling regarding the use of Route 443 by Palestinians.

Since the ICC began its work at The Hague, international law has received increased attention in Israel. Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip a year ago raised serious allegations against Israel for violating the rules of war and even carrying out crimes against humanity. Israel responded that the IDF is “the most moral army in the world,” and that international law must take into consideration the exigencies of the war against terrorism, but refused to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission and denounced its report.

A country that believes in the morality of its actions and those of its soldiers should not behave like a permanent suspect and boycott institutions of international law. On the contrary: It must fight within those institutions for its positions and justice. Joining the International Criminal Court at The Hague will place Israel on the side of the enlightened nations, and will contribute to restraining forceful and harmful actions. Barak’s recommendation deserves to be adopted.

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