Updated May 1, 2024 - World

Israel tells U.S. it will punish Palestinian Authority if ICC issues warrants

 International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan speaks during a press conference at the San Carlos Palace in Bogota, on April 25, 2024.

International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Karim Khan speaks during a press conference in Bogota, Colombia on Apr. 25, 2024. Photo: Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty Images

The Israeli government warned the Biden administration that if the International Criminal Court issues arrest warrants against Israeli leaders, it will take retaliatory steps against the Palestinian Authority that could lead to its collapse, two Israeli and U.S. officials said.

Why it matters: Israeli officials have grown increasingly concerned over the last two weeks that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is preparing to issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Herzi Halevi.

Driving the news: The ICC, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands, has been investigating since 2021 possible war crimes by both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants dating back to the 2014 Israel-Hamas war.

  • That investigation has been extended to the Oct. 7 attacks and the war that has been raging in Gaza since then, according to the prosecutor's office.

Behind the scenes: Over the last few weeks, Israel has told the U.S. that it has information suggesting Palestinian Authority officials are pressing the ICC prosecutor to issue arrest warrants against Israeli leaders, two Israeli officials said.

  • U.S. and Israeli officials said Israel told the Biden administration that if arrests warrants are issued, it will consider the Palestinian Authority responsible and retaliate with strong action that could lead to its collapse.
  • One possible action could be to freeze the transfer of tax revenues Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority. Without these funds, the Palestinian Authority would be bankrupt.
  • A senior Israeli official told Axios the threat of ICC arrest warrants is real and stressed if such a scenario happens the Israeli cabinet would likely make an official decision to punish the Palestinian Authority, which could lead to its collapse.
  • The White House and the Israeli Prime Minster's office declined to comment.
  • Palestinian Authority officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The issue of potential ICC arrest warrants came up during a call between Netanyahu and President Biden last Sunday, with Netanyahu asking Biden for help, Axios reported earlier this week.

  • Two U.S. officials said Biden told Netanyahu during the call that a report on Channel 12 in Israel that suggested the U.S. might have given a "green light" to the ICC to issue arrest warrants against Israeli leaders was not true.
  • Biden stressed during the call the U.S. opposes an ICC investigation against Israel.

State of play: Two U.S. officials said the Biden administration has conveyed to ICC officials in private that arrest warrants against Israeli leaders would be a mistake and that the U.S. doesn't support the action.

  • "We are quietly encouraging the ICC no to do it. It will blow up everything. Israel will retaliate against the Palestinian Authority," a U.S. official said.
  • The official added that while there is pressure on the ICC prosecutor to issue such arrest warrants, the Biden administration doesn't think the move is as imminent as the Israelis think.

Between the lines: On Tuesday, White House spokesman John Kirby was asked during a briefing about threats by Republican lawmakers to pass legislation against the ICC, which were reported on Axios.

  • Kirby said the U.S. is opposed to an ICC investigation against Israel but stressed it is also opposed to threats and intimidations against the court's judges.
  • Israeli officials were alarmed by Kirby's remarks and asked the White House whether is represents a change in the U.S. position. The White House said there has been no change.
Go deeper