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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has strongly objected to the investigation. Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Wednesday announced her intention to open an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the Palestinian territories since 2014.

Why it matters: The investigation is expected to consider possible war crimes by Israel and Hamas during the 2014 war in Gaza, as well as the construction of West Bank settlements by Israel. It could sharply increase tensions between Israel, which fiercely opposes the probe, and Palestinian leaders, who requested it.

  • The investigation will also force the Biden administration to wade into the Israel-Palestine conflict, which had been very low on its foreign policy priorities list.
  • Israel is very concerned that any investigation could lead to international arrest warrants against Israeli officials and military officers and could boost BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns against Israel.

The latest: The Palestinian foreign ministry welcomed the decision as an opportunity for justice and accountability and called for a swift investigation.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the investigation an "attack" on Israel and vowed to "fight for the truth."
  • "The biased International Criminal Court took a hypocritical and anti-Semitic decision," he said. "The court doesn't say anything about the real war crimes Iran and Syria commit."

What's next: Bensouda said the priorities of the investigation will be determined in the coming weeks, taking into consideration coronavirus-related operational challenges, the limited resources of her office and the current heavy workload.

  • Bensouda made this decision in her final months in office, and it's unclear whether she coordinated the move with her successor.

What she's saying: “Any investigation undertaken by the Office will be conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favor," Bensouda said in a statement.

  • She added that the investigation will take time and be grounded in facts and the law. "My office will take the same principled, non-partisan approach that it has adopted in all situations over which its jurisdiction is seized. We have no agenda other than to meet our statutory duties under the Rome Statute with professional integrity."

Flashback: The Trump administration joined Israel in mounting a vigorous campaign in 2019 to block a potential investigation, including by placing sanctions on Bensouda and other court officials.

  • ICC judges cleared the way for a potential investigation last month when they ruled that the court has jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza. (Israel isn't a party to the Rome Statute, which set the court's mandate, but the Palestinian territories are.)

Behind the scenes: Israel had asked dozens of allies to convey a "discreet message" to urge Bensouda not to move forward with the probe, as Axios reported two weeks ago. Netanyahu also asked President Biden to keep U.S. sanctions on the court in place as leverage.

Update: State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. was "disappointed" by the ICC's decision and had "serious concerns about the court's attempt to exercise its jurisdiction over Israel."

Go deeper

Mar 3, 2021 - World

Israel's COVID diplomacy runs into trouble

Moderna doses from Israel arrive in Guatemala. Photo: Ohan Orodonez/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tapped Israel's stockpile of Moderna vaccines to conduct COVID diplomacy with friendly governments — without consulting the relevant government ministries.

Why it matters: Netanyahu's unilateral move may have broken Israeli law, allegedly violated Israel's contract with Moderna, and risked exposing Israel to lawsuits. He was forced to backtrack, but not before thousands of doses had already been transferred.

Updated 53 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

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