China hopes ICC to uphold objective view on Palestine-Israel conflict
Seeking Israel and Hamas warrants ‘a symbolic pressure’ but will increase moral pressure on Israel: experts
Published: May 21, 2024 08:48 PM
Smoke rises following Israeli strikes in Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, on May 13, 2024.(Photo: Xinhua)

Smoke rises following Israeli strikes in Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, on May 13, 2024.(Photo: Xinhua)

 China on Tuesday said it hopes that the ICC will uphold an objective and fair stance and exercise its powers in accordance with the law after the International Criminal Court (ICC) applied for arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders.

Some Chinese experts said the ICC seeking Israel and Hamas warrants serves more of a symbolic pressure as its enforcement mechanism faces challenges. Yet, they noted the move will still increase moral and public pressure against Israel, leading to greater scrutiny under international law. 

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday that his office had applied for arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders for alleged crimes committed during the Hamas-led October 7 attack on southern Israel and Israel's subsequent war on Gaza, Al Jazeera reported on Monday. 

Khan announced his office had "reasonable grounds" to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant bear "criminal responsibility" for "war crimes and crimes against humanity," the media report said. 

"We have noted relevant reports. We want to stress that the international community has overwhelming consensus on the need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and ending the humanitarian crisis suffered by the Palestinians," Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on Tuesday. The collective punishment of the Palestinian people should not continue any longer, Wang noted. 

China has always stood on the side of fairness and justice and on the side of international law on the Palestinian issue. We support all efforts of the international community to promote a comprehensive, fair and lasting solution to the issue, the spokesperson said, noting that China hopes the ICC will uphold an objective and fair stance and exercise its powers in accordance with the law.

Both the US and Israel rejected the latest ICC act, as US President Joe Biden called the application for an arrest warrant for Netanyahu and Gallant "outrageous," and Netanyahu said the ICC decision was a disgrace and an attack on Israel.

The application was made as Gaza has been undergoing an intensifying humanitarian crisis with the living conditions continuing to deteriorate in certain parts of Rafah and as the number of causalities continues to increase, according to a UN Security Council briefing on Monday. 

Some political figures like Mustafa Barghouti, general secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) party, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the reaction of the US toward the warrant application highlights the hypocrisy of the Biden administration - "previously praising the ICC for issuing an arrest warrant against Putin while now describing the decision to apply for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant as outrageous." 

"ICC's application for warrants is more of a symbolic pressure, as its enforcement is quite difficult. The application can be described as 'having little actual harm but inflicting great insult,'" Li Weijian, a research fellow with the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Especially when the international pressure on Netanyahu and the Israeli government has been increasing recently, the ICC's decision or the pending application can be seen as a very potent form of pressure, intensifying the overall judgment of the international community on this matter, Li noted. 

Mounting pressure 

Since the outbreak of the latest round of Palestine-Israel conflict, there has been a significant shift in the international public opinion, some experts said. At the beginning, there might have been some sympathy for Israel or condemnation of Hamas, but now the sentiment seems to have become more critical of Israel, including a notable change in the attitude of the US, they noted. 

"The international community, especially vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue, has shown considerable support for Palestine's bid to become a full member of the UN, with many countries voting in favor," Li said. "This demonstrates the international community's support for Palestine and a clear opposition to Israel's attempts to maintain the status quo or to escalate the conflict." 

The UN General Assembly recently adopted a resolution supporting the Palestinian bid to become a full UN member with 143 votes in favor, which also reflects the will of the international community. 

Fu Cong, China's permanent representative to the UN, said on Monday that Israel must immediately cease its military offensive in Rafah city in the Gaza Strip.

"Nothing can justify the perpetuation of conflict. The collective punishment of civilians does not create conditions conducive to the rescue of hostages. Israel must immediately cease its military operation in Rafah," he told the UN Security Council.

Some Western countries voiced their support for the ICC's move. French foreign ministry was quoted as saying in a Reuters' report on Monday that the country fights against impunity. 

Belgium's Foreign Affairs Minister Hadja Lahbib said in a post on the X platform that "crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators."

Enforcement challenges 

US' reaction indicates that, since the outbreak of the latest round of the Palestine-Israel conflict, the US support for Israel has been consistent both in general and in policy terms, Liu Zhongmin, a professor with the Middle East Studies Institute of Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

The recent divisions between the US and Israel mainly centered on issues such as avoiding humanitarian crises, handling refugees, and attacks on Rafah. However, overall, the US still supports and tends to favor Israel, Liu said. "The differences between the US and Israel are relatively insignificant, especially when considering the actions taken by Israel in Gaza in the context of violations of international law, the laws of war, and crimes against humanity." 

The application for warrants now goes to one of the pre-trial chambers in the ICC, and will be decided on by a panel of three judges, The Guardian reported. If the arrest warrants are issued, the ICC does not have its own police force or enforcement mechanism, but the warrants would seriously limit the travel options of the indictees, media reports said. 

"One possible outcome is the dismissal of the case, which is very likely, as the ICC may have dropped the investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan due to political pressure from the US, and another is to proceed with the prosecution," Tang Bei, professor with the school of international relations and public affairs at Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

The prerequisite for proceeding with the trial is that the suspect is in custody of the court and can appear for trial. Otherwise, the case will remain in the pre-trial stage. The court may also issue an arrest warrant again, Tang said. 

As Israel does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC, the decision of the ICC, for Israel, is definitely "illegal," Tang noted. "However, the prosecutor's statement still has international influence, as the conflict continues, and the international community is highly concerned about the humanitarian situation in the region."

Although it may be difficult to actually arrest Netanyahu in reality, the resulting public opinion and moral pressure, as well as the further concretization of Israel's war crimes on the level of international law, are of great concern to Israel, Liu noted. 

"The legality of the arrest may create an international trend that will put greater moral and legal pressure on Israel, and become a guidance that will subject Israel to greater international public opinion and international legal pressure," Liu said.