Israel lobbies foreign powers to cut ICC funding

Israel is lobbying member states of the International Criminal Court to cut funding for the tribunal in response to its launch of an inquiry into possible war crimes in Palestine, the country’s foreign minister said Sunday.

The ICC did not immediately respond to the news, but experts thought it unlikely that the lobbying effort was likely to persuade the countries that contribute most to the court to reduce their funding.

Israel, which like the United States does not belong to the ICC, hopes to dent funding for the court that is drawn from the 122 member states in accordance with the size of their economies, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.

“We will demand of our friends in Canada, in Australia and in Germany simply to stop funding it,” he told Israel Radio. Officials told Reuters the lobbying effort would also target Japan, whose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is visiting Israel.

“This body represents no one. It is a political body,” Lieberman said.

Canada opposes the Palestinians’ attempts to reach statehood without direct negotiations with Israel as well as their recent bid to pursue war crimes charges against Israel at the ICC.

During his visit to Israel Sunday, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird denounced the International Criminal Court for opening a preliminary probe into possible war crimes by Israel, which counts on his country as one of its staunchest allies.

“We think it is completely unacceptable that a terrorist organization like Hamas will be able to file a lawsuit against Israel,” Lieberman said, standing at Baird’s side.

Earlier, during talks in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, Baird warned against pursuing a diplomatic agenda that could prejudice the outcome of any future talks with Israel.

As he left Ramallah, angry young Palestinian protesters were seen hurling eggs at his motorcade.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin urged his Palestinian counterpart to renew peace talks instead of pursuing efforts at the ICC. “There is no other way than direct negotiations. Unilateral steps will not solve the conflict, but just give more power to the extremists,” Rivlin said during a visit by a delegation of U.S. senators headed by Republican John McCain.

“I call upon President [Mahmoud] Abbas: Instead of going to The Hague or to the United Nations, come to Jerusalem. Come to talk directly to the Israeli government and people,” Rivlin said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has slammed the move as “scandalous” and Washington said it was a “tragic irony” that the Jewish state, which had been hit by “thousands of terrorist rockets … is now being scrutinized by the ICC.”A loss of funding would exacerbate the court’s already serious financing problems. Last week, Reuters reported that the unexpected arrival of an indicted defector from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda would put prosecutors under severe financial strain.

The majority of the court’s funding comes from the advanced economies of Europe and North Asia. Japan is the largest contributor, giving 20.4 million euros in 2014, followed by Germany which gave 13.5 million. France, Britain and Italy are also major contributors to the ICC’s budget, which will rise 7 percent to 141 million euros in 2015. Canada contributed 5.6 million.

But even countries that were traditionally close to Israel were unlikely to renege on their treaty commitments to fund the ICC, said Kevin Jon Heller, professor of law at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

“Germany is probably the least likely country in the world to go against the ICC no matter how supportive of Israel it has traditionally been,” he added. “It was one of the very leading states in the creation of the ICC.”

ICC prosecutors said Friday they would examine “in full independence and impartiality” crimes that may have occurred in the Palestinian territories since June 13 last year. This allows the court to delve into the war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza in July-August 2014 that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.

Hamas Saturday welcomed the ICC inquiry and said it was prepared to provide material for complaints against the Jewish state.