The International Criminal Court in The Hague has been in the news recently since the Palestinian Authority has applied for membership. Their application has Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upset to the point of freezing Palestinian tax revenues that belong to the Palestinian government but, for very odd reasons, are collected by Israel before passing them on. The holding of these funds, which Israel has done multiple times in the past, is a violation of international agreements.

While the ICC began to function in 2002, earlier versions of the court go back to 1919 and war crime trials following World War I. Two similar courts were established after World War II, one in Nuremberg and the other in Tokyo, again to address war crimes. But while many attempts were made to establish a permanent international court, it was not until a 1998 United Nation's conference in Rome that the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court was adopted by a vote of 120 to seven. The United States and Israel joined China, Iraq, Libya, Qatar and Yemen in voting against the establishment of the ICC. Since then, two additional nations have signed on to the Rome Statute, bringing total membership of the ICC to 122.


The ICC has 18 judges elected by member nations. The Court issued its first arrest warrants in 2005 and its first judgment in 2012. Referrals for investigation may come from a member state, by the United Nations Security Council or from an internal investigation initiated by an individual or non-governmental organization.

The ICC has the authority to prosecute individuals for international crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. These include murder, extermination, enslavement, inhuman treatment, torture, rape, hostage taking, denial of due process and a long list of other international crimes long established by the United Nations and various international treaties, such as the Geneva Accords.

The ICC's actions to date have been criticized by some for focusing on poor African nations while, thus far, avoiding war crimes, torture and other violations of international laws by Western nations, including the United States and Israel. Perhaps this is why Israel is so concerned with the Palestinian Authority's application to join the ICC.

Netanyahu's action to punish the Palestinian Authority for wanting to join the ICC has many people scratching their heads. Sure, their membership will allow the Palestinian government to request investigations into Israeli behavior toward Palestinians in occupied territories. But it also means that the Palestinian government would have to submit itself to investigations by the ICC. In fact, referrals have already been made by some Israel groups.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned Netanyahu's action to freeze Palestinian tax revenues in a speech to European ambassadors and stated that Netanyahu's actions did not reflect well on Israel. Netanyahu's actions were also criticized by the United States and most of the world. But this is election season in Israel and Netanyahu knows that taking a hard line on the Palestinians is a sure way to secure his conservative base in Israel. In addition, with Republicans now in charge of Congress, Netanyahu, who carries many American politicians in his hip pocket, has secured the votes necessary to stop American aid to the Palestinians if they join the ICC.

Netanyahu has called the Palestinian application to the ICC a "confrontation with Israel" and that "Palestinian leaders were the ones who should be prosecuted in the ICC." If this is the case, then what better way to proceed with these prosecutions than by joining the ICC?

One might understand why China and Iraq would not want to join the ICC. Perhaps they have too much to hide. But why the United States and Israel refuse to join is interesting, and why Israel wants to punish others for joining is troubling.

With international terrorism on the rise, the need for the International Criminal Court is more important than ever. The court should have American support all the time, not just when it goes after our enemies.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.