Cardin aims for bipartisan fix to shield Israeli leaders from ICC

The Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he wants to work with Republicans to hold back the International Criminal Court (ICC) from issuing arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister over allegations of war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

While Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the committee’s outgoing chair, has rejected a Republican, House-led effort to sanction the ICC, he did not rule out sanctions specifically as he answered questions from reporters at the Capitol on Thursday.

“I’m not going to get into specifics, there are a lot of tools that are at our disposal to deal with concerns,” he said.

He criticized a Republican-led bill that passed the House earlier this month as “not well drafted.”

That bill would impose financial sanctions and travel restrictions on ICC officials. Democrats critical of the bill said it had far-reaching, unintended consequences that would force U.S. allies or American businesses to cut off work with the ICC or risk penalties themselves.

Cardin said he was looking for “a bipartisan way forward” and that he had had positive conversations with the administration to stop the ICC from going forward with its planned arrest warrants for Israeli officials.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said last month he is asking the court to issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three senior Hamas officials for bearing “criminal responsibility” for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Israel’s supporters balk at drawing an equivalency between Israel’s eight-month war against Hamas and the triggering action, the Hamas attack against Israel on Oct. 7. In that attack, Hamas fighters streamed into Israel and killed about 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages. Around 120 hostages are still held in Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip.

“To put any reference to anything being equal between Hamas’s activities and Israel’s activities is an affront to humanity, and it gives Hamas more credibility than they should ever have,” Cardin said.

Democrats have criticized Israel’s handling of the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and led to the wide-scale destruction of the Gaza Strip, along with warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe.

The committee chair said he wants to focus on a strategy that has the ICC recognize Israel’s justice system as having the strength to investigate any wrongdoing by the Israeli military before bringing it to the level of international action.

“We’re looking at a way that gives us the best chance for an off-ramp for the prosecutor general to recognize that there is a responsibility for complimentary systems, there’s a responsibility to allow Israel an opportunity to deal with these issues,” he said.

“Israel’s still at war. So we’re looking at a way that will provide the right type of leverage from the United States, and I must tell you, I think the strongest message that we can send is one that is bipartisan, and not one that divides the Democrats and Republicans in Congress with the president.”

Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the committee, has threatened to block committee work in order to force cooperation on ICC legislation. The Republican senator has put his support behind the House-passed bill but is open to working through differences with Democrats, according to an aide in his office.

But he put the onus on Democrats to approach Republicans with an effort at compromise.

“Our staff will continue to work with the majority staff on finding a path forward to move legislation before the summer’s end,” said Suzanne Wrasse, spokesperson for the senator.

“Senator Risch is willing to pursue multiple avenues for the Senate to work on ICC legislation but despite several offers made by Risch and his colleagues to negotiate, Democrats have not responded substantively and we haven’t made progress.”

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