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Labour is moving away from the government line on Gaza

David Lammy’s insistence that “all sides must be accountable for their actions” shows an increasing confidence on the international stage.

By Freddie Hayward

The International Criminal Court (ICC)’s chief prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants for Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes will reverberate. Here’s what Neve Gordon, the Israeli scholar and professor of human rights law at Queen Mary University of London, told Megan yesterday:

“Suddenly, Netanyahu, who has been Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, and [Gallant], its defence minister [are in a situation where] 124 countries are obliged by law to issue arrest warrants if they land in those countries. So this will limit their ability to travel dramatically. This will put them together on a list with people that we consider major war criminals. And this will put Israel on a list with pariah states.”

The ICC case is different to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) one brought by South Africa that accuses Israel of committing genocide. The ICJ investigates states; the ICC, individuals.

The condemnation has been swift. Joe Biden said the move was “outrageous”, adding “whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas”. The British government has followed suit, saying the ICC does not have jurisdiction in this case and that the warrants could jeopardise a peace deal.

Labour has kept itself as close to the government as possible on national security and foreign affairs since Keir Starmer became leader. It is a mark of Labour’s confidence – and the pressure from pro-Palestinian voters – that it is now taking a slightly different line. In the House of Commons yesterday, the shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said:

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“Labour has been clear throughout this conflict that international law must be upheld, the independence of international courts must be respected, and all sides must be accountable for their actions.”

Perhaps this isn’t surprising from a party of lawyers: as both Lammy and Starmer are, with the latter specialising in human rights. Starmer was fighting cases at the ICJ as recently as 2014. But it is another sign that Labour is determined to restore Britain’s respect for international law and institutions, whether the ICC or the UN – a dividing line with the Tories it seems eager to emphasise.

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