Israel's Obsession with Goldstone Report Reflects Fears of War Crimes Prosecutions

By Williams, Ian | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Israel's Obsession with Goldstone Report Reflects Fears of War Crimes Prosecutions


Williams, Ian, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


It is a tribute to the legal meticulousness of Richard Goldstone and his colleagues on the U.N. Human Rights Council's (UNHRC) fact-finding mission that the Israeli government is so obsessed with their report. It can see prosecutions of IDF and Knesset members just over the horizon. Binyamin Netanyahu and his ministers have raucously complained to Britain and France for not voting against the Council resolution that accepted the report, and to Russia and China for supporting it. And, of course, they keep confusing Obama administration criticism of the mandate the Council gave with criticism of the report itself.

In fact, Britain, France and the U.S. united in telling Israel to set up an impartial inquiry. Indeed, to their credit, Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy apparently tried to trade a "no" vote for Israeli pledges to hold an inquiry, lift the blockade and stop settlement activity and evictions. In the flood of personal attacks on Goldstone and his mission, neither Washington, nor London, nor Paris has seriously challenged the substance of his report or the integrity of his mission, let alone his own personal integrity.

Israel's Western allies have been reduced to inanities, lamenting the mission's failure to hear the case the Israelis refused to make. "Because Israel did not cooperate with the Mission, which we regret, the report lacks an authoritative Israeli perspective on the events in question, so crucial to determining the legality of actions," declared the British envoy in Geneva, who should have been fully aware that it was precisely with that eventual excuse in mind that Israel refused to cooperate.

With all the outrage of a recidivist criminal asked to stop breaking and entering people's houses, Netanyahu and his colleagues continue to bluster. A quick summary of their defense is:

"So let's get this straight. Israel broke no laws of war during Operation Cast Lead, which is why we will not tolerate any impartial inquiry, even one we organize ourselves, into what happened then. Nor will we allow the issue to be judged by an international court, and what is more, just in case, we want the laws changed to allow us to do what we want when we say we are fighting terrorism.

"It is one-sided, partial, biased and anti-Semitic to suggest that our behavior and Hamas' both bear scrutiny, and everyone knows that the U.N. is hopelessly prejudiced against us, which is proved by their cunning in heading a mission with a Zionist pro-Israeli Jew whose daughter served in the IDF. And since we refused to cooperate, the report did not hear any evidence from us and so is one-sided.

"Oh, and by the way, just because we keep rubbing Obama's nose in our broken promises over settlements in no way lessens our demand that the White House sacrifice its hard-won global credibility by rescuing us from the consequences of our failure to hold the inquiry that Goldstone, the U.S., France and the UK have all asked us to hold."

There is, of course, a small germ of truth in Israel's protestations about the comparative fervor with which the Human Rights Council goes after the Jewish state compared with other malefactors. One would like to think that the states involved were imbued with deep human sympathy for the Palestinian predicament, but it does not take a cynic to doubt it. Egypt could immediately end the blockade on Gaza, for example, but it does not, in a callous exercise of realpolitik.

Equally, their obstinate pseudo-solidarity in the Human Rights Council has been counterproductive. The original inquiry mandate refused to look at the possibility of Palestinian groups committing war crimes, which has given the Obama administration wiggle room to refuse support to the report. Former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson refused the offer to head the inquiry precisely for that reason.

Goldstone, with the support of Navai Pillai, Robinson's successor, accepted the position only on condition that he had a mandate to look at both sides. …

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