UN Delays Action on Gaza War Report

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

UN Delays Action on Gaza War Report

by
Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem and agencies in Geneva

Richard Goldstone: UN has put off action on his report. (Photograph: Ho/Reuters)

The UN today put off action on a report criticising Israel's actions during the war in Gaza after Palestinian leaders suddenly dropped their support for a resolution, apparently under heavy US pressure.

The
decision marked a surprising reversal in the Palestinian position
which, until now, had backed the findings of the report by the South
African judge Richard Goldstone.

Goldstone accused both Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas of war crimes during the three-week conflict.

He was particularly critical of Israel, both for its conduct of the war and its continued occupation of Palestinian territory.

The
UN human rights council in Geneva had been due to vote today on whether
to pass the Goldstone report to the UN security council for further
action.

That vote will now be delayed until the council meets next, in March next year.

Israel had strongly rejected the findings of the Goldstone report as biased, even though it also criticised the actions of Hamas.

The
US administration said it had "very serious concerns" about Goldstone's
recommendations, which included a call for the UN security council to
investigate and raised the possibility of investigation by the
international criminal court and judges from individual countries.

The
Palestinians do not have a seat on the 47-member human rights council,
but Arab and Muslim nations with council seats had been expected to
push for the report to be endorsed.

The Palestinian reversal came
after "intense diplomacy" by Washington, which told the Palestinians
that going ahead with the vote would harm efforts to restart peace talks with the Israelis, according to diplomats quoted by news agencies.

"The Palestinians recognised that this was not the best time to go forward with this," the official said.

Some
western nations, including the US, were also thought to be concerned
about the precedent that would be set by such international
investigations into wartime actions.

However, Imad Zuhairi, the
deputy Palestinian ambassador in Geneva, said the report "remains
alive" and would be debated next spring. The delay "is not a victory
for Israel," he added.

It is understood that the Palestinians had
helped draft a motion endorsing the Goldstone report and its
recommendations, but that it became clear that the US, Japan and those
European countries on the human rights council would not support the
motion.

It was then decided to postpone the motion rather than have it voted down or vetoed.

Ghassan
Khatib, the head of the Palestinian Authority's media centre, said the
Palestinians still supported the Goldstone report.

"There is no
change in the Palestinian position," he added. "Palestinian officials
didn't backtrack from the position they declared, which is that they
expect the human rights council to adopt the report and that the UN
should do whatever it takes to ensure the implementation of its
recommendations."

It appeared that the Palestinian leadership was
reluctant to lose the chance to return to peace negotiations with
Israel and unwilling to try other steps to put pressure on Israel such
as international legal action.

Robert Blecher, an analyst with
the International Crisis Group, said a similar decision had been taken
last week when the Palestinians agreed to meet the Israelis in New York
despite Israel's decision not to accept their call for a full halt to
settlement construction.

"This is a further indication that the
current Palestinian leadership is not considering any options except
for negotiation and in that sense the climbdown, like the climbdown in
the meeting in New York city, is not unexpected - just the speed with
which it was taken," he said.

Israel refused to co-operate with Goldstone's investigations, not even granting him entry to the country.

It
then launched an intense diplomatic and public relations operation
against his report, particularly after efforts this week in Britain to
have an arrest warrant issued against Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister who oversaw the Gaza war.

Yesterday,
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said an endorsement of
the Goldstone report would "strike a fatal blow against the peace
process" and deny Israel's "right to self-defence".

Goldstone defended his work against Netanyahu's criticism, saying: "I think he got wrong what our report is all about.

"He talked about Israel's right to self-defence. That is not what the report was about."

He said both sides in the conflict had violated international law by targeting civilians.

Earlier
in the week, he had told the human rights council that he wanted a
"transparent, open investigation" by both sides into the allegations
made in his report.

The 575-page report found that some Israelis
should face "individual criminal responsibility" and that both sides
had committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

The three-week war left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead and triggered criticism across the world.

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