NEW YORK — The United Nations General Assembly today takes up a UN human rights report that accuses Israel of committing war crimes in last winter’s military offensive into Gaza.
Known as the Goldstone report, the investigation commissioned by the much-maligned UN Human Rights Council threatens to widen the gulf between the majority of Arab and developing countries that support the report and the mostly Western countries, including the United States, that have condemned it.
The General Assembly appears poised to pass the hot-potato Goldstone report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for further action, despite critics’ warnings that keeping it on the international agenda is incendiary and may snuff out any hope of restarting Middle East peace talks.
A draft resolution by Arab foreign ministers calls on Mr. Ban to report back to the General Assembly in three months on whether Israel and Hamas, also accused of war crimes in the report, have undertaken internal investigations into their own actions during the three-week war.
The draft resolution also instructs Ban to submit the Goldstone report to the Security Council – potentially for submission to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Some permanent members of the Security Council have said it would be pointless to bring Goldstone to the Security Council, because it is all but certain that the US would veto any action targeting Israel. But some Arab countries, recently under pressure from the Obama administration to expand commercial and diplomatic contacts with Israel, say pressing ahead on the report will expose American “double standards” when it comes to Israeli violence against Palestinians.
The Goldstone report – named after the South African international jurist and former UN war-crimes judge, Richard Goldstone, who headed the investigation – alleges criminal wrongdoing on the part of both Israel and Hamas in the fighting last December and January, but it comes down harder on Israel. It accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields, but it also says Israel targeted civilian buildings and installations – a charge Israel also faced after its 2006 incursion into south Lebanon.
The report has caused an uproar, prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare that peace talks will never restart as long as Goldstone is under consideration. The Israeli government says it launched the Gaza incursion to stop Hamas’s shelling of Israeli towns and insists granting the report any legitimacy would undermine Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism.
The report has also divided some human rights activists from backers of Israel.
The US Congress on Tuesday passed a resolution condemning the Goldstone report, calling on President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to oppose any further consideration of it.
After House passage of the resolution, Rep. Nita Lowey (D) of New York, chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, said in a statement: “It is outrageous that the UN General Assembly – at the urging of nations with deplorable human-rights records – is poised to give its stamp of approval to this flawed report.”
But Human Rights Watch, a New York-based rights organization, said Congress should not discourage investigations into documented allegations of criminal activities. “The congressional resolution condemning the Goldstone report has factual errors and would help shield from justice the perpetrators of serious abuses – both Israeli and Palestinian,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
She also noted that, while the Obama administration is critical of the report, it is also on record encouraging both sides in the conflict to investigate allegations from their own citizens of official misconduct.