Libya called a special closed-door session of the United Nations Security Council Wednesday afternoon to demand action on a UN report that criticizes Israel for committing "war crimes" during its December-January offensive into Gaza.
By bringing the report to the Security Council – a body Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi just last month said was more accurately called the "terror council" – Libya sets up a clash with the United States. He also creates a golden opportunity for Libya to raise its diplomatic star in the developing world, and for Colonel Qaddafi to refurbish his image with the Arab world.
"Libya will only be on the Security Council through December, so this was an opportunity [Libya and Qaddafi] would be loath to miss," says Melissa Labonte, an expert on Libya at Fordham University in New York. "If the P-5 [the council's five permanent members] say, 'We aren't talking about this,' it allows Qaddafi to say, 'This is what I meant by a terror council.' But if they do take it up," she adds, "what a coup for Qaddafi."
The US has sought to put off the impact of the report, first aired last month at the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva, in the interest of keeping open the door to a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But that door is closed at least temporarily anyway, and instead the US finds one of its partners in any future peace effort – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – under pressure at home for bowing to the US and sitting on the Gaza report.
The 575-page Goldstone report – named for the South African jurist, Richard Goldstone, who authored it – finds that both Israel and Hamas committed "war crimes" in the course of the month-long war. But it is mainly critical of Israeli actions and suggests the possibility of taking Israeli officials responsible for the alleged crimes to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The UN Human Rights Council considered condemning Israel for failing to cooperate with the Goldstone inquiry and sending the report to the Security Council. But at the same time, the Palestinian leadership was in intense negotiations with the US on restarting the peace talks, with President Obama hoping to announce their resumption at the UN during the General Assembly in September.
The US expressed misgivings about the report soon after it came out, with the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, saying the US had "very serious concerns" about some of its recommendations.
At the time Ambassador Rice called the report's mandate as established by the Human Rights Council "unbalanced, one-sided, and basically unacceptable." The "appropriate venue" for a report like the Goldstone investigation, she added, was in the Human Rights Council and not the Security Council – perhaps presaging a US effort at Wednesday's meeting to deny any Security Council consideration of the report.
But the Goldstone report poses a minefield for the US, regional experts say.
"The US has to be very careful about this," says Fordham's Professor Labonte. "The US will look bad in regions of keen interest to it if it comes off as obstructive on a human rights issue airing in the Security Council.
"On the other hand, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has said the peace process will go nowhere if this report is acted on," she adds, "so all the options pose real problems."
The fresh attention to the Goldstone report is also likely to rekindle criticism of the UN's Human Rights Council, particularly among US conservatives. The Bush administration kept the US out of the council on grounds that it focused too much on Israel while overlooking horrendous violations of some of the world's worst despots and authoritarian regimes.
President Obama said the US had a better chance of defending universal human rights working from the inside of international institutions and returned the US to the council.
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