George Mitchell, President Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, could not have liked the tone of Wednesday's UN Security Council debate on human rights violations during last winter's Israeli offensive into Gaza.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki accused Israel of "savage aggression" and said the UN must act on Israel's "callous disregard for human life" as exhibited during the 22-day war or lose global credibility.
Not to be outdone, Israel's UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, said any evaluation of the offensive that fails to start with Hamas's regular shelling of Israeli civilian populations is "one-sided ... biased" and "favors and legitimizes terrorism." Furthermore, she added, by raising the issue before the council, Libya was trying to "hijack" the council's agenda with "a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (to quote Shakespeare's "Macbeth").
The fireworks in New York come just three weeks after Mr. Obama organized a trilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to add momentum to his drive to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
A relaunch of talks may have seemed tantalizingly close last month, but not any more.
Wednesday's rancorous rhetoric was part of a Security Council debate on the Goldstone report, an investigation commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to look into alleged war crimes and human rights violations committed during the Gaza fighting. The report, which came out last month but was originally sidelined by the Palestinians, faults both Israel and Hamas for disregarding civilian life – but comes down harder on Israel.
The report now returns to the Human Rights Council, for two days of debate Thursday and Friday on a Palestinian-sponsored resolution focused on Israel's alleged violations of Palestinian rights. The resolution, cosponsored by Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Tunisia, addresses not just the Gaza offensive but more recent events in East Jerusalem, where tensions have risen over Israeli restrictions on worship at Muslim holy sites.
Israel has long accused the Human Rights Council, dominated by nonaligned and Muslim countries, of singling it out for condemnation while disregarding more flagrant rights violators. But Israel is also more sensitive regarding the Goldstone report, in part because its author, Richard Goldstone, is a respected South African jurist and a Jew who in the past has rallied to Israel's defense.
In the Security Council debate, the deputy US ambassador to the UN, Alejandro Wolff, said the US "takes the allegations in the report seriously" but continues to believe it is a matter that belongs in the Human Rights Council. He also expressed doubts about the report's fairness, citing "its unbalanced focus on Israel."
Ambassador Wolff said Israel, unlike Hamas, has "the institutions and the ability" to carry out an investigation of the allegations, "and we encourage it to do so."
Arab countries counter that Israel regularly rejects any rights allegations from the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies, such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, dismissing those organizations as biased against it.
But the Palestinians and some Arab countries cite the Goldstone report as "objective" evidence that Israel deserves the Human Rights Council's attention because of its record of violations and what Goldstone calls its disproportionate use of force. Citing the Gaza offensive, Palestinians note that more than 1,400 Palestinians died in a 22-day conflict that leveled scores of Palestinian residential buildings and schools, while the Israeli death toll was 13.
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