The United Nations General Assembly approved Thursday afternoon a resolution that calls on both Israel and the Palestinians to investigate the accusations of war crimes in last winter's Gaza incursion as described in a UN-commissioned report.
The resolution – approved 118-14, with much of the developing world and Arab countries in favor, and the US and Israel notably opposed – underscores the broad support for the Goldstone report, the investigation commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council to look into alleged war crimes committed during the three-week-long Gaza war.
The Goldstone report, named after the South African jurist and former UN human rights investigator Richard Goldstone who headed the investigation, accused both sides of war crimes in last winter's fighting, but came down hardest on Israel. The fighting in December 2008 and January 2009 between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group controlling Gaza, resulted in 14 Israeli deaths but more than 1,300 Palestinians were killed, including many civilians.
The UN resolution calls on Israel and "the Palestinian side" to undertake investigations into the Goldstone allegations within three months, and asks UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to transmit the report to the Security Council.
In explaining to the Assembly the US's "no" vote, deputy US ambassador to the UN Alejandro Wolff said the US encourages "all parties to meet their obligations and pursue credible domestic investigations." But, he said, the US opposes "international supervision" of those investigations.
Moreover, Ambassador Wolff said the US could not support a report that is "deeply flawed – including its unbalanced focus in Israel … [and] its failure to assign appropriate responsibility to Hamas for its decision to base itself and its operations in heavily civilian-populated areas."
In earlier testimony, the Palestinian representative at the UN, Riyad Mansour, characterized the Assembly's vote as a "test" of the international community's willingness to hold Israel accountable for its military actions against the Palestinian people.
"We take very seriously the allegations contained in the Goldstone report regarding possible Palestinian violations," Mr. Mansour said, adding that his side was committed "to the pursuit of domestic legal investigations." But he nonetheless rejected "any equation of the occupying power's aggression and crimes with actions committed in response by the Palestinian side."
Israel's position has been that the Gaza offensive was carried out in self-defense to protect Israeli civilians from Hamas's firing of rockets into Israeli territory. Israel's UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, said the Goldstone report ignored Hamas's "terror activity" as well as "the complexity of military challenges in fighting terrorists in urban warfare."
Any legitimacy granted the Goldstone report, she added, would in essence deny Israel "the right to defend ourselves."
UN diplomats said Israel has nothing to fear from the resolution's call for the report to be sent to the Security Council, since any action there is unlikely. The widespread assumption is that the US, as one of five permanent council members and Israel's principal ally, would veto any attempt to act on the report in the council. But others said none of the council's five permanent members would favor such action either, with China mindful of recent accusations of human-rights violations in Tibet and Russia wary of potential application to its operations in Chechnya.
The US's Wolff said the US remains "deeply concerned" about the human suffering on both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But he insisted that the best way to end that suffering is "to advance the cause of peace – and do nothing to hinder it," suggesting that any further international action on the Goldstone report would do just that.
But other countries, including Brazil, said that holding countries accountable for their military actions and demanding respect for international law could only enhance chances for peace.
As Goldstone report debate rages, more Israelis call for investigation
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