Will the UN put off the Goldstone report another five months?

On Friday, the UN General Assembly takes up the Goldstone report, which accuses Israel and Hamas of war crimes during 2008 fighting in Gaza. But the General Assembly is merely expected to pass a resolution that would allow more time for investigation of the report’s allegations.

An Israeli right wing activist dressed up as Hamas supporter during a protest against an organization they accuse of helping the Goldstone report's case against Israel. The report authored by the respected former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone accused both Israel and Palestinian groups of war crimes during the 22-day Gaza offensive, which killed 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Apparently no less a hot potato than it was three months ago, the Goldstone report that accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during Israel’s December 2008 incursion into Gaza is expected to be kicked off the international agenda for another five months.

The United Nations General Assembly is set to take up the Goldstone report Friday – and is expected to pass an Arab-sponsored resolution that calls for granting the parties to the conflict five more months to investigate the report’s allegations.

Some human rights activists warn that such an extension would effectively relegate Goldstone’s allegations to oblivion and encourage impunity in international conflicts.

In November, the General Assembly called on Israel and the “Palestinian side” to conduct investigations within three months into the report’s findings that Israel and Hamas committed war crimes in the three weeks of fighting from December 2008 to January 2009. The report is particularly critical of Israeli actions during a siege that cost the lives of 14 Israelis and more than 1,300 Palestinians, many of them civilians.

Issued in September 2009, the Goldstone report – named after the South African jurist and former UN human rights investigator Richard Goldstone who led the Gaza team – called for giving the parties in the fighting six months to investigate the charges of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The report recommended taking unanswered charges to international bodies including the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Israel claims to have conducted investigations into more than 150 incidents in the fighting – even as it has resisted the notion of international oversight of a military operation it says it pursued in self-defense. On the Palestinian side, the Palestinian Authority – which has no jurisdiction over Hamas-controlled Gaza – says it only formed an investigative commission in January.

The draft resolution calls on both sides to undertake investigations “that are independent, credible, and in conformity with international standards.”

One head-scratcher is why Arab countries, which might be expected to relish the prospect of subjecting Israel to international disgrace, would spearhead a move to put off consideration of the report another five months.

“It certainly seems counterintuitive, but it also brings to mind the old adage that you have to be careful what you wish for, because it could come back to haunt you,” says Michele Labonte, a political science professor at Fordham University in New York. The Arab countries “were all too happy to have this light shined on Israel, but if they risk seeing the same light shined on their own human rights violations down the road,” she adds, “they may just prefer to see that light go out now.”

The Goldstone report is expected to surface again next month at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Some rights advocates worry, however, the report’s “burial” for another five months by the bigger stage of the UN General Assembly risks effectively killing it.

Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, said in advance of Friday’s anticipated vote that he sees a five-month deferral as “part of the wider effort basically to bury the recommendations of the Goldstone report.” Mr. Falk told the Ma’an Palestinian news agency that delaying further consideration of Goldstone would “remove the reality of what happened in Gaza from the collective memory of world society.”

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