x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Extra time for Gaza war crime probe

Arab states back resolution giving Israel and Palestinians five more months to investigate findings of the Goldstone report.

A UN school is hit during Israeli strikes last year. Amnesty International claims Israel used white phosphorous bombs during the offensive.
A UN school is hit during Israeli strikes last year. Amnesty International claims Israel used white phosphorous bombs during the offensive.

RAMALLAH // The UN decision to give Israel and the Palestinians more time to investigate allegations of war crimes has yet again seen the world body postpone taking any action on the recommendations of its own inquiry into last year's Israeli offensive on Gaza.

On Friday, the United Nations' General Assembly passed by 98 to seven a resolution put forward by Muslim countries that once again urges the two sides to undertake independent investigations into allegations of war crimes raised by the Goldstone report last year. Ban Ki-Moon, the UN's secretary general, has been asked to report back to the assembly "within a period of five months on the implementation of the present resolution, with a view to the consideration of further action".

The commission of inquiry led by South African judge Richard Goldstone had in November recommended that both sides set up independent investigations into the findings of the Goldstone report and present their findings to the UN in three months. That deadline passed earlier this month with Mr Ban acknowledging that he could not determine whether either side had fulfilled its obligations. However, rather than, as called for by the Goldstone report, refer the matter to the UN's Security Council - where it would likely be vetoed by the US and then returned for a vote in the General Assembly on whether to send it to the International Criminal Court in The Hague - Mr Ban took no action whatsoever, for which he was roundly criticised by human rights organisations.

That in turn led to Friday's resolution, which was put forward by the Palestinian delegation and backed by Muslim countries. Riyad Mansur, the PLO's representative to the UN, called the vote a "victory for the victims of the Palestinian people and victory for international humanitarian law". The decision to postpone for a further five months any action on the Goldstone report was, however, sharply criticised in some quarters. Richard Falk, the UN's special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, told the Palestinian news agency Maan on Thursday that further delay would only lessen the likelihood of any war criminals being held accountable.

"I think [unnecessarily delaying the implementation of its recommendations] is part of the wider effort basically to bury the recommendations of the Goldstone report," Mr Falk said. The delays "remove the reality of what happened in Gaza from the collective memory of world society". Mr Mansour rejected such criticism and said that the process was a long one. "The Goldstone report is like a bulldozer and it is moving. Sometimes it is moving fast, sometimes it is moving slow," he told Maan.

Slow or not, both sides will now have another five months to prepare their next steps. Israel maintains that it is investigating complaints, though not necessarily those raised by the Goldstone report, which some officials have rejected as anti-Semitic, and that its army is capable of conducting an independent investigation into its own conduct, something international human rights organisations have queried.

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev, also cast doubt on the Palestinian Authority's ability to conduct an investigation in Gaza, "from which it was violently ousted in a bloody coup", she says. The PA has undertaken its own investigation into Palestinian conduct during the Israeli onslaught. Earlier this month, Hamas said the movement had never deliberately targeted civilians, but that its weapons were too crude to be used with any reliable measure of precision.

The next five months will thus probably prove "crucial", said George Giacaman, a Ramallah-based analyst, though not necessarily for any outcome of investigations. "Israel will use this time to lobby governments against taking any action on the Goldstone report. This, it is much better equipped to do than the Palestinian side," said Mr Giacaman. "It is nevertheless an open contest, because the Palestinian side, in urging that action be taken, will be joined by human rights organisations from across the world."

The Goldstone report is not yet "dead and buried", he said, but the next five months will determine its fate. okarmi@thenational.ae