x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Israel's Peres lobbies UN over Palestinian state, Goldstone report

Israel's President Shimon Peres lobbies the United Nations to have the organisation abandon the controversial Goldstone report and resist calls to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

NEW YORK // Israeli President Shimon Peres was in Manhattan last week seeking to persuade the United Nations not to recognize an independent Palestinian state and to overturn a report that criticised the country's 2008-09 offensive in Gaza.

Analysts say the world body is unlikely to declare Palestinian statehood during the UN General Assembly in September and that the chances of members agreeing to wholly abandon the so-called "Goldstone report" are remote too.

They point to a delicate balance in UN politics, where a 192-member General Assembly includes Arab and non-aligned countries that typically support the Palestinians, and a 15-nation Security Council in which Israel's ally, the United States, wields a veto.

Mr Peres's meetings with Security Council envoys and the UN secretary general, Ban-Ki-moon, follow a breakdown in talks between Israelis and Palestinians and a wave of uprisings across the Arab world that has left the peace process in further disarray.

Israel is pushing for the UN to drop a report from the jurist Richard Goldstone, which accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes during a three-week offensive that cost the lives of 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

The report is making headlines again because Mr Goldstone wrote on April 1 in The Washington Post that he now rejects his chief criticism of Israel that its forces deliberately targeted civilians during the operation.

In New York last week, Mr Peres branded the report a "joke" and said Israeli forces have both "rifles and values" and that 400 allegations against the army have been probed and only three were found to be true. "Libels are living longer than denials," he said.

Israel's detractors say the South African jurist has criticised the report that bears his name because of pressure from the US and Israel and through his native links to South Africa's Jewish community.

Although Israel did not necessarily target civilians, it has failed to investigate any military commanders or question reckless battlefield tactics such as using white phosphorous or heavy artillery in the densely populated Gaza Strip, said Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch.

Despite Mr Goldstone's newspaper editorial, the report remains an official UN document and its central demand that both Israelis and Palestinians investigate allegations of atrocities or face punitive measures through the UN still stands.

The UN's Geneva-based Human Rights Council agreed on March 21 to send the report back to the UN General Assembly in September and proposed a follow-up by the Security Council and possible referral for prosecutions by the International Criminal Court.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said she wanted the report to "disappear" but noted "challenges" in persuading the bigger UN bodies - the General Assembly and the 47-nation Human Rights Council - in which the Palestinians canvas broad support.

"Clearly Peres is trying to spin Goldstone's comments to his advantage and the US may be helping, but my sense is that the other countries aren't buying it," said Mr Abrahams. "They realise the Goldstone report still has valid criticisms of both sides in this conflict that need to be addressed."

Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN expert for The Century Foundation, a New York-based think tank, said: "It's important where the Europeans go on this, because it was their support that gave report credibility in the first place. I don't see the Europeans saying that the report is totally discredited."

The Goldstone debate is likely to be overshadowed at September's UN General Assembly by Palestinian efforts towards becoming a UN member in what would amount to a unilateral declaration of statehood along the territory's 1967 borders.

US President Barack Obama told the UN last September that he wished to see a Palestinian statehood deal "when we come back here next year", but both Israel and the US maintain that this should come about through direct talks and warn against solo Palestinian moves.

The Palestinians say they may take unilateral action in the face of continued Israeli settlement construction and US support, citing Washington's isolation in February's 14-1 vote when it blocked a draft Security Council resolution against Jewish house-building in the West Bank.

Although UN membership requires Security Council approval, Palestinian diplomats are considering circumventing the top UN body and embarrassing the US and Israel with a General Assembly vote.

This week, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyadh Mansour, said 112 UN countries now back their statehood aspirations and they are close to "crossing the two-thirds majority" they need of some 130 UN assembly members.

While the General Assembly will likely back the Goldstone report and Palestinian UN membership, few analysts expect either effort to get beyond the US veto in the Security Council.

"The international community is ready to say that the peace process with this Israeli government - which has walked away from the negotiating table - is dead, or at least in a deep coma," said Mr Laurenti. "Maybe electric shock therapy is needed to revive this patient, and recognition of the state of Palestine would be such an electric shock."

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at New York's Columbia University, said General Assembly support for Palestinians would raise their bargaining position but would unlikely gain US support and Israel would ultimately still control the territory.

Using the American veto would be a major diplomatic setback, he said."It will be another defeat for Israel and a crushingly stupid mistake for American diplomacy ... the US will once again be voting against its own position, in keeping with Israeli and American domestic pro-Israeli pressure."

jreinl@thenational.ae