Friday, September 18, 2009

The Goldstone Report on the Gaza War has been released: What next?

The eagerly awaited UN report on the Gaza War has been released. Even though the conclusions reached by the commissioners and investigators of the UN were quite expected, the severity of the language, the harsh criticism of both Israel and Hamas, have astonished many, and shocked Israeli politicians. The Israelis are now desperately trying to control the damage the report has caused to Israel's image.
The report recommends that Israeli government, and also Hamas, should begin independent investigations of "serious violations" of international humanitarian and human rights laws, including evidence of war crimes, during the Gaza War.
In a column published in the New York Times dated Sept 17, 2009, Mr. Goldstone explained why he agreed to head the UN commission to investigate possible war crimes committed during the Gaza War by Israel and also the Hamas: "But above all, I accepted because I believe deeply in the rule of law and the laws of war, and the principle that in armed conflict civilians should to the greatest extent possible be protected from harm." And he stated that: "In Gaza, hundreds of civilians died. They died from disproportionate attacks on legitimate targets and from attacks on hospitals and other civilian structures. They died from precision weapons like missiles from aerial drones as well as from heavy artillery. Repeatedly, the Israel Defense Forces failed to adequately distinguish between combatants and civilians, as the laws of war strictly require."
Mr. Goldstone stated, "In these cases, Israel must investigate, and Hamas is obliged to do the same. They must examine what happened and appropriately punish any soldier or commander found to have violated the law."
On Wednesday Sept 16, 2009, Israel asked a few senior members of the Obama administration to assist in curbing the international fallout from the Goldstone Commission report. Israel is not complying with President Obama's request to freeze the settlements on West Bank; but it is asking Obama to help it in minimizing the devastating consequences of the stern report. Israel is terribly worried that the matter might arrive at the International Criminal Court for adjudication. Netanyahu has asked Putin for help, and he has also asked some members of the 15-member UN Security Council for help in discrediting the report. It's very unlikely that Britain and France will intervene. But what President Obama will do remains unclear. Would he buckle under the pressure of the Jewish Lobby(AIPAC) and try to discredit the Goldstone Commission report?
Initial response from the Obama administration does not appear to be very promising, and it does not inspire confidence that President Obama would be impartial. In her first reaction to the findings by Goldstone on Tuesday, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said: "We have long expressed our very serious concerns about the mandate given by the Human Rights Council prior to our joining it....We view the mandate as one-sided and basically unbalanced." And she also objected to Goldstone's recommendations, including one for the 15-nation Security Council to investigate and refer the war crimes to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
It is prudent and wise to note what Mr. Goldstone has said: "Pursuing justice in this case is essential because no state or armed group should be above the law. Western governments in particular face a challenge because they have pushed for accountability in places like Darfur, but now must do the same with Israel, an ally and a democratic state... Failing to pursue justice for serious violations during the fighting will have a deeply corrosive effect on international justice, and reveal an unacceptable hypocrisy."
There is an international movement to implement an economic boycott of Israel for its actions in the Gaza War. The release of the UN Goldstone report is likely to give momentum to the budding boycott movement.
Also, It's worth noting that European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has called for the United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state by a certain deadline even if an agreement is not reached between Israel and the Palestinians. So finally, after all these years, a consensus is building around the world that the Palestinians deserve a nation of their own and that the UN must help the Palestinians to realize this goal.
Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ