In case you’re not up to speed on the Goldstone report, here’s a crash course (for viewers of US TV serials: “previously in The Goldstone Saga…”). I’ve tried to stick to the brief facts. Sorry, no links – I may add some later if I get time:
- In April, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) set up a fact-finding mission to investigate the Gaza conflict of last winter, appointing as its head Judge Richard Goldstone, prosecutor of the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Goldstone renegotiated the mandate of the mission, regarding its initial formulation as being biased against Israel. Goldstone is a Zionist himself, a longstanding member of the board of the Hebrew University.
- The Israeli government refused to co-operate with the mission, on the grounds that the UNHRC is so biased that any report that it commissioned was bound to criticise Israel unfairly.
- The mission held public hearings in Gaza and Geneva during the summer. It made fields visits to Gaza and Amman, though it was not permitted by Israel to enter the West Bank.
- In September the fact-finding mission published its report (pdf, 575 pages). Its conclusions were severely critical of both the Israeli government and of Hamas, having found prima facie evidence of war crimes on both sides. The refusal of the Israeli government to co-operate hampered the commission in gathering evidence about possible Hamas war crimes; either for this reason, or because there was less to investigate, the section on Hamas is much shorter than the section on Israel. In its conclusions (which are wide-ranging, and include a call for the end of the Gaza blockade), the commission called on both sides to investigate possible war crimes committed during the conflict. It recommends that if after six months Israel has not proceeded with a “good faith” investigation, that the situation in Gaza should be referred to Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
- The Israeli government and its supporters mounted an intensive campaign to discredit the report, on various suppositional grounds: its biased mandate and unbalanced conclusions, the prejudices of its members, the lack of evidence from the Israeli government, the personal ambitions and failings of Judge Goldstone, and many others. (To show the thoroughness and success of this campaign, search in Google for “Goldstone report”; virtually every single item on the first page, apart from the report itself, will be hostile commentary).
- The US/Israel tactic for handling the report in the United Nations was to defer consideration for three months. At first this looked like succeeding because it was supported by the Palestinian Authority (governing the West Bank), but a storm of protest in Palestine and the wider Arab world forced Mahmoud Abbas to reverse his position. The report was accepted by the UNHRC on 15th October.
Backing by the UNHRC will give the report momentum within the United Nations, and (IMO) wider credibility in the absence of any serious refutation. The doctrine of universal jurisdiction means that senior IDF officers and some government ministers cannot now travel to many western countries, including Britain, for fear of arrest. But the report’s most weighty recommendation, referral to the International Criminal Court, will not be acted on – the US veto in the Security Council will see to that.