The United Nations Human Rights Council’s endorsement of the Goldstone report claiming Israel committed war crimes in Gaza last winter may limit future Israeli territorial withdrawal from the West Bank.
Although that assessment came Tuesday from Israeli political analyst Yossi Alpher, a senior Israeli official said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has privately voiced the same view.
“He’s been telling European leaders that he wants to withdraw from areas of the West Bank, but that he has to be sure Israel will be able to defend itself,” said the official. “He said that if Israel left an area and Hamas or Islamic Jihad came in and launched rockets at Israel from there, there would be a problem if Israel could not defend itself.
“To avoid that, he said he preferred not to give up territory,” the official said.
Alpher pointed out that this same scenario has happened in both southern Lebanon and Gaza. Israeli troops that were in both areas to ensure peace left only to find Palestinian terrorist groups move in and begin firing rockets into Israeli civilian populations.
“If the international community in its collective judicial wisdom punishes us for defending ourselves from cross-border attacks from land we withdrew from … we have to be careful not to put ourselves in this position again,” said Alpher, who is also co-editor of the Israeli-Palestinian Web site BitterLemons.com.
“If our hands are tied as far as responding militarily, then this is a consideration against withdrawal that we didn’t have before,” he noted.
Before the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the Goldstone report in Geneva last Friday, Alpher said, Israel had always believed that “in the worst-case scenario if we withdrew and they attacked, we would respond. Now we have to ask ourselves if we are free to respond …
“There is a legitimate argument to be made about withdrawing in stages or in the presence of an international force, and insisting on guarantees from the international community on our right to self defense prior to withdrawing,” Alpher continued.
At an Israeli cabinet meeting Tuesday, the Justice Ministry was instructed to form a committee to deal with the international legal consequences of the Goldstone report and any attempts to institute legal proceedings abroad against the state of Israel or its citizens.
In a statement following the meeting, Netanyahu promised a lengthy battle to “delegitimize” the findings. In addition, he asked government officials to draft proposals to change the international rules of war.
As Moshe Dann, a former assistant professor of history pointed out on the Israeli news Web site Ynet, the Goldstone report failed to differentiate between civilian and military targets.
“Even when the civilian population is sympathetic to and involved with the enemy and is used, willingly or not, as shields, the Israel Defense Forces have no right to attack,” he wrote. “According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Article 51 of the UN Charter does not allow Israel to act in self-defense against terrorists because ‘they are not a state but organized individuals among the population it occupies.’”
Thus, Dann added, these terrorists are not military targets unless they were carrying out a terror attack at the time. If not, they should have been arrested and tried in a court of law.
Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, pointed out that it was the UN’s Human Rights Council that hired Goldstone and that “since its inception in 2006 it has been systematically singling out Israel while ignoring human rights abuses around the world.”
“This assault against Israel is not based on international law but the political predispositions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, which even [former UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan criticized,” he said. “This is a worldwide plague. People unfairly charge Israel with a disproportionate use of force, but Israel is faced with the disproportionate use of diplomacy against it.”
Gold pointed out that Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, said Israeli forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
Some in the Israeli government would like to establish an independent body to investigate the conduct of the Israeli military in Gaza — as demanded by the Goldstone report and recommended by Britain and France as a way to get the Goldstone report off the international agenda.
In the cabinet meeting Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly derailed any talk of such an independent review, saying in a later statement: “There is no need for a committee of inquiry. The Israeli military knows to examine itself better than anyone else.”
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz had reportedly planned to raise this issue but will have to wait until the matter is again discussed.
Gold suggested that by appointing such a body, Israel would be “acting as though it’s guilty” of the war crimes the report alleges.
Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, said Israel is in a no-win situation no matter which way it decides.
“If it issues a report on Gaza and says there is no evidence of war crimes, it would be condemned,” he said. “If it says yes, there were war crimes and it brings 20 soldiers to trial, Israelis would say they were being used as scapegoats to satisfy this political ‘lawfare’ campaign — to satisfy the anti-Israel activists.”
Steinberg said the action of the Human Rights Council is just another attempt by the Arab states to demonize Israel in the international community. But he said its legitimacy was undermined this week by an op-ed in The New York Times Tuesday by Robert Bernstein, founder of Human Rights Watch. Bernstein publicly broke with the group, from which he retired in 1998, because he said in effect that it had become a tool of those “who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”
Steinberg pointed out that Richard Goldstone, the author of the report that bears his name, had been a member of the board of Human Rights Watch.
Another Arab proposal to debate Israel’s Gaza operation at the Inter-Parliamentary conference in Geneva Monday was defeated by the Israeli delegation there. Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who headed the delegation, was quoted as saying: “Enough with these attempts to use the international stage for attacks on Israel.”
In remarks earlier to the conference, Shalom said: “Not only Israel, but the entire world is sick and tired of this continuous, one-sided discussion on Israel. The world has grown tired of the attempts by Iran and the Arab bloc to raise the Israeli issue over and over again.”
He was referring to an attempt by Iran last April to debate the Gaza offensive during an IPU conference in Ethiopia. That attempt also failed, but not before the Iranian delegation called Shalom a “murderer” and waved pictures of the destruction in Gaza.
The issue was raised closer to home last week when pro-Palestinian demonstrators repeatedly interrupted former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as he attempted to speak in an auditorium at the University of Chicago.
“Shame on my university for inviting a murderer,” shouted one man as others shouted in agreement from their seats.
No sooner was he escorted out of the hall than another protester rose to shout such things as, “How many children have to die?”
Olmert, who maintained his composure throughout, replied: “This is a question Israelis have been asking for eight years.”
He was referring to the eight years of rocket and missile attacks Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have launched at Israelis in southern Israel until Israeli troops put an end to it by launching a 22-day military offensive last December.
At another point, a woman wearing a headscarf stood and waved what she said was a list of 1,400 Palestinians who were killed during the Gaza offensive. Although recording equipment was not permitted in the hall, a group called Electronic Intifada smuggled in a camera and posted what it recorded on You Tube.
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