Goldstone Report's Findings a Stumbling Block for Peace

By Etan Schwartz
Staff Writer
November 1, 2009

Israel articulated three main objectives when it started its offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip last winter: stop the rocket fire into southern Israel; weaken the security infrastructure of Hamas in Gaza; and restore the deterrence posture lost after years of rocket attacks, and the kidnapping of its soldier, Gilad Shalit. The war successfully achieved those goals but also resulted in the unintended consequence of the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict - otherwise known as The Goldstone Report. This report has become a setback in the effort to renew peace negotiations between Israel, the United States, and the Palestinian Authority.

The Goldstone Report, created by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is hardly the first UN effort to focus on allegations of abuse by Israel. In fact, since it was established three years ago, the UNHRC has passed almost as many resolutions against Israel as it has against every other country in the world combined. The UNHRC’s blatant anti-Israel bias led Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to refuse an appointment as head of the Gaza Fact-Finding Mission. After her refusal, Robinson stated that the UNHRC was “guided not by human rights but by politics.” Judge Richard Goldstone, a prominent South African jurist, also initially refused the post citing many of Robinson’s concerns. He only agreed to head the mission after its mandate changed to include investigations of human-rights violations by Hamas as well. Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation, claiming its mandate was biased by an a priori assumption that Israel had committed war crimes.

The report found war crimes committed by both sides during the conflict, but reserves its harshest criticism for Israel. The Palestinian Authority initially urged UNHRC members to refer the issue to the powerful UN Security Council, which could in theory ask the International Criminal Court to open a war crimes prosecution. Already facing challenges to restarting the peace process due to its failure to secure Israeli commitment to a settlement freeze and token gestures of reconciliation from the Arab states, the Obama Administration was not eager to place another barrier in front of its Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, in the form of a UN battle against Israel.

The Palestinian Authority, whose legitimacy is based upon the idea that negotiations with Israel can lead to a Palestinian state, was also not keen on the idea of giving Netanyahu more excuses to delay negotiations. Besides, Fatah’s memory of Hamas’ Gaza coup is still fresh, and the PA leadership in Ramallah shed few tears for Hamas leaders during the war. Therefore, the Palestinian representative supported deferring discussion of the Goldstone Report until March. Hamas seized the opportunity to paint PA president Mahmoud Abbas as an Israeli and American collaborator. Already in a precarious position, Abbas quickly reversed course amid outrage from the Palestinian public, and recommended immediate action on the Goldstone Report.

The political side effects of the Goldstone Report seem to be decisively negative for the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority. For American and Palestinian administrations eager to resume negotiations leading to a Palestinian state, the debacle of the UN vote on the report has resulted in a weakened Abbas and a renewed spotlight on alleged Israeli war crimes that will further complicate Mitchell’s mission to pressure both sides to move the peace process forward.

From Israel’s (and perhaps America’s) point of view, the Goldstone report represents a dangerous institutionalization of legal constraints that would cripple the ability to fight terrorism. Already some are claiming the report’s conclusions make further withdrawals from the West Bank impossible, since if Israel came under rocket attack from that same territory, it would now be severely limited in its ability to put a stop to it.

For some human rights activists, the report represents a positive step in holding governments accountable. The report, however, is still a creation of the UNHRC, which remains open to charges of bias due to its overtly political nature. In fact, even Judge Goldstone himself criticized the latest UNHRC resolution on the report which called for an investigation of Israel without mentioning Hamas, deviating from Goldstone’s conclusions. The Bush administration withdrew from the UNHRC because of its bias against Israel and lack of resolve in censuring oppressive states. Obama announced that the U.S. would rejoin the council, not because these issues were resolved, but in order to fight the problems from within. The Obama administration must make good on this pledge to ensure that UNHRC reports are accepted as credible.

A weak Palestinian Authority, a right-wing government in Israel, and a Hamas-controlled Gaza strip all present significant obstacles for Obama as he seeks to move the peace process forward. The Goldstone report is another stumbling block in an already uphill battle.

A version of this article first appeared on the website of the Atlantic Council (www.acus.org). As always, the views expressed in this article are that of the author and not the International Affairs Review.

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