The Palestinians and their allies have called for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to become involved in a row over Gaza war crimes investigations.
The proposal was contained in a draft resolution circulated to members of the U.N. Human Rights Council ahead of a debate Thursday on a report which accuses Israeli forces and Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the Dec. 27-Jan. 18 war.
Israel has tried to discredit the report and its authors, claiming the panel of U.N. experts led by former South African judge Richard Goldstone was biased against the Jewish state. Hamas — which controls the Gaza Strip — has sought to capitalize on the report’s criticism of Israel while downplaying serious allegations the document makes against Palestinian militants.
The Human Rights Council commissioned the report and took it up in early October, but Palestinian diplomats agreed to delay consideration until March under heavy pressure from the United States, which feared it would jeopardize attempts to revive the Mideast peace process.
The delay sparked scathing criticism of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and led the Palestinians to reverse course, first seeking an emergency Security Council meeting and then seeking to reopen the Human Rights Council debate, which will happen on Thursday and Friday.
The Security Council moved up its monthly Mideast briefing to Wednesday, and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki and Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev traded accusations about the Goldstone report.
Al-Malki called for global action to punish Israel, warning that the credibility of the United Nations and international human rights law was at stake. Shalev countered that the report “favors and legitimizes terrorism” and “denies Israel’s right to defend its citizens.”
The resolution that Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria and others proposed to the Human Rights Council late Wednesday endorses the Goldstone team’s findings. It asks Ban to report back to the Rights Council in March whether Israel and the Palestinians are complying with the document’s recommendations calling for impartial and independent probes by both sides and bringing any perpetrators of war crimes to justice.
The move to rope in the U.N. chief appeared to be an effort to pile further pressure on the international community to ensure justice and hold war crimes perpetrators accountable.
The report already recommends that the Security Council should determine within six months whether credible investigations are taking place. If they aren’t, it says the council should refer the matter to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
The Security Council is unlikely to recommend such a move as the United States, a long-standing ally of Israel, considers the report unbalanced and doesn’t want it considered by the 15-nation body, where it has veto power.
The report also recommended that countries use what is known as “universal jurisdiction” to arrest and prosecute those suspected of war crimes, a suggestion that has infuriated and unnerved senior Israeli officials. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed earlier this week that he would never allow war crimes trials against Israeli leaders or soldiers.
The report concluded that Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields, and destroyed civilian infrastructure during its incursion into Gaza to root out Palestinian rocket squads.
It accused Palestinian armed groups, which include Hamas, of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through its rocket attacks on southern Israel.
European diplomats in Geneva expressed concern Wednesday about several aspects of the proposed resolution, but said the Human Rights Council’s 47 member would seek to find a compromise ahead of a probable vote Friday. The council, which is dominated by African and Asian countries, has a record of passing resolutions critical of Israel.