The UNHRC Gaza report - Tragedy or farce?

From the vantage point of an Israeli critic, Monday's scene was bad, but not the end of the world; Palestinian critics will say the scene was good, but not enough to bring the house down.

June 23, 2015 17:54
3 minute read.

A Palestinian man walks atop the remains of a house that witnesses said was destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 10. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The release Monday of the UN Human Rights Council's investigation into last year’s Gaza conflict is an early scene in what will be a multi-act drama.

While the Palestinians want this play to be viewed as a tragedy, Israel wants it to be seen as a farce. And Monday’s relatively weak scene did not yet give the audience an unequivocal indication as to how things will ultimately play out.

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From the vantage point of an Israeli critic, Monday’s scene was bad, but not the end of the world. Palestinian critics will say the scene was good, but not enough to bring the house down.

And this scene was preceded by at least three others.
Yonah Jeremy Bob discusses implications of UN Gaza report‏

Scene 1 of Act 1 was the actual 50-day Gaza conflict.

Scene 2 was the appointment, and later resignation, of a clearly biased chairman – William Schabas – who once provided legal counsel to the PLO. And Scene 3 was Israel’s efforts to gets its side of the story out before this report was issued, in order to preempt its findings.

Scenes 2 and 3 weakened the effect of Scene 4, which took place Monday in Geneva.

The report released on Monday was not the Goldstone report from 2009, which investigated Operation Cast Lead. It did not contain the drama of that report, chaired by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, nor the categorical conclusions, nor the determination that Israel deliberately killed civilians.

The language in Monday’s report was much more careful, the conclusions more mild and balanced. And that also explains Israel’s much more measured response to this report, than its response in 2009 to Goldstone. Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the report unfair and biased, it was a far cry from his comments following Goldstone, which he said was a gift to terrorists everywhere and a kangaroo court.

Likewise, the Foreign Ministry’s statement saying it needed to “study” the recent report was much different than saying, as it did with the release of the Goldstone report, that it was “appalled,” and even “nauseated” and infuriated by it.

But Monday’s report, again, is just one scene in one act. The drama will remain in Geneva for the time being, where the 47-member UN Human Rights Council which set up this investigation will vote on whether to adopt its findings and decide what to do with them.

Israel is already actively lobbying its allies on the council to reject the report and to vote against it. Not out of any hope that it could actually get the necessary numbers of the council to vote against accepting the conclusions of the report, but rather to get a bloc of Western countries – a “moral minority” – to take issue with the report, thereby depriving it of any real stature.

From an Israeli diplomatic perspective, the best-case scenario is that the report is buried in Geneva after being adopted on the strength of votes from countries like Cuba, Congo, Pakistan, and Venezuela.

A worst case scenario would be that some Western countries on the UNHRC accept the report, it gains traction, and – like the Goldstone report – goes to a vote in the UN General Assembly.

Israel wants to nip in the bud any attempts to push this report forward, so as to prevent the creation of various follow-up committees or committees charged with implementing the report’s recommendations.

Ironically, the Palestinians – who pushed hard for widespread acceptance of the Goldstone committee findings – are less likely to be as energetic in pushing the report forward, because while the bulk of the onus is on Israel, the report is not without its criticism of the Palestinians, saying they may have committed war crimes, as well.

If the Palestinians had hoped that this report would pave the way for an International Criminal Court indictment of Israel for war crimes or crimes against humanity as a result of Operation Protective Edge, they were likely disappointed. The scene enacted in Geneva on Monday did not seem powerful enough to trigger that kind of sequel.

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