Europe to take up Goldstone Report next week

Attention contrasts to a sense in Jerusalem that Israel "dodged a bullet" by submitting a 46-page report to UN head.

February 19, 2010 01:15
4 minute read.

The 27 EU foreign ministers, set to hold their monthly meeting in Brussels  on Monday, are expected to discuss the Goldstone Commission report and issue a statement that will be the basis of a debate on the issue to begin in the European Parliament two days later.

The attention the EU will devote to the issue next week contrasts to a sense in Jerusalem that Israel "dodged a bullet" by submitting to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this month a 46-page report documenting the steps Israel has taken to investigate alleged misconduct during the IDF's Gaza offensive last winter, and as a result does not now have to set up an investigative committee to look into the allegations.

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Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told him he was "thinking about" setting up an independent commission. Lieberman, as well as Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and former attorney-general Menahem Mazuz were in favor of a committee, while Defense Minister Ehud Bark said he would only accept a judicial review panel to look into whether the IDF's own investigations met international standards.

Last week, a senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said there was no intention to set up any independent inquiry commission or judicial panel.

Lieberman is scheduled to go to Brussels on Monday and meet on the sidelines of the EU foreign minister's session with a number of his counterparts, as well as hold his first talks with the new EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Spindelegger, who said that he thought an investigative committee would "be the right answer," was not the only European official urging Israel to set up an independent inquiry into the Goldstone allegations. Bastiaan Belder, the pro-Israel chairman of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Israel, told the xxPost an independent commit would be necessary for Israel to continue to retain the high moral ground.

Belder, a Dutch parliamentarian from the right-wing, Eurosceptic EFD political grouping in the European Parliament, was in Israel this week leading a 10-member delegation for an intra-parliamentary meeting with the Knesset. He said Israel had a "strong case" and had nothing to fear from an investigation.

Belder and his delegation met over the week with a senior IDF official, Dore Gold from The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and Daniel Taub from the Foreign Ministry, and received background information in preparation for the European Parliament debate.

Belder said that former South African judge Richard Goldstone was invited to participate, but was unlikely to do so. The parliament is not expected to vote on a resolution until the second week of March.

The discussion among the 27 EU foreign minister in Brussels is likely to be charged, since the Goldstone Commission badly split the EU, with seven member countries voting with Israel against the resolution in the UN General Assembly last year, five voting against Israel and for the resolution, and 15 countries abstaining.

The countries that voted with Israel were the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia.

The EU countries that voted against Israel in the UN were Cyprus, Ireland, Malta, Portugal and Slovenia.

Abstaining were Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Belder said that if Israel did not establish some kind of independent committee, the issue would "not go away, but just linger on. It is better to extinguish the fire in a resolute manner.

"When you are convinced that you did everything to prevent civilian casualties, when you have the moral high ground, show it and no one can blame you," he said.

A government official said an in-depth IDF report refuting the Goldstone Commission report is expected to be completed in March.

Meanwhile, MK Yohanan Plessner (Kadima), head of the Knesset's delegation to the European Parliament, said the most likely outcome of a European Parliament plenum session on the Goldstone Report was that the issue would be referred to a parliamentary committee for further discussion. In that event, said Plessner, MKs would seek to work together with Israel's allies in the parliament to reduce any impact of the committee hearing.

Plessner said the system of activating European allies and cooperating rather than boycotting hearings had already passed its first test last month. In January, the Council of Europe completed a report on Middle East affairs that Plessner said initially had a very clear anti-Israel slant.

"At the time, the report included allegations regarding Operation Cast Lead that involved accusations such as use of chemical weapons," he explained. "When the report was published at the end of last month, it was much more moderate. Although nobody would infer from the contents that it was composed by a 'Lover of Zion,' the worst elements were not included."

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.

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