(photo credit:Ariel Jerozolimski)
Rejecting a key demand of the Goldstone Report, Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein said Israel should not set up a special investigative panel to look into the IDF's conduct during the military operation in Gaza last winter.
During a visit to New York, Edelstein said Israel would submit a report to the United Nations on Thursday that broadly defends its conduct during Operation Cast Lead and describes the army's investigations so far.
"Information we have is very different from the 'information' Goldstone has in his report," Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post
But he said there was no reason to set up another investigative panel such as one proposed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.
"To the best of my understanding, and to the best of my view, there is no reason in the world to create an additional investigation," Edelstein said. "If tomorrow we'll have to vote [in the cabinet], I'll vote against it, because I think we've investigated enough. The information is there. We're not going to discover new, earth shaking discoveries. It will keep the focus on the wrong things."
Edelstein said that during a private meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday, he expressed concern that the Goldstone Report was fueling anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment, such as Internet rumors that Israeli doctors were stealing organs from victims of the earthquake in Haiti.
"Anti-Semites and Jew-haters and Israel-haters of all kind are finding inspiration, even support, legitimization, in the report," he said.
Israel is expected to present Ban with a written rebuttal to the Goldstone Report by Thursday, in advance of a February 5 General Assembly meeting that will focus on the UN report and any developments. In endorsing the Goldstone Report in November, the General Assembly gave both Israel and Hamas three months to respond to the report's findings.
Based on the rebuttal, Ban is expected to address the General Assembly, his spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York on Tuesday.
"It is certainly the intention of the secretary-general to report at that point, to report on precisely what the findings are so far," Nesirky said. "By the 29th of this month, there should be a response by the Israeli government and the Palestinian side. Based on those responses, the secretary-general will then be reporting to the General Assembly on the 5th of February."
For Israel, creating an independent probe could prevent international war crimes charges. Israeli leaders, including Barak and Ashkenazi, have adamantly said they would not permit the interrogation of individual soldiers.
Edelstein's comments contradict Barak and Ashkenazi's concept, which would create a judicial investigative panel to review internal IDF investigations of alleged wrongdoing during last winter's Gaza offensive. Such a panel - to be headed by internationally respected jurists - would not have the authority to question soldiers or officers.
It also would be something of a compromise between those who say the IDF can investigate itself, and other demanding an independent query, including former South African judge Richard Goldstone and the UN secretary-general.
"The idea is not to establish a committee like the Winograd Commission after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 but to have a panel of jurists review the internal IDF probes and to give their opinion on them," a senior defense official told the Post
on Sunday. "The political echelon gave the orders and the officers should not be held accountable."
Meanwhile, another investigation by the IDF Military Advocate-General Maj.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit is currently underway. The IDF report - to be completed within two weeks and made public in the coming months - will address the Goldstone Report "word for word" and systematically refute its claims.
According to details published by The New York Times
, Israel will offer photographic evidence that proves it did not intentionally target Gaza's only flour mill during the military operation. Instead, the report will assert, the mill was accidentally hit by an errant artillery shell during a firefight with Hamas.
"I think it's a little crazy to start creating another committee and start investigating officers and soldiers. It's a never-ending saga," Edelstein said. "It's been investigated. We shouldn't become hysterical."
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