The Foreign Ministry has not yet decided whether Israel should cooperate with a United Nations Human Rights Council commission that is expected to be set up in the coming days to investigate alleged war crimes in Gaza.
Senior diplomatic officials said that deliberations are currently underway in the ministry to decide whether Jerusalem should boycott this commission, as it did the Goldstone Commission in 2009, which found Israel guilty of war crimes for its actions during the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Although one senior official in the ministry recommended that Israel not cooperate with the commission, as there is little chance Israel would get a fair hearing from the blatantly anti-Israel UNHRC, no final decision has been made, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has yet to weigh in.
Earlier this week Liberman, not known for possessing a great deal of confidence in the UN, surprised many by raising the idea of turning Gaza over to a UN mandate.
On July 24, the UNHRC meeting in Geneva voted to establish an inquiry committee to investigate Israel’s actions during Operation Protective Edge. Neither the composition of the committee, nor its mandate, has been established.
Israel has gone down this path before, and in April 2009, three months after Operation Cast Lead, decided not to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone.
At the time, Foreign Ministry officials explained that the decision not to cooperate was made, after it was determined that the move to set up an investigation was “one-sided” against Israel.
One diplomatic official acknowledged on Tuesday that the Goldstone Commission – which accused Israel of war crimes – caused Israel a great deal of public relations damage, but stood by Israel’s decision at the time not to cooperate.
By its non-participation, it was possible afterward for Israel to say that from the very beginning the committee was stacked against it. Cooperating with the investigation, he said, would have implied acceptance of its legitimacy.
While Israel did not directly provide the commission with any material, it did provide information indirectly, which – according to Israeli officials – the Goldstone Commission ignored.
Likewise, the commission did not give much weight to individual Israeli citizens, impacted by the Gaza rocket fire who testified before it.
Some six months after the commission’s findings were released in September 2009, the IDF completed a 1,000 page document dissecting the allegations.
Diplomatic officials said that this time, if Israel does not cooperate with the committee, it needs to wage an aggressive campaign immediately after the findings are released presenting Israel’s positions.
If you wait until months later, the official said, then the damage will already have been done and will be much more difficult to undo.
Goldstone, in a an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on April 1, 2011, recanted parts of his own commission’s findings, and wrote that, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
In that article, he said he regretted that his committee did not have Israeli evidence explaining the circumstances “in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.”
“Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazan’s killed were civilians and how many were combatants,” he said, adding that “I would have welcomed Israel’s cooperation.”
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