Members of UN Security Council during meeting at UN headquarters in New York , October 14.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Monday meeting in Geneva between an Israeli delegation and the UN Human Rights Committee is a routine encounter that entails lots of discussion and little fanfare.
Yet the Israeli delegation at Monday’s meeting included the Justice Ministry’s director-general, Emi Palmor, for the first time, as well as Deputy Attorney-General Roy Schondorf and IDF International Law Department head Col. Noam Neuman – all high-ranking officials.
At the end, Palmor told reporters that it was an achievement that the delegation had not been extensively quizzed about the recent Gaza operation, and the ministry distributed a statement that it expected to field war-related questions.
So in the broader context, was the meeting a hit, as Palmor implied, or a miss? One could argue for a hit.
Israel got to make its case, even if indirectly, to a UN human rights body about the validity of its own investigations into war crimes allegations. It revealed that the country’s new fact-finding assessment mechanisms had completed initial recommendations in 47 of about 100 cases in a short time.
And this meeting did not take place in a vacuum. Some Palestinian supporters and UN officials are pushing hard to bring IDF soldiers and leaders before the ICC on war crimes charges.
Though the UN commission of inquiry into the Gaza war is officially impartial, Israel has panned it as a kangaroo court (and its leader, William Schabas, as biased), arguing that the commission is the instrument of choice for gathering evidence to bring Israel before the ICC.
Israel has refused until now to cooperate with the Schabas Commission, so Monday’s venue was an opportunity for the Jewish state to show that it does work with “fair” UN bodies, even though it may ignore allegedly biased ones.
To that extent, some say that behind the scenes, the members of the committee were even more reassured by some of the delegation’s responses to their concerns beyond what they had indicated in public.
But it is also worth noting what was not discussed.
While the Gaza operation came up indirectly in Israel’s answers about certain human rights issues and in its discussion of the Turkel Commission – the quasi-government body that determined that Israel’s apparatus for investigating itself complied with international law – the UN questioners did not come down hard on the Israeli delegation regarding the deaths of over 2,000 Palestinians or any of the individual incidents during the fighting.
This could suggest that when it comes to roles within the UN, Israel cannot sidestep the Schabas Commission, as Monday’s UN body does not have as much of a focus on war as it does on peacetime human rights issues.
Or it could suggest that the questioners intentionally refrained from getting into the subject of the Gaza war, leaving that exclusively to Schabas.
Such a reading would suggest that while Israel may still have achieved general UN goodwill, Palmor’s description of an achievement could be beside the point, with the UN neutralizing any attempted Israeli maneuver to deal with the UN without Schabas.
On the plus side, some have said that the UN questioners were impressed with Israeli responses on highly volatile issues like the state’s treatment of migrants and alleged torture of Palestinian detainees, including Israel’s appointing a new, more independent investigator of the Shin Bet.
On the miss side, UN questioners expressed uneasiness that while the High Court of Justice’s repeatedly striking down the state’s migrant policies showed a defense of human rights, the government’s having allegedly ignored the court’s criticism in its initial September 2013 ruling raised doubts about that commitment.
Also on the miss side, the UN questioners raised doubts about Israel’s citing necessity as a defense for applying moderate physical pressure to detainees in the face of imminent security risks – a move the questioners said was not far off from torture.
They also expressed doubts over the lack of new criminal investigations by the new Shin Bet investigator.
Regardless, it should be noted that even prior to the Gaza operation, the Justice Ministry had decided to send a higher-ranking delegation to Monday’s meeting than usual, in a more permanent campaign to show UN bodies its commitment to human rights.
In that version of events, the meeting was neither a hit nor a miss, but a realization of a longer-term strategy, unrelated to the Gaza war controversy, to show Israeli seriousness and cooperativeness with UN bodies where possible.
In any event, even if the delegation has scored a hit by increasing goodwill, it is unclear whether that will make a difference when the UN confronts Israel on its potential misses.