richard goldstone 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Accusations of war crimes and human rights violations by Israel during the recent hostilities in the Gaza Strip - whether from inside Israel or outside - seem to be developing into a fixation among those in the international community who await the opportunity to bash Israel.
The fact that there exists a clear double standard, and that Israel is singled out for special treatment - whether justifiably or not - is regrettably a given factor in the international reality in which we live.
However, once again, Israel finds itself facing a dilemma of moral and humanitarian significance in the wider context of its membership in the international community. Faced with the UN Human Rights Council's appointment of South African Prof. Richard Goldstone to head an international fact-finding mission, the question once again arises whether Israel should agree to cooperate with Goldstone and his mission.
On the positive side is Israel's consistent need to be perceived by all as a normal country observing international standards to which it is party, as much as - and even more so than - others.
Additionally optimists might choose to see in the mission's mandate an element of impartiality, inasmuch as it is "to assess in an independent and impartial manner all human rights and humanitarian law violations committed in the context of the conflict which took place between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009 and provide much needed clarity about the legality of the thousands of deaths and injuries and the widespread destruction that occurred" (statement by the president of the UN Human Rights Council).
Taken at face value, and in a perfect world of genuine bona fides, such a mandate might indeed appear reasonable. Appointing a Jew to head the mission, as the UN press statements take pains to stress, and Goldstone's membership in the Board of Governors of the Hebrew University, was doubtless intended to serve as an additional factor in persuading Israel to cooperate with the mission.
However, the world is not perfect, and the impartiality of the mission and its independence, as well as the motivations behind it, are far from genuine and give rise to justifiable doubts as to its bona fides.
The mandate emanates from a UN Human Rights Council resolution dated January 12 of this year and entitled Council Resolution S-9/1, on the grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly due to the recent Israeli military attacks against the Gaza Strip.
The resolution, tabled - and supported by such paragons of international humanitarianism as Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and others - was adopted by 33 votes in favor, one (Canada) against and 13 abstentions (European countries).
It called to "dispatch an urgent, independent international fact-finding mission... to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying power, Israel, against the Palestinian people..., particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the latest aggression..."
Israel formally rejected this resolution as one-sided, adopted by a body dominated by a majority of Muslim and Non-Aligned countries and without the support of the Western and democratic states, and ignoring the terrorism against Israel and the daily rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas and other terrorist organizations from the Gaza Strip.
Further to the questionable basis of the mission's mandate, some thought might be given to the mission's composition. Without impinging on the good intentions and bona fides of Goldstone, it might be noted that Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics, together with other British academics, addressed a letter to The Guardian on January 5 that was extremely critical of Israel's action in the Gaza Strip.
The letter called upon the UK to revoke support for new agreements with Israel, and upon the EU to refuse extending existing agreements and to prevent upgrades of EU benefits to Israel.
Could Israel really expect a fair hearing from a mission member who has openly gone on record criticizing and advocating sanctions against Israel?
Clearly, the United Nations or any other body presuming to investigate Israel's actions must come with clean hands. It cannot base itself on a questionable mandate, generated for hostile political purposes that dictate in advance the conclusion of the mission. It cannot presume to be fair and impartial when one of its members hails from a country (Pakistan) that not only refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, but itself proposed the hostile resolution that forms the basis of the mission's mandate.
With all the good intentions that Israel might have in wishing to cooperate with any fair and impartial international mission, one may assume that this mission, like its predecessors, is doomed to fail, and in any event could not claim, in the words of Goldstone, to "make a meaningful contribution to the peace process in the Middle East and to providing justice for the victims."
Nothing good will come from this mission.
Alan Baker, a widely acknowledged international lawyer, is a partner in the Law Firm of Moshe, Gicelter & Co. and served as the former legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and ambassador to Canada.