NEW YORK - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday he will send the Goldstone Report, which calls for Israel and the Palestinians to investigate alleged war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza to the UN Security Council "as soon as possible."
The 15 council members have already received copies of the 575-page report, by the panel chaired by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. The General Assembly, in a resolution adopted Thursday, asked the secretary-general to transmit it, which will make the report an official Security Council document.
It's possible the Goldstone Report could come before the Security Council on Wednesday, during its open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
Following a two-day debate in the UN General Assembly, 114 countries voted for the resolution and 18 voted against it, including Israel, the US, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and several Eastern European nations. Another 44 abstained, including most of the EU countries that had sought unsuccessfully to soften the resolution's language prior to the vote.
Switzerland was the only European country to endorse the report. Russia, which does not often side with Israel in these matters, abstained.
In anticipation of defeat on Thursday, Israel had focused its energies on a "moral victory" and had called on democratic and Western countries to reject the report, which it said undermined the right of moderate countries to defend themselves against terrorism.
"We are satisfied that 18 countries, which constitute a moral majority, supported Israel's stance and that 44 abstained and did not vote with the automatic majority," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the media on Friday.
"It's not a trivial thing that 18 countries, including those from the Western, democratic world, would vote against the resolution," he said.
"The automatic majority of countries like Saudi Arabia and Somalia at the UN is, unfortunately, a given situation. These are not countries which will teach us about morals. Once again it has been proven that the UN is not an arena we can fight in," Lieberman said.
"The results of the vote, and the large number of countries who voted against or abstained, clearly show that the assembly's resolution does not enjoy the support of the moral majority," the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said, in a statement after the vote. The statement stressed that the resolution had no connection to "the reality Israel faces."
"During Operation Cast Lead the IDF exhibited higher standards of combat and morals than those held by the all the initiators of the resolution," the statement continued. "Israel will continue to act to defend itself from international terrorism, as any democratic country would."
Palestinians are pushing the Security Council to refer the report to the International Criminal Court at The Hague in hopes that it would then prosecute individual Israelis of war crimes.
The Security Council, however, is highly unlikely to take any action. The United States, which has veto power on the council, has repeatedly said the report belonged in the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, which appointed the Goldstone panel.
Diplomats said Russia, which also has veto power on the council, does not want the Security Council dealing with human rights issues.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters in Washington on Friday, "We don't support raising this issue in the Security Council. We are committed to the resumption of talks between the two sides, and we do not want to take any steps that would, in any way, jeopardize the resumption of those talks. We also believe that these kinds of issues are best raised and best dealt with through domestic institutions. And we call on Israel to set up the kind of mechanisms to investigate these - some of these allegations."
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, called Thursday's General Assembly's endorsement of the report, "an important night in the history of the General Assembly and the history of fighting against impunity and seeking accountability."
The General Assembly resolution also called on Switzerland to reconvene a meeting of the parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which spells out the obligations of an occupying power, and Mansour said the Palestinians will start preparing for this.
Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev boycotted Thursday's vote, sending Deputy Representative Danny Carmon in her place.
Carmon said the resolution "endorses and legitimizes a deeply flawed, one-sided and prejudiced report."
He said the General Assembly ignores facts on the ground related to Israel's security, and cited the recent interception of a large arms shipment from Iran destined for Hizbullah.
Indeed, prior to Thursday's vote, Israel filed a letter of complaint with Ban, urging him to press the Security Council to act against Iran.
The dispatch by Iran of 36 shipping containers of weapons on the cargo vessel Francop violates several Security Council resolutions, namely 1747, 1701 and 1373, Shalev wrote in the letter.
"The aforementioned shipment from Iran to Syria, or to any other country or entity, in particular to any terrorist entity, constitutes a severe violation of this and other resolutions," she wrote.
Listing other violations, Shalev implicated Iran's national shipping company, saying it has "repeatedly" been "found to be involved in transporting weapons and other banned items in violation of UN Security Council resolutions."
Following the Goldstone vote, which US Ambassador Susan Rice did not attend, the US mission circulated an "explanation of vote" by Deputy Permanent Representative Alejandro Wolff, who voted in Rice's place.
"As the United States made clear in Geneva, we believe that the Goldstone Report is deeply flawed," Wolff said, citing an unbalanced focus on Israel, sweeping legal conclusions and overreaching recommendations, and a failure to adequately assign responsibility to Hamas for basing its operations in civilian-populated areas.
He stressed that the matter should be handled at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva alone, saying discussion in the Security Council would be "unconstructive."
Stating that the US "strongly supports accountability" for human rights and humanitarian law violations, Wolff said the best way to end human suffering is to bring comprehensive peace to the region, including a two-state solution.
"As we urge the parties to restart permanent-status negotiations leading to the creation of a Palestinian state, we should all be seeking to advance the cause of peace - and doing nothing to hinder it," he said.
The UN resolution was passed two days after the US House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution calling the Goldstone Report "irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy."
US Jewish groups - from B'nai B'rith to the American Jewish Committee to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations - criticized the UN vote.
"In the event that this matter is referred to the UN Security Council," said AJC Executive Director David Harris, "we urge member states to dismiss the recommendations of the Goldstone Commission, which was grossly prejudiced against Israel from its inception."
On Monday, Lieberman and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon will head to Denmark and the Netherlands where they will speak with European and Israeli diplomats about both the Goldstone Report and the shipment of Iranian arms which Israel confiscated last week. Israel has argued that the UN should condemn Iran's actions rather than Israel's. Lieberman plans to thank the Netherlands for its stance on the Goldstone Report.
The two officials will also discuss an upgrade of European Union relations with Israel.
In related news, the Anti-Defamation League said the Goldstone Report has become "a cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre in the Arab press," which has published anti-Israel cartoons in response to the document.
Among the examples cited by the ADL is a cartoon published in Alraya in Qatar on October 17 that portrays a Jew putting the Goldstone Report into a shredder.
AP contributed to this report.