The UN Security Council on Wednesday rejected Libya's request to hold a special session on the Goldstone Report into Operation Cast Lead, but agreed to advance its periodical meeting on the Middle East to October 14 and focus on the war crimes allegations. The meeting was originally scheduled for October 20.
Most of the council's members were against discussing the report until the UN Human Rights Council reached a joint agreement on its recommendations on the topic.
Libyan Ambassador Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, flanked by ambassadors for Egypt, Sudan, the Arab League and the Palestinians, said the goal is "an open discussion ... (about) what happened on the ground in Gaza and also the tragedy" for Palestinians living there.
"We have to keep this momentum regarding this report," Shalgham added.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, said he expected the council's newly scheduled October 14 meeting on the Middle East to "concentrate" on the UN report.
In a surprise move earlier Wednesday, the UN Security Council met behind closed doors at the behest of Libyan diplomats, who requested an emergency session to discuss the report. The request - supported by Palestinian officials - upsets a fragile agreement achieved less than a week ago at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva which delayed action on the Goldstone Report until at least March.
Under the arrangement, Palestinians agreed to defer a vote on a resolution to refer the matter to the General Assembly, Security Council and possibly the International Criminal Court, a move that would allow individual Israelis to be prosecuted for their actions in Gaza.
But after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was sharply criticized both by members of his party and activists on the street for deferring the resolution, the Palestinian mission to the UN issued a statement in "full support" of the Libyan request to bring the issue to the Security Council independent of a UN Human Rights Council endorsement. Palestinians had enough votes in Geneva to endorse the resolution.
The Palestinian Observer Mission said it would work "diligently with the Arab Group and all other political groups inside and outside of the Security Council to ensure that this important (Security Council) meeting is convened to address this extremely serious issue."
In addition, Abbas dispatched his foreign minister, Riyad al-Malki, to New York in order to renew calls to try Israel for war crimes over the operation in Gaza.
The Libyan mission in New York - acting on orders from Tripoli - sent an informal letter to the Security Council asking for the meeting. Libya is a non-permanent member of the 15-member Council until later this year.
It is more likely that the UN General Assembly would bring the Gaza issue before the International Court of Justice at The Hague, speculated Ruth Lapidot, a Hebrew University international legal scholar.
Ali Abdussalam Treki, the Libyan diplomat and current president of the General Assembly, "will not request the GA to look into the report," a spokesman said on Wednesday. One of the body's 192 member states could make such a request, however, and the spokesman said, "I think that at some stage this report will have to end up in the GA. We'll just have to wait."
Unlike the Security Council, the General Assembly is more likely to move the Goldstone Report forward into the judicial arena, Lapidot said. "The General Assembly has an automatic majority of states that do not like Israel," she said, adding that countries do not have veto power in the GA.
While an ICJ advisory ruling is harmful in the court of public opinion, and could be used as the basis for other legal decisions, it had little practical implications at this time, said Lapidot. She pointed to the ICJ's 2004 advisory opinion, which stated it was illegal for Israel to construct the security barrier in the West Bank, and said it had not been too harmful to Israel.
An ICC ruling is more dangerous to Israelis, because "the ICC can prosecute individuals," said Lapidot.
At present, Palestinians needed the help of the Security Council to bring Israelis before the ICC because Palestine was not a state, said Lapidot.
She noted that separate from the Goldstone Report, an ICC prosecutor was now debating whether to consider Palestine a state for the purposes of legal action, a move that would make Israelis vulnerable to the court regardless of what happens with the Goldstone Report.
Whether Libya exerts pressure on the General Assembly remains to be seen. But during last month's debate, Treki showed his deference to Libyan president Muammar Gadaffi, allowing him to speak, uninterrupted, for 90 minutes - well over the 15-minute time allotment. Last year, then-president of the GA Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann used his position to bash Israel on a regular basis.
"Libya, being both on the Security Council and president of the General Assembly, will no doubt carefully coordinate its campaign with itself and its cohorts," said Anne Bayefsky, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute and the editor of EYEontheUN.org. "Their preference will be initially to insist on Security Council action. But if and when the Security Council does not act, they will then use it as an excuse to say the General Assembly is forced to take action because the Security Council did not."
"It will be like a one-two punch," she said. "The real question, though, is what are the Americans prepared to do about it."
The US so far has been clear that it wants to see the UN Human Rights Council, which mandated the inquiry, handle the report. American diplomats have stressed their goal of resuming peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians without distractions.
"Despite its flaws, the place for this report to be discussed remains in the [Human Rights] Council," Ambassador Susan Rice, the US permanent representative to the UN, said in a recent interview with The Washington Post.
In the Security Council, the US could face opposition from Turkey, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, which is pressing for "accountability" for anyone guilty of war crimes in Gaza.
"We will definitely take the position to discuss this issue on the Security Council," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said, according to a Reuters report.
The Goldstone Report, published in late September, accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes during Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. It said Israel used disproportionate force and failed to protect citizens, accusations amounting to possible crimes against humanity. Among their chief recommendations, the report's authors recommended that the Security Council require both sides to probe alleged abuses within six months.
Israel, which did not cooperate with the investigation, has called the mandate of the fact-finding mission itself inherently biased. American officials similarly called it deeply flawed.
Wednesday afternoon in New York, a European diplomat indicated that the report was commissioned by the Human Rights Council, where it should be dealt with. "They should proceed as planned, as it has been scheduled," the diplomat said.
JPost.com staff and AP contributed to this report