UNITED NATIONS - Advancing the Goldstone Report would derail the peace process, Israeli and American officials warned the UN Security Council on Wednesday.
The council met a day before a looming debate in Geneva, where the Human Rights Council is set to vote on whether to endorse the report criticizing Israel's actions during its military operation in Gaza this past winter.
The debate in New York was moved up after Libya requested an urgent session to discuss Goldstone. The request was denied, but Arab states and Palestinian officials used the regular meeting to urge all UN bodies to implement Goldstone's recommendations.
"This Goldstone Report is an obstacle to the peace process," Israel's Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev, told reporters following her speech in the Security Council. "The Goldstone Report puts us and Hamas on the same level, and this is not something we are going to accept."
In rejecting the Goldstone Report, Shalev defended Israel's right to defend itself during Operation Cast Lead. She further stressed that Israel had not raised the issue of the report in the council meeting.
"We don't think the Goldstone Report should be discussed in the Security Council. This is not the right time, this is not the right place," she said.
Addressing reporters minutes later, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, focused on Israeli officials' suggestion that advancing the recommendations of the report would jeopardize the peace process.
"This is a fallacious assumption, because upholding international law and especially international humanitarian law would be advancing the peace process," said Mansour.
He rejected the notion that Goldstone threatened Israel's right to self-defense.
"There is no justification whatsoever, even under the pretense of self-defense, to go and collectively punish an entire people, or 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip," he said.
In his speech before the council, US envoy Alejandro Wolff hinted at a fork in the road.
"I wish to place in clear contrast two dramatically different visions for the road ahead: the road of statehood and the road of conflict," said Wolff, who serves as deputy permanent representative to the UN.
At the start of the meeting, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki walked arm in arm with the Sudanese representative.
Addressing the council, Malki stressed that this week's Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva would "rectify the malfunction" that occurred two weeks ago, when a fragile deal was reached to delay discussion of the report until March.
Under political pressure, the Palestinians waffled on that decision, and Malki pledged on Wednesday to press for implementing the report's recommendations in all UN bodies.
"The world has for too long witnessed Israel's impunity, repeatedly fueled by a lack of punishment," he said. "We must break this obscene cycle."
In her speech, Shalev stressed that Israel sought peace. She also emphasized that the debate was a regular meeting of the Security Council, not a special meeting to discuss the Goldstone Report, as Libya had requested.
In that context, she cited the explosion in southern Lebanon two days earlier as evidence that the region was occupied by Hizbullah terrorists. In addition, she stressed the threat of Iran.
Shifting her focus to the Goldstone Report, she reminded the council that Israel had dismantled 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip four years ago under assurances that Israel would have the international community on its side if it needed to defend itself.
"Yet Israel's hope turned into a nightmare," she said.
"Although the debate on this report belongs elsewhere, let me clearly state Israel's position," she said. "I regret to say that the Goldstone Report is one-sided, biased and therefore wrong - just as the forum and the mandate that established its mission."
The report legitimizes terrorism, she said.
"For those of us who seek to resume the peace process in the Middle East, debating the Goldstone Report in the Security Council is but a tale 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,'" Shalev said, quoting Shakespeare's Macbeth. "If Israel is asked to take further risks for peace, the international community must recognize our right to self-defense."
Meanwhile, Wolff stressed that the US had "serious concerns" about the report's "unbalanced focus on Israel, the overly broad scope of its recommendations and its sweeping conclusions of law."
But, he said, "the allegations of human rights and humanitarian law violations contained therein are not a matter for Security Council action."
Indeed, Palestinian officials said they had drafted a resolution they would introduce at the Human Rights Council this week that would advance implementation of the Goldstone Report.
Sources said the European nations might abstain. European nations have expressed support for Israel, while raising concerns about the serious allegations concerning the IDF's conduct during Operation Cast Lead.
In the council on Wednesday, the British ambassador's speech reflected the nuance.
"We believe that the Goldstone Report itself did not adequately recognize Israel's right to protect its citizens, nor did it pay sufficient attention to Hamas's actions," said Ambassador John Sawyers. "But the concerns raised in the report cannot be ignored."
Rocket attacks by Palestinians must cease, he said. And while Israel had the right to defend its citizens from such attacks, it "must do so in accordance with international law," he said, adding, "We urge the Israeli government to carry out full, credible and impartial investigations into the allegations reported in the Goldstone Report." Â
In advance of the UN Security Council discussion on the report, President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak launched an intensive lobbying effort over the last few days, calling on various world leaders to keep the report from gaining traction and leading to operative steps against Israel.
Barak spoke Tuesday with a list of European diplomats, including French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr StÃ¸re.
According to his office, Barak told his interlocutors that the report was "false, distorted, tendentious and would encourage terrorism."
Adopting the report, he said, was "liable to give support to terrorist organizations. Democratic countries around the world need to understand that adopting the report would severely damage their efforts to deal with terrorism and terrorist organizations."
Another message that the four were conveying was that acceptance of the report would deal a blow to the diplomatic process, since Israel would not take further risks for peace if it was not assured that it had international legitimacy to act in self-defense.
Lieberman discussed the matter Wednesday in Vienna with Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, whose country will assume the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council next month. Lieberman said that accepting the report would give diplomatic immunity to terrorism.
According to Lieberman's office, the Austrians said they agreed that the report should remain in the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva and not move on to any other forum.
The issue is also expected to be a top agenda item when Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero arrives in the country Thursday for a 24-hour visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
His visit, the first official by a Spanish prime minister in some seven years, comes ahead of Spain's taking over the rotating EU presidency in January.
Zapatero, along with a number of other European leaders, came here for a few hours to show support after Operation Cast Lead in January, arriving directly from an international summit held in Sharm e-Sheikh.
Zapatero will meet Peres, Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni, as well as go to Ramallah for five hours of talks with the Palestinian leadership. He will leave Friday morning.