Ban's report pleases Israel

But rights groups say UN chief failed to assess Israeli, Palestinian probes.

ban ki-moon 311 (photo credit: AP)
ban ki-moon 311
(photo credit: AP)
“Israel is satisfied that the secretary general of the United Nations accurately reflected the Israeli document submitted this week,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement published Friday afternoon.
The ministry said Israel’s document “fully expresses Israel’s obligation to hold independent and reliable investigations, which would measure up to the yardstick of international law.”
“Despite the difficulties presented by the Gaza theater, Israel kept international norms and will continue to do so in the future, while primarily maintaining the security and well-being of its citizens,” the statement continued.
A senior Israeli official said Israel has been in constant contact with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and other UN officials. The United States has also been a key advocate, deploying senior officials to convey a strong message on the issue. “There is no US pressure on Israel,” the official said, with respect to calls for further investigations of its actions during Operation Cast Lead. “They respect decisions that Israel is making.”
The United States has played a “constructive” role in dealing with the Goldstone report, including making sure the Secretary-General’s report was balanced and credible. “In that regard, we very much appreciate the efforts of the US and other countries and other democracies to set the record straight and make sure that the UN’s continued dealings with this will be in a proper manner,” the official said.
Israel's reaction came despite Ban's statement, where he said he was uncertain whether Israel or the Palestinians had met UN demands to undertake "credible" investigations into allegations that they deliberately targeted civilians during last year's Gaza offensive.
Ban's highly anticipated report to the 192-nation General Assembly cautioned that such investigations must be conducted "wherever there are credible allegations of human rights abuses."
Israel says it has launched investigations into 150 separate incidents, including 36 criminal probes so far, and gathered evidence from almost 100 Palestinians who had complaints or were witnesses.
The Palestinians only created a commission to carry out an investigation in late January, despite a General Assembly resolution in November urging both sides to conduct investigations by Friday.
In a short preface to his 72-page report, nearly all of which is responses by Israel and the Palestinians, Ban concluded he could not ultimately determine yet whether Israel and the Palestinians had met the General Assembly's demands to carry out credible, independent investigations into their own actions.
He said he hoped the assembly's resolution will, in fact, result in probes "that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards."
But, he added that "no determination can be made on the implementation of the resolution by the parties concerned."
While Israel was pleased with the UN chief's response, Ban took heat from human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for what they said was a failure to adequately assess investigations being carried out by both sides.
"We were hoping that the Secretary-General would give more of an evaluative assessment,” said Fred Abrahams, a senior researcher at HRW. Instead, “He clearly avoided the issue.”
 “He’s declining to pass judgment on whether the investigations are adequate or not, but at the same time, he’s saying that they have to do it.”
Abrahams said HRW does not believe either side has conducted an adequate investigation. “Until we see concrete action, and not just statistics in reports, we cannot determine that the Israeli investigations are truly impartial,” he said. “We’ve firmly and unequivocally rejected Hamas’ conclusion that it did no wrong. It’s absurd to claim that they were only targeting military objects in Israel when all the evidence suggests they were targeting civilians.”
A spokesman for the Secretary-General, Martin Nesirky, defended Ban’s response, telling reporters in New York that it was not his job to analyze what both sides told him. “It’s the right, and I guess you could say the obligation, of human rights groups to look carefully and scrutinize and criticize. That’s what they do. They work very hard to ensure that people are held to account. That’s right and proper,” Nesirky said. “The bottom line here, in the three-page report from the Secretary-General,” he added, “is that the work is still continuing.”
Nesirky stressed that Ban was not asked to analyze. “He was not asked to analyze,” he said. “He was not asked to express his views on the responses that were received.”
Nesirky made clear that with regard to any future action, the General Assembly would decide what to do next. “The Secretary-General remains personally moved by the plight of all civilians harmed during the Gaza conflict,” Nesirky said. “He has consistently called for credible domestic investigations, and did so again in the report.”
The report barely a day old, no member states have initiated fresh resolutions, according to Jean Victoire Knolo, the spokesman for GA President Ali Treki.
“Consultations are ongoing,” he told reporters in New York. Pressed to assess Ban’s report, Knolo said Treki was “not expecting anything specific from the Secretary-General other than what the resolution sets up in writing.”
“The report is now with the member states,” he said. “There is no specific timetable as such,” he added. “I think we have to leave it to the member states to come up with what they think the next steps should be.”
In November, the General Assembly raised the possibility of demanding Security Council action if adequate investigations by both sides are not carried out.
But Jerusalem seems to be in no hurry to establish any kind of independent investigative committee.
Israeli officials said it was not clear what the General Assembly would do with Ban’s report, and whether it would be satisfied with the Israeli and Palestinian responses or push the issue further.
The officials said Ban’s report was expected to be “dry” and void of recommendations, along the lines of “this is what I asked the sides, and this is what they responded.”
Israel released a 46-page paper last Friday documenting the steps it had taken to investigate IDF actions during Operation Cast Lead, stressing that its military judicial system was independent and came under civilian review, and dismissing four of the 36 allegations of war crimes found in the Goldstone Report.
The document also revealed that disciplinary action had been taken against two top officers – a brigadier-general and a colonel – for permitting artillery fire near a UN compound in a neighborhood in Gaza City.
Contrary to previous expectations, no decision was made in Jerusalem prior to Ban’s submitting his report about whether an independent judicial committee would be set up to look into Goldstone’s allegations, and if such a body were created, what form it would take.
“No such decision was taken,” one government source said Thursday when asked if Israel would establish a committee, adding that he did not know whether any such decision would be made.
“We think that the report we submitted stands on its own,” the official said. “It is a comprehensive, independent report that meets international standards for transparency.”
In the meantime, he said, the army was continuing with its internal investigation.
DefenseMinister Ehud Barak and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazihave come out adamantly against any committee with authority toquestion soldiers and officers. They have, however, expressed awillingness to go along with establishing a judicial investigativepanel to review internal IDF investigations and determine whether theywere thorough enough and lived up to accepted legal standards.
TheIDF, meanwhile, is continuing preparation of an in-depth,point-by-point rebuttal of the Goldstone report, which is expected tonumber over 1,000 pages and be ready within a number of weeks.