EU Parliament backs Goldstone Report

Foreign Ministry attack the decision, approved by a slim majority.

IDF Operation Cast Lead (photo credit: AP)
IDF Operation Cast Lead
(photo credit: AP)
The Foreign Ministry attacked the European Parliament’s endorsement on Wednesday night of the Goldstone Report, which has accused Israel of possible war crimes in Gaza.
By a slim majority of just over 50 percent, the parliament in Strasbourg became the first institution since the United Nations to take a stand in favor of the report. European countries have been divided over their positions on the document, which Israel regards as biased and flawed.
The Foreign Ministry said it was troubled by the vote, which neither helped the peace process nor was compatible with principles of law and justice.
“At a time when there is an international effort to bring about proximity talks, it is unfortunate that the European Parliament chooses to take a stand on such a controversial issue that has already been discussed in other forums,” the statement read.
It added that Israel was committed “to the peace process and will continue to defend its citizens and soldiers.”
In advance of the vote, parliamentarians gave a long round of applause to the father of captive soldier Gilad Schalit, who was in the plenum. It is expected that the EU Parliament on Thursday will endorse a resolution in support of Gilad, who has dual Israeli-French citizenship, and who has been held captive by Hamas in Gaza since June 2006.
But on Wednesday, Israeli officials focused on the parliament’s stand with respect to Israel’s military incursion into Gaza last winter.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor attacked the vote, even though he said it would not harm Israel’s ties with the EU.
“It is remarkable that all EU members have not supported the different phases of the Goldstone process, either at the UN Human Rights Council or at the General Assembly, yet the European Parliament thinks it can afford the luxury of an irresponsible and irrelevant resolution on a report that was immoral to begin with, and in complete detachment from prevailing EU policies.”
An Israeli official added that European Parliament votes were non-binding and unlikely to change policy, even though as part of the resolution the parliament asked EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is slated to visit Israel and Gaza next week, to monitor Israel’s compliance with the report.
The report was adopted by a majority that was “slim, unimpressive and shows how controversial it is, even within the parliament. It won’t change the policy of the EU Commission and even less so the 27 members,” said the official.
But in Strasbourg parliamentarians who supported the measure said they had taken a stand for human rights and respect for international law.
“International humanitarian law and international human rights law must be respected by all parties and under any circumstances in the conflict, and the EU has an obligation to protect and ensure the application of this principle, said Richard Howitt, a spokesman for the Group of the Progressive Alliance of the Socialists and Democrats in the EU Parliament, who had helped author the resolution.
“For the first time, a resolution voted in the European Parliament acknowledges Israeli’s violations of international humanitarian law,” parliament member Kyriacos Triantaphyllides said.
The resolutions called on both Israel and the Palestinians to conduct transparent investigations into their actions, that meet international standards within the next five months. It called on Israel to open the passages into Gaza, which are now closed to all but humanitarian aid.
The resolution also noted with concern the pressure placed on non-governmental organizations who had assisted the four-member fact finding mission lead by South African jurist Richard Goldstone. It called on authorities on all sides not to restrict the activities of those NGOs.
Some 335 parliamentarians voted in favor of the resolution, 267 opposed it and 43 abstained.
Arie Zuckerman, a senior executive for the European Jewish Congress, said the vote was important because of its power to sway public opinion.
Israel has strong support now in Europe, and “we need to maintain public opinion,” he said.
The EJC had lobbied hard against the vote and had met with and sent letters to party heads to emphasize that a vote for the Goldstone Report would strike a blow to the peace process.
“We made it abundantly clear to those members of the European Parliament who we contacted that this resolution was against the overall objectives of Europe’s role in the Middle East,” Kantor said.
“The first line of the resolution emphasized the importance of achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, but the resolution will have achieved the exact opposite. Furthermore, it could damage the possibility of the EU taking an active part in achieving that goal.”
He said endorsing the report shows the Palestinians they do not need to come to the bargaining table because they can fight Israel by using international bodies.
It tells Israel that it does not have the right to defend itself and this message will make it less willing to make territorial concessions in the future.
“If the Europeans want Israel to make .. tough decisions in the future, it will need to reassure its government and people that it stands by their full and unquestionable right to self-defense,” said Kantor.
He noted, however, that the fact that over 45% of European Parliament members voted against the resolution was some cause for some satisfaction.
“We can see our lobbying efforts bore fruit due to the fact that the resolution passed by only a narrow margin, and not the consensus that was expected,” Kantor said.
“This shows that we are on the right track and we would like toacknowledge that many European Parliament members who understand thedeeply problematic and flawed nature of the Goldstone Report and itseffect on lasting peace in the Middle East.”
The Goldstone Report was written for the UN Human Rights Council, whichendorsed it in October and sent it on to the UN General Assembly in NewYork, which also approved it in November.
The council did, however, ask both Israelis and Palestinians to hold independent investigations and report on them to the UN.
Herb Keinon and AP contributed to this report.