Goldstone Report unlikely to cause tangible harm

Expert in international law tells Jerusalem Post the serious damage will probably be political.

Smoke rises in Gaza City 248.88 (photo credit: )
Smoke rises in Gaza City 248.88
(photo credit: )
The Goldstone Commission Report on the Gaza conflict will cause Israel serious political damage, but is unlikely to lead to any tangible consequences, Avi Bell, an expert in international law and laws of war at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Bell charged that the original intention of the UN Human Rights Council had been to hurt Israel politically and that Judge Richard Goldstone, who headed the four-person committee, had played along with it. The final chapter of the 575-page report deals with the committee's recommendations to UN institutions, the International Criminal Court, Israel, the Palestinian terrorists - which it refers to as "armed groups" - and the Palestinian leadership - which it refers to as "responsible Palestinian authorities." The recommendations are not binding on any of the above, and it is quite obvious that they will be ignored by Israel and the Palestinians. What is of practical concern to Israel is how far the UN will take the recommendations and, if it does, what measures it may take. The Goldstone Commission's most far-reaching proposal is that the UN Security Council should require Israel to begin investigations "that are independent and in conformity with international standards" to look into the "serious violations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law" referred to in the report. It also urged the Security Council to establish an independent committee of experts to monitor and report at the end of six months on the actions taken by Israel in conducting these investigations. If, in the wake of the report, the Security Council decides that Israel has not carried out the investigations in good faith, it should "refer the situation in Gaza to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court." If the Security Council decides to ask the ICC prosecutor to investigate Israeli actions in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, the ICC is bound to do so, even though Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute, which created the court. According to Bell, the ICC is currently dealing with complaints lodged against Israelis by Palestinians and has been debating whether it has jurisdiction to investigate these allegations. Bell told the Post he doubted that the ICC would agree to do so in these cases. He also said he doubted that the Security Council would refer the allegations included in the Goldstone Committee report to the ICC. The committee made exactly the same recommendation to the Security Council regarding the "relevant authorities in the Gaza Strip," including the provision that if they failed to carry out investigations in good faith, the Security Council should refer the matter to the ICC prosecutor. With regard to the UN General Assembly, the committee recommended that the UN establish an escrow fund "to be used to pay adequate compensation to Palestinians who have suffered loss and damage as a result of unlawful acts attributable to the State of Israel... and that the government of Israel pay the required amounts into such a fund." Bell said the General Assembly had created such a fund in the wake of Israel's construction of the West Bank security barrier, but that Israel had not paid into it. The report also calls on the General Assembly to hold an urgent discussion on the future legality of white phosphorous, flechettes and heavy metal such as tungsten and called on Israel to impose a moratorium on the use of such weapons, "in light of the human suffering and damage they have caused in the Gaza Strip." The situation in the wake of the Goldstone Report is reminiscent, to some degree, of the international uproar that erupted over the building of the security barrier, particularly the nonbinding ruling of the International Court of Justice demanding that Israel tear down all parts of it that encroached on the West Bank and compensate the Palestinians. There were no practical implications regarding the judgment, but Israel suffered severely in world public opinion. Barring the unlikely scenario in which the Security Council agrees to turn to the ICC to investigate Israelis on charges of war crimes or crimes against humanity, the damage in this case will be of a similar scope.