Israel slams UNHRC's 'unjust decision'

Ministers riled at UNHRC

Israel is bracing itself for a protracted battle in the international arena against the Goldstone Report, which is now expected to come before the UN General Assembly in New York, after being endorsed Friday by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Despite Israeli lobbying efforts, the resolution passed 25-6, with 11 countries abstaining and five decliniing to vote. The Foreign Ministry slammed the Human Rights Council's endorsement, warning that the "one-sided decision" is harmful to Middle East peace efforts. "There is an infinite number of possibilities to harass Israel at the UN," an Israeli diplomatic official told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night. "There can be many forms of initiatives and calls for action and resolution." Judge Richard Goldstone himself criticized the wording of the resolution that endorsed his fact-finding commission's report on Operation Cast Lead, saying it had been wrong to target only Israel while failing to condemn Hamas. "This draft resolution saddens me, as it includes only allegations against Israel," Goldstone told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps just before Friday's vote. "There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas, as we have done in the report." The Goldstone Report, which stated that Israel had committed possible war crimes in Gaza, called on the Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which could prosecute individual Israelis. It's a move that the US is expected to veto. On Saturday night, PLO Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Ibrahim Khraishi told the Post that the Palestinians are now looking for ways to send the report directly to the ICC. A more plausible scenario, however, is that the General Assembly could refer the matter for an advisory ruling to the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague. An official in Jerusalem said it was unclear when or how the GA would deal with it. It's likely, the officials said, that the GA would demand that the Security Council take concrete enforcement action against Israel. "They can't force us to open our own investigative commission, but they can form another of the special UN agencies devoted to the Palestinian issue that publishes reports against us," the official said. "It's likely the Security Council will give the issue a lot of attention, but the practical steps that will come out of the Security Council are hard to see." The Foreign Ministry said that by endorsing the report, the Human Rights Council had rewarded terrorism and undermined peace efforts in the region. "The council's decision undermines efforts to safeguard human rights in accordance with international law, as well as the efforts to advance the peace process in the Middle East," the ministry said in a statement it released on Friday. "The decision encourages terror groups in the whole world and undermines world peace. The decision also ignores the fact that the IDF took unprecedented measures to avoid harming civilians, and [ignores] the terrorists' use of civilians as human shields." The ministry's statement went on to stress that Israel would continue "to implement its right to self-defense, and will work to ensure the safety of its residents." Countries that opposed the resolution were Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovakia, Ukraine and the United States. The following 25 states voted in favor of the resolution: Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia. The 11 countries that abstained were Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, and Uruguay. Five states declined to vote: the United Kingdom, France, Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan and Angola. But the two that drew everyone's attention were France and the United Kingdom, which were concerned by the speed with which the Palestinians tried to push the resolution through the Human Rights Council and by the one-sided nature of the motion. Although the Goldstone Report also accuses Hamas of war crimes, the five-page resolution adopted in Geneva mentions only Israeli violations of international law. It also went well beyond the scope of the Goldstone Report and condemned Israeli actions in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the BBC that Britain and France sat out the vote because it would upset negotiations to restart peace talks. But delegates from both countries in Geneva said they took the report's war crimes allegations seriously. France's human rights ambassador, Francois Zimeray, told the Post on Saturday night that his country opted not to participate in the vote, "to express our strong disagreement" with the decision of the Palestinians not to allow the proper time to negotiate an acceptable resolution. A request by his country to delay the vote was rejected, he said. "As you know we wanted to improve the text, to enter into true and serious negotiations. Our remarks and our worries were not taken into account in any way. We also considered that the draft resolution mixed the fact-finding mission [on Cast Lead] with other matters," Zimeray said. An official in Jerusalem said he saw in France and Britain's actions a "statement by two leading countries about the unacceptable essence of the entire process. They were unwilling to be forced into an opinion when the whole process was illegitimate. "This was seen [by Israel] as a clear statement from two important countries that the game is fixed," the official said. He said that Europe's response was "very rare and unusual. European states always desperately wish to show unity. More than they care about the issue under discussion, they care about European unity. This unity was disrupted here, showing that this issue divides Europe profoundly." The Foreign Ministry noted that when the UN Human Rights Council decided to establish the four-person fact finding mission lead by South African Jurist Richard Goldstone, 33 countries voted in favor. UN Watch executive-director Hillel Neuer said that the 25 countries represented a slim majority out of the 47-member council. It was the least amount of votes in favor of an anti-Israel resolution that had ever been cast since the council's inception in 2006, he said. Following the vote, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed hope that the resolution would "give impetus to the protection of the Palestinians from Israeli attacks." "What is important now is to translate words into deeds in order to protect our people in the future from any new aggression," Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said in Ramallah. In the Gaza Strip, the Hamas government expressed hope that "the vote on the report will serve as the basis for prosecuting Israeli war criminals." Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu called the report's endorsement "a victory for the Palestinian victims." Moussa Abu Marzuk, a top Damascus-based Hamas leader, thanked the Human Rights Council for endorsing the Goldstone Report, and said the resolution adopted on Friday benefits every Palestinian. "We thank all the states that led to the report's endorsement, a move that benefits all the Palestinian people. Hamas approves of the international stance regarding the report, while some Palestinians are trying to let Israel off the hook," Abu Marzuk said, in what appeared to be implicit criticism of the PA for earlier agreeing to defer until March the council's vote on endorsing the report. Jerusalem Post staff and AP contributed to this report.