Netanyahu urges 'responsible countries' to vote no

UN human rights chief en

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem Thursday night that he hoped all the "responsible countries" would vote against endorsing the Goldstone Commission Report "that encourages terrorism and harms peace." Friday's vote on the report, which accuses Israel of committing war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last winter, can either "help terrorism, or harm terrorism; it can either promote peace, or harm peace," he said. Netanyahu, who served as Israel's ambassador to the UN in the 1980s, said he had been there long enough to know that there was no example of the "automatic majority" mobilizing and Israel winning the battle. Former foreign minister Abba Eban once said that if the UN wanted, it could vote that the earth was flat, Netanyahu said, adding that "tomorrow they may make a decision like that." Speaking at a press conference with visiting Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the prime minister said that diplomatic attacks on Israel were standard and had increased since Operation Cast Lead. "It is important that responsible countries say we will not lend a hand to this; we know that Israel is right," he said. "Some, like the US, say this clearly. Some say it in a whisper. It is important on this matter not to whisper it. If this report will move forward in a serious manner, it will harm the peace process." Zapatero said in a Channel 2 interview that, in any event, Spain would not seek to prosecute Israelis for alleged war crimes. Israel had warned that advancing the Goldstone report would harm the peace process. For Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the ability to move the Goldstone Report forward has become a matter of political survival. In the last two weeks he has been harshly criticized for his decision earlier this month to delay the report's endorsement until March. In the face of growing dissent, Abbas called on the council to hold a special session on the report. The UK had been the only Western power with voting rights on the council to state Thursday that it would not endorse the Goldstone Report or the draft resolution based upon it, but that still left open the possibility of an abstention. "We cannot fully endorse the report and cannot vote for the resolution as tabled," UK Ambassador to the UN Peter Gooderham told the council. He added that it did not consider it necessary to hold a special session on the report, which had been due to come before the council in March. In addressing the council on Thursday, at the start of the two-day special session, French Ambassador to the UN Jean-Baptiste Mattéi said that his country was still studying the five-page draft resolution that was presented to the UN Human Rights Council. "We regret the choice to present an omnibus text. Such a choice tends to dilute the report of the [Goldstone] fact-finding mission," Mattéi said. US deputy permanent representative to the council Douglas M. Griffiths urged the council to take a more balanced approach. He spoke against sending the report to the ICC and said that resolution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would not happen in a courtroom, but would come from a two-state solution that provided for the peace and security of both peoples. The council must recognize both Israel's fundamental right to self-defense and the civilian casualties that resulted from the Gaza conflict, Griffiths said. "The report makes clear that the Gaza operation was commenced lawfully after civilians in Israel came under sustained attack by Hamas, in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law," he continued, adding that Israel was not the only country faced with the question of how to conduct warfare in a populated area. "Virtually every region of the world has similar conflict situations," he said. In contrast to the US, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay endorsed the report and condemned both Israeli and Palestinian actions. "There is strong evidence indicating that all parties to the conflict - in different ways and with different effects - have committed and continue to commit serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," said Pillay. "A culture of impunity continues to prevail in the occupied territories and in Israel in relation to violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law." She said she supported the report's conclusions, "including its call for urgent action to counter impunity." In compliance with international standards both parties should carry out "impartial, independent, prompt and effective investigations" into reported violations, she said. In what appeared to be a jab at Israel's claim that the report harmed the peace process, she said that accountability and respect for human rights "are not obstacles to peace, but rather the preconditions on which trust and, ultimately, a durable peace can be built." Outside of the report, she accused Israel of violating international humanitarian law in east Jerusalem. PLO Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Ibrahim Khraishi said that the Palestinians had tried to make a conciliatory gesture toward Israel two weeks ago when it agreed to delay the council's endorsement of the report, originally set for the end of the council's 12th session. But when Israel cracked down on Palestinians in east Jerusalem in the days that followed that gesture, the Palestinians changed their minds and called for a special session to move the matter forward. He accused Israel of taking steps to "Judaize" Jerusalem and of preventing Palestinian Muslim worshipers from accessing the Temple Mount. Israel, he said, had endangered the Aksa Mosque by excavating underneath it. He took issue with Israel's policy of destroying Palestinian homes as well as its construction of the "wall," a reference to the security barrier, and of its continued settlement development. It has also committed war crimes against the people of Gaza, Khraishi said. The Palestinians want a peace process based on accountability, he added. "Our weapon is international law," he said. "The occupying power [Israel] wants it to look as if it is doing the right thing. It has made occupation a method of life in a manner that is removed from international ethnical and human norms," he added. Israel's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Aharon Leshno Yaar said the issue here was internal Palestinian politics. "Every person here knows that today's meeting is not about human rights, but an abuse of the integrity and procedures of this organization to make a point to a domestic Palestinian audience," he said. The special session, he added, was "another opportunity for the favorite and most infamous subject of some within this Council, Israel-bashing. There is a call to pass this on to other forums, to any place where politics, buried under the flag of human rights, can be waged against one state, against Israel." He defended Israel's actions in Jerusalem and accused "extremist elements" of "disseminating lies that [Israel] intend[s] to dig, or was actually digging under the Temple Mount." Israel, he said, showed "extreme restraint" in its response to Palestinian rock-throwing from an area around the mosque. He denied that the clashes that took place had anything to do with the Goldstone Report. During the recent month of Ramadan, over 100,000 Muslims visited the mosque on the Temple Mount without incident, Leshno Yaar said. The focus on the Goldstone Report, he said, "offers a hollow victory for those that want to sow conflict in our region. The moderate forces are weakened, not aided, by these resolutions and conflicts." Leshno Yaar noted that even Abbas had said that during Operation Cast Lead, "the Hamas movement hid in basements. The leaders of Hamas ran away in ambulances to Sinai and left our people to bleed." He continued, "This biased and flawed report accuses Israel of war crimes for having taken action to fight against Hamas - war criminals who openly call for our destruction, fired thousands of rockets against us and endangered their own population by hiding and fighting from within densely populated areas." He warned that the "resolution, as proposed, will be a reward for terror and will send a clear message to terrorists everywhere," and added that it would set back the cause for peace.