PM: Report could stop peace process

PM, ministers to mull co

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged the ambassadors of Asian and Pacific Rim countries Wednesday to block the Goldstone Commission report at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying "this is not politics as usual." "This report will stop the peace process," Netanyahu said, lobbying hard to keep the report from being discussed at the UN in New York. "Block the report now." Among the ambassadors and embassy officials at the two-hour meeting with Netanyahu were representatives from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Myanmar, South Korea and India. The Canadian ambassador was also there as a guest. According to officials at the meeting, Netanyahu gave no indication that he was considering establishing a commission of inquiry to investigate IDF actions during the war in Gaza. Asked about the matter, he referred to a statement issued by Defense Minister Ehud Barak unequivocally denying reports he turned to former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak and asked him to chair a committee looking into allegations of IDF war crimes. Rather, soon after the report was released, Barak said he called the former justice, who said that if asked, he would consider looking into the IDF internal investigations, and by so doing help in the battle against the Goldstone Report. Ehud Barak's statement, issued from Britain where he was holding meetings, said he trusted the IDF investigation and consistently opposed external investigations in the place of IDF inquiries. The Goldstone Report was discussed at Wednesday's security cabinet meeting, but no decision on whether to investigate the allegations was made. The issue is expected to be raised at the cabinet meeting that, because of Yom Kippur, will be held this week on Thursday. Security cabinet member Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, minister of industry and trade, said following the security cabinet meeting, "I don't accept, and I don't believe the government will accept, the opinion that we should appoint a committee to look into the Goldstone allegations. I believe in the IDF's ability to investigate itself, which it has done in the past and does on a daily basis." Although no final decision has yet been made, one government source said that Israel could very well set up an inquiry committee without appearing to be giving in to the Goldstone Report, if it waited until the IDF finished its own inquiry and then decided that an additional one was needed. The benefit of establishing such a committee, according to these sources, was that it would help Israel rebuff legal challenges based on the concept of universal jurisdiction. Furthermore, according to this logic, it would put Israel on the offensive, since the Goldstone Report called for both Israel and Hamas to investigate alleged war crimes, and it was clear that Hamas would not do so. Others, however, believe that establishing a committee of inquiry now would be an admission of guilt. Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the ambassadors that all governments fighting terrorism should oppose the report because it set a dangerous precedent whereby terrorists would have immunity if they hid behind civilian populations. "This report is a boost for terrorism," the prime minister said. Meanwhile, leading lawyers and opinion-makers were split on the question of whether the government should appoint a state commission of inquiry or some other body to investigate the allegations contained in the Goldstone Report. Yossi Beilin, former justice minister and former Meretz Party chairman, urged the government to establish a state commission of inquiry in keeping with the recommendations of the UN report. He also said that Israel in the future should always cooperate with investigations like the one carried out by the Goldstone Commission. Beilin said Israel had nothing to lose by doing so. "Half the Goldstone Report is devoted to the fact that we did not allow the committee to enter Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank," he told The Jerusalem Post. But Beilin also sharply criticized the report, charging that it did not put the military operation into context and made it sound as if it had come "out of the blue." He also charged that the report should have addressed the issue of how a state should act when confronted with a cynical organization like Hamas." Irit Kahn, former head of the International Section of the State Attorney's Office in the Justice Ministry, advised the government to wait until the army completed its five major investigations of issues that were singled out in reports by the media and human rights groups. The army is currently investigating charges regarding alleged IDF attacks against hospitals, UN facilities, and wanton shootings of civilians and attacks on Palestinian property. Kahn said the army should complete the investigations quickly. If he deems it justified, the attorney-general can order criminal investigations on the basis of these reports. If he does not and the investigations are serious and thorough, the government should do no more. If the investigations are not conducted seriously, the government should then appoint an external body to study the charges. Dore Gold, head of the research organization The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said that the government would be making a mistake if it appointed a committee of investigation. If it did, he told the Post, "every time any one leveled trumped up charges against Israel, it would create the automatic expectation that we are guilty as charged." But Gold urged the government to issue a formal response to the allegations included in the Goldstone Report. According to one source who spoke on condition of anonymity, government leaders do not believe that establishing a committee of investigation would deter anti-Israel elements in Europe from lodging complaints against Israeli political and military leaders in their domestic courts according to the principle of universal jurisdiction. The fact that Israel investigated the charges leveled against it in the Goldstone Report would mean nothing to them, said the source.