Judge Goldstone’s turnabout – what next?

There is no mechanism for revoking UN resolutions, but they can be emptied of their content, which is how we should move forward in regard to the dangerous text of the Goldstone Report.

Over the past few days, Israel has witnessed a unique and unexpected turn of events, with Judge Richard Goldstone’s volte face in admitting, after more than two years of bitter accusations and immeasurable damage to Israel’s reputation, he is now convinced it did not commit war crimes in the Gaza war of 2008-9, and did not systematically and intentionally target the Palestinian population. “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,” he admitted in his oped piece in The Washington Post on Friday.
Israel’s political leaders, government ministers and Knesset members, former ambassadors to the UN and batteries of professors, legal advisers, experts and others have been publicly bathing in a wave of shock and indignation. If indeed Goldstone has finally come out of the closet and admitted that his UN ‘fact-finding’ committee was misguided and wrong, that he misjudged Israel and gave unmerited credit to Hamas, why now, after so much damage has been caused?
What is the use of admitting this now, when the disastrous misperception and blood libel as to perceived war crimes has become a staple of the international community’s menu? Why now, when the genie is long out of the bottle and the international hate-fest is in full swing?
We could torment ourselves by asking whether, had Israel cooperated with Goldstone to begin with, the outcome would have been different, despite the blatantly biased mandate of the committee as dictated by the UN Human Rights Council, and despite members of the committee being on record as openly hostile?
THE QUESTION raised by senior Israeli political figures as to whether it is possible to have the Goldstone Report revoked, and thereby place the genie back in the bottle, touches on legal and political UN issues .
The answer is similar to the infamous “Zionism=racism” resolution adopted by the General Assembly in November 1975 (Resolution 3379). That resolution was, in fact, never revoked, because there is no mechanism for revoking UN resolutions.
Nonetheless, its content was emptied of all substance by a further resolution (46/86) in 1991.
This should be the way to proceed to revoke the dangerous content of the Goldstone Report.
Goldstone’s choice of The Washington Post as the forum in which to explain his about-face, and to admit that his assumptions and allegations were without basis, while certainly publicly important, is unfortunately not sufficient.
In the UN milieu of formal resolutions of the Human Rights Council and General Assembly, and official mandates of factfinding and independent experts’ committees, any such admission by the chairman of the Goldstone fact-finding mission must be formally presented to the UN – the only forum with the authority to revoke the contents of the report.
If Goldstone sincerely regrets his report and the damage it has caused, the only way to minimize such damage would be to formally address his message to the secretarygeneral and to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This would involve an appearance before the Human Rights Council which commissioned and mandated his report, and before the General Assembly, which endorsed it, as well as a meeting with the secretary-general, who has recently voiced considerable criticism of Israel.
Since both bodies, in their resolutions on the Goldstone Report, demand progress reports by Israel and the Palestinians on its implementation, such a formal presentation by Goldstone would have to be recorded by the secretary-general and the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
On the strength of such reports, both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly would then have to adopt resolutions revoking the content of their earlier resolutions, made on the strength of Goldstone’s conclusions.
This somewhat procedural exercise is easier said than done. Even after the recent report by the UN committee of experts as to Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian norms, upon which Goldstone based his article, the infamous Human Rights Council, in its latest resolution of March 24 (less than two weeks ago), nevertheless condemned Israel’s “noncooperation” and reiterated its demand that the Goldstone Report be submitted to the Security Council and then to the International Criminal Court. This resolution was introduced by such paragons of international virtue as Palestine, Pakistan, Cuba, Iraq and Venezuela.
Ultimately, this entire exercise, as devastating as it has been for Israel’s good name, has shown the Human Rights Council in its true light – as a morally bankrupt and useless organ, easily manipulated by states and shaming the entire UN framework.
It is high time the UN take a good look at itself. Is it really fulfilling its mandate as set out in its charter?
The writer, a former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry and ambassador to Canada, is a partner in the law firm of Moshe, Bloomfield, Kobo, Baker & Co. and director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.