Goldstone regrets Israel’s refusal to cooperate

Middle East Online, Sep 17, 2009

Not bowing to Israeli propaganda

UN probe chief stands by Gaza report that caused Israeli officials to fear being prosecuted for war crimes.

JERUSALEM – The head of the UN commission that issued a damning report on the Gaza war this week on Thursday rejected Israeli criticism that it was biased from the start.

“I deny that completely,” Judge Richard Goldstone said in remarks broadcast on Thursday on public radio, a replay of an earlier interview with Israeli television.

“I was completely independent, nobody dictated any outcome, and the outcome was a result of the independent inquiries that our mission made,” he said.

The UN report, which Goldstone presented at the UN on Tuesday and which accused both Israel and Palestinian resistance of committing war crimes, has faced stinging criticism in Israel.

But Goldstone, former chief prosecutor on the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, rejected the charges and said the only thing he regretted was that Israel refused to cooperate with his team.

“There is really nothing I can think of that I would do differently,” he said.

“If there is any difference that I would have preferred, (it) would have been that we could have got cooperation from Israel and in particular, I would have liked the Israeli government to assist us and decide what we should investigate because that’s what I asked them to do.”

In the wake of the UN report, numerous Israeli commentators have launched personal attacks on Goldstone, with one rightwing paper writing: “the liberal anti-Semitism strides delicately, appoints a hostile commission and finds an obsequious Jew, to dance to the tune of the gentile landowner.”

Goldstone, 70, is a South African judge who has also headed the public inquiry into violence and intimidation in the run-up to that country’s first post-apartheid elections in 1994.

The impartial inquiry, which became known as the Goldstone Commission, was widely credited with preventing South Africa’s slide into widespread violence with the demise of the whites-only apartheid regime.

The Israeli leadership fears one recommendation of the report in particular, according to local media — that the UN Human Rights Council submits the report to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which could lead to charges being brought against senior Israeli officials involved in the war.

“The goal is to avoid a slippery slope which would lead Israel to the International Criminal Court in The Hague,” the left-leaning Haaretz daily quoted a senior official as saying.

Hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu huddled with his foreign minister and senior political and legal advisors late into the night on Tuesday after the report was released at the UN headquarters by Judge Richard Goldstone, a former war crimes prosecutor.

The premier along with the Israeli president and defence minister were to telephone their counterparts around the world to drive home Israel’s message that the report was one-sided and unbalanced, Haaretz said.

Key Israel ally the United States said Wednesday it has concerns about “some of the recommendations”.

“At initial reading, we have concerns about some of the report’s recommendations,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.


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