UN LIKELY TO REFER GOLDSTONE FINDINGS TO THE HAGUE

COMMENTARY ARCHIVES, 10 Feb 2010

Shlomo Shamir, Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff – Haaretz

Arab states set to force debate that would bring Gaza war crimes claims before international court.

The United Nations is likely to refer the findings of the Goldstone report to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, diplomatic sources in New York said on Saturday.

A decision to bring the report on last year’s Gaza war before the court would follow a debate in the UN General Assembly over Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s response to the document last week.

Assembly president Ali Abdussalam Treki announced on Saturday that member states were drawing up a plan of action over Ban’s answer to the report, in which retired South African Judge Richard Goldstone accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes.

Treki, a senior Libyan diplomat, did not give a target date for a debate by the assembly – but the tone of his press release implied that he would push for a full discussion of the issue, diplomats said.

Ban himself is thought not to support a general session, fearing that further criticism of Israel would only delay the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Most UN-watchers believe that Arab member states will demand a plenary session on the report, however.

Senior UN diplomats note, meanwhile, that one consequence of the Goldstone inquiry is that Hamas, which along with Israel issued a formal response, has become a quasi-official actor in the UN arena.

In his report, Ban wrote that Israel had responded to all the accusations against it. But he added that it was too early to say whether recommendations had yet been implemented by Israel and Hamas, as the parties were still conducting investigations.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said on Friday that Israel was satisfied with Ban’s statement, which was an "accurate representation" of the Israeli submission.

Hamas on Saturday appeared to backtrack on last week’s apology for harming Israeli civilians in rocket attacks. The Goldstone report accused Hamas of firing rockets indiscriminately at civilians.

The militant group, which controls the Gaza strip, had said previously that its rockets were meant to defend Gazans against Israeli military strikes: "We apologize for any harm that might have come to Israeli civilians," the Hamas government wrote in an intial reponse to the Goldstone report.

But on Saturday Hamas said in statement that its response the UN had been misinterpreted and contained no apologies. Hamas officials declined to give any further comment.

"Hamas is a terror organization whose main purpose is to attack civilians, so it’s not surprising that they would retract their apology," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Andy David told the Associated Press on Saturday.

"For years Hamas has boasted about deliberately targeting civilians, either through suicide bombings, by gunfire or by rockets," Palmor said Saturday. "Who are they trying to fool now?"

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