U.N. Body Backs War Crimes Charges on Israel, Hamas

Phyllis Bennis on Washington's complicity in Israel's war on Gaza

19 October 2009
Thalif Deen

If Washington remains unwilling to hold Israel accountable for its violations in Gaza war, as seen in its voting against the UN Human Rights Council resolution, the potential for a new U.S. position in the world will be impossible.

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 (IPS) - The 47-member Human Rights Council (HRC) approved a resolution Friday endorsing war crimes charges against Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, as spelled out in a report by a four-member international fact-finding mission headed by Justice Richard Goldstone.

As expected, the United States threw a protective arm around Israel and voted against the resolution, along with some members of the European Union (EU): Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Slovakia, as well as Ukraine.

"The voting was predictable," an Asian diplomat told IPS, pointing out that while Western nations voted against the resolution or abstained, most of the developing countries voted in favour.

The vote was 25 in favour, six against, 11 abstentions and five no-shows.

The Geneva-based Council not only endorsed the recommendations of the Goldstone report but also strongly condemned Israeli policies in the occupied territories, including those limiting Palestinian access to their properties and holy sites, particularly in occupied Jerusalem.

Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies told IPS the U.S. vote - and its obvious pressure on governments dependent on U.S. political, financial or military support - "indicates just how out of step the administration of President Barack Obama is on this issue".

"There is a clear double-standard, once again, in the U.S. position between Ambassador Susan Rice's recognition of the primacy of accountability for war crimes in the case of Darfur and Sudan, regardless of any potential impact on future peace talks, while rejecting accountability in the case of Israeli actions in Gaza," she said.

She said the U.S. administration claims to base its foreign policy on a commitment to international cooperation and the rule of law.

It is unfortunate that on the question of war crimes against innocent civilians in Gaza, the United States is continuing its longstanding pattern of Israeli exceptionalism, said Bennis, author of 'Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.'

"If Washington remains unwilling to hold Israel accountable for its violations, the potential for a new U.S. position in the world - one in which the United States is respected instead of resented, welcomed as a partner instead of feared - will be impossible," she added.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, strongly supportive of Israel, said his organisation was "outraged, but far from surprised" by the Council's endorsement of the Goldstone report.

Describing the resolution as one-sided, Foxman said the vote only proves the Council's "unwavering and biased focus on all things related to Israel".

"We express profound appreciation to the United States and the five other nations which showed their commitment to principles of fairness and moral responsibility by voting against this resolution," he added.

An overwhelming majority of developing countries in the Council, along with Russia, supported the resolution: Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, and Zambia.

The abstentions came from Belgium, Bosnia Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Uruguay.

The five countries that skipped the voting were Angola, France, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar and Britain.

Naseer Aruri, chancellor professor (emeritus), University of Massachusetts, told IPS it remains to be seen how Israel and the Obama administration will react to the adoption of the Goldstone report.

"The latter action will expose Israelis to possible arrests and criminal prosecution under the principle of universal jurisdiction, when traveling abroad," he noted.

He said the Goldstone report recommends that both Israel and Hamas bring their accused to justice.

"If they don't, they could be facing prosecution in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and it could signal a major diplomatic defeat for the Obama administration," Aruri said.

"If Obama uses more vetoes in the Security Council to protect Israel from the international scrutiny, he would be placing his country in moral jeopardy," he declared.

Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies said Washington also must take into account its own complicity and potential liability in war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, the code-named for the 22-day Israeli military attacks on Gaza last December.

Violations of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which narrowly constrains Israel's use of U.S.-supplied weapons and military equipment, must be investigated thoroughly and violators held accountable, she added.

"The significance of the Goldstone report overall is not because it exposed war crimes that had not been known before; the significance lies in the comprehensiveness of the assessment, certainly, but most of all in the breadth of the recommendations," Bennis said.

She said it is almost unprecedented for a U.N. human rights report to move so broadly to identify obligations and responsibilities under international law - not only for the alleged perpetrators, but as well for virtually all relevant United nations agencies, as well as for individual governments.

It was particularly so in invoking universal jurisdiction, and most especially in defining obligations and recommendations for global civil society.

She said the reversal of the earlier withdrawal of the report from consideration at the Human Rights Council reflects the significance of the issue not only among Palestinians inside the Occupied Territory, inside Israel and among the diaspora, but as well in international civil society.

"It was that pressure that forced the Palestinian Authority to reverse its wrong-headed rejection of the report," Bennis added.

Aruri said the government of Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, whose term of office expired long ago, had succumbed to pressure being exerted by Israel and the United States to defer all discussion of the Goldstone report until next March.

Nearly two weeks later, however, Abbas succumbed to a different kind of pressure, this time exerted by Palestinians, Arabs, and various members of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

A broad coalition succeeded in getting Abbas to rescind his earlier position.

Undoubtedly, Abbas - who was widely condemned in Palestinian circles, including being accused of treason - could not withstand the pressure, especially that which included credible calls on him to resign, Aruri added.

In a statement issued Friday, Amnesty International said the resolution recommends that the U.N. General Assembly, the next body which is able to consider the Goldstone report, do so during its current session.

"Amnesty International urges the Assembly to demand that both Israel and the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza immediately start independent investigations that meet international standards into alleged war crimes, possible crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international law reported during the conflict," the statement added.

Recent publications from Peace & Security

On the Issue of Nuclear Terrorism

It is time for a closer look at the self-serving claim by nuclear weapons states that one of the greatest dangers is that of nuclear weapons being built or falling into the hands of ‘terrorist groups’.

Eurodrones, Inc.

How far reaching is the EU's financing and support for the emerging drone industry? With what intended purpose? And what will be the consequences for European citizens?

Race, space and punishment in urban sociology

Structural circumstances of deprivation and criminalization facing African-Americans and the racialized perceptions of criminality appear to be some of the salient features that recently led to a young black teenager being killed by neighborhood watch patrolman George Zimmerman.

How international rules on countering the financing of terrorism impact civil society

Making banks and non-profits liable for the acts and social networks of their customers and beneficiaries while holding charities and CSOs responsible for the ‘extremist’ views and actions of their associates stifles freedom of association and expression and promotes self-censorship.