Thursday, September 17, 2009

Israel rejects war crimes findings of UN Gaza inquiry.

This was to be expected:

Israel refused to accept the findings of a highly critical UN inquiry into the Gaza war and said today it would launch a diplomatic offensive to prevent any risk of prosecutions.

No independent inquiry into the military's conduct during the war last January would be held, a clear rejection of one primary recommendation from the UN report.

The inquiry, headed by a former South African judge, Richard Goldstone, delivered a detailed and damning criticism of the war, accusing both Israel and armed Palestinian groups, notably Hamas, of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. It was by far the most serious international inquiry into the three-week war, which left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead and which triggered a wave of criticism across the world.

"A diplomatic offensive" means Israel will try to get the US to promise to veto any action proposed by the UN.

Israel is concerned that, when the UN human rights council discusses the report later this month, it could agree to pass it to the UN security council. The security council could then decide to pass the findings on to the international criminal court, where arrest warrants could be issued ahead of prosecutions.

Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, who is on a visit to Washington, said he would meet the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, to minimise the impact of the report before it reaches the UN security council.

As I said yesterday, this report gives Obama some clout when it comes to Netanyahu and the occupied territories. Why should Obama continue to shield Israel from international condemnation whilst Israel treats him and his policies with such contempt?

The 575-page UN report said that Israeli military personnel should face "individual criminal responsibility" for grave breaches of the laws of war. Although critical of both sides, it singled out Israel and its policy towards the Palestinians of Gaza for the most serious condemnation. It accused Israeli troops of using Palestinians as human shields, a war crime, and said the long Israeli economic blockade of Gaza amounted to "collective punishment intentionally inflicted by the government of Israel on the people of the Gaza Strip".

It recommended that the UN security council should require Israel to investigate the allegations raised, and if it failed to do so within six months the case should be passed to the prosecutor of the international criminal court. Each country that is a high contracting party to the Geneva conventions had a duty to search for and prosecute those responsible, it said.

Many of us have argued for months that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is an act of collective punishment, but it is an act which the Bush administration gave it's tacit approval of. Is this yet another area in which Obama will choose to "look forward rather than backward"?

I have no faith at all that we will ever see any Israelis face charges on this matter, but Obama should at the very least be able to extract from Netanyahu the promise to end illegal settlement building which he has so far refused to give to him.

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