Delay on Goldstone vote a rare U.N. victory for Israel

Supporters of Israel were surprised and pleased when the U.N. Human Rights Council elected Oct. 2 to delay a vote on endorsing the Goldstone report on the Israel-Hamas war until the council’s next session in March.

The move, effectively setting aside a resolution considered negative

for Israel, generated a firestorm of controversy among Palestinians, fueling a new effort to take the matter directly to the U.N. Security Council. On Wednesday, at the urging of Libya, the Security Council held unofficial consultations in New York to decide whether or not to hold an official emergency session to discuss the Goldstone report.

Palestinians take to the streets in the West Bank to express their anger over the delayed vote. photo/flash 90/issam rimawi

Insiders say strong pressure by U.S. and Israeli officials prompted the delay last week, with Israel warning that a vote sending the report to the Security Council would derail Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation and U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations.

Generally, the line of thinking has been that there’s no real sense of urgency for Israel to try to muster opposition to U.N. resolutions it considers hostile. The powerful 56-member Arab-Muslim bloc known as the Organization of the Islamic Conference, coupled with the complacency of Western governments, has made passage of anti-Israel resolutions in U.N. bodies a virtual guarantee.

But in this instance, the Palestinian Authority, which is not a member of the 47-member Human Rights Council, asked to delay the vote, and other Arab and Muslim countries followed suit. The Pakistani delegation to the council made the announcement Oct. 2 on behalf of the Muslim bloc, officially citing the need for more time to discuss the Goldstone report.

“I think the Palestinians got the message that they had to make a choice: Either cooperate with Israel, including on the peace process, or pursue a futile political campaign based on the one-sided Goldstone report,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch.

Advocates for Israel took the delay as a hopeful sign that strong pressure by Israel and its allies actually can yield positive results.

“What happened on the Goldstone report suggests, maybe for the first time, that complacency on Israel may have eroded,” said Felice Gaer, an expert on U.N. affairs and the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights. “It’s a phenomenal outcome. I don’t believe this has ever happened before.”

Officials at Israel’s U.N. mission in Geneva declined to talk publicly about Israel’s role in the matter, saying they had been instructed specifically by Jerusalem to keep mum on the issue.

The move infuriated Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Ramallah, and Hamas officials in Gaza accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of treason. Barraged by the criticism, Abbas denied asking for a delay in the vote and said he would launch an investigation to discover how the delay came about.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader and deposed P.A. prime minister, rejected Abbas’ response as dissembling.

“Abbas gave the orders to delay voting on the report,” Haniyeh said.

This week, with the criticism showing no signs of abating, the Palestinian Authority switched gears: On Oct. 6, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told the French news agency AFP that Abbas was considering asking the General Assembly or Security Council to take up the Goldstone recommendations. Such a request would be a major breach of U.N. protocol, since the report officially is still under deliberation at the Human Rights Council, the body that commissioned it.

The 574-page report by former South African judge Richard Goldstone, which was released last month, was commissioned amid Israel-Hamas fighting last January. Israel considered the mandate — to probe Israel’s “grave violations of human rights” — biased and refused to cooperate.

The report found both Israel and Hamas guilty of “war crimes” and called for the U.N. Security Council to send the matter to the International Criminal Court if Israel did not launch its own investigation of the alleged war crimes within six months. Israel, however, has a fundamental problem with being censured for taking action to protect itself against Hamas rocket attacks.

Israeli President Shimon Peres has called the report a “mockery of history” because it did not “distinguish between the aggressor and a state exercising its right for self-defense.”