UNSG Ban Ki-Moon target of Israeli lobbying against Goldstone report

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at UNHQ in New York on Friday afternoon, and afterward told the Israeli Ynet media group that the Goldstone report on the Gaza war should be “buried”, according to a report on the YNet website.

According to Ynet, Shalom said, “I am more optimistic that Ban won’t pass the report on to the Security Council … I told him that I request the report not reach the Security Council”. Palestinian officials have considered asking the UN Secretary-General to forward the Goldstone report to the UN Security Council. We have previously predicted that this will not happen.

However, at Palestinian insistence (after a couple of flip-flops), the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has now adopted a resolution “recommending” the Goldstone report to the UN General Assembly, which is reportedly looking a dates when the report might be discussed before the end of the current session in late December. According to Shalom, YNet said, the UNSG offered the assurance that “The report will not be passed on for discussion at the General Assembly until I examine the decision to adopt it.” This is a bit mysterious, and could be a mistake.  Ynet also reported that Shalom said the UNSG added: “You know it [the Goldstone report] can reach the assembly (via a third party country). I answered saying there is a difference between him taking it forward to the General Assembly and a country like Libya doing so.”   Shalom also said: “I told the secretary-general that the report was composed by a committee that was set up in sin which included Iran, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.  “Our army is a moral one. We paused combat every day in order to allow for the delivery of aid to Gaza’s civilians, we phoned people at their homes in order to warn them before striking terrorists that took shelter among them. No other army in the world would do that”.   This YNet report can be read in full here.

The mysterious reported remark — “The report will not be passed on for discussion at the General Assembly until I examine the decision to adopt it” — can probably explained as confusion.   The UNSG does not have the power to block a decision by the General Assembly, if that’s what is meant.

The spokesperson for the President of the UN General Assembly (Jean Victor Nkolo) said in response to a question from a journalist at the DPI noon briefing at UNHQ/NY on Friday:

Question: “Can you just give us an update on what the thinking in the office of the2 President is on the Goldstone Report? How to proceed with it, what the options are and when a decision will be made.

Spokesperson: “We have still not received the final and formal report from the Human Rights Council. We received a week ago the advance unedited copy. So we will be receiving very soon, I presume, the physical formal and final copy, and the President will make, will hold consultations with all concerned parties in order to schedule a debate on this question. This will take place, I think, the consultations will take place very, very soon. But we need to receive that report first and foremost”.

Question: “When you say… like, they mailed it? How do you get it?”

Spokesperson: “This report, if it has to be shared with parties ?? the Member States, we first have to receive the formal and final copy. What we have received so far is an advance unedited version. We really need to have that in our hands, physically”. The full transcript of this briefing is posted here.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke to UNSG BAN in a phone call late on Thursday, with the same request regarding the Goldstone report, according to a dispatch from the German News Agency DPA published by Haaretz: “Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has asked United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to keep the Goldstone Commission report on Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip from advancing to further votes within the international body … In a telephone conversation late Thursday, Lieberman reiterated his stance that bringing the report for vote in the Security Council or at a General Assembly would harm Middle East peace talks. The Palestinians should not be allowed to hold negotiations with Israel on a local level while fighting against it in the international sphere, he said, according to a Hebrew statement from his office Friday. Mentioning by name Cuba, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, he also charged that the automatic condemnations of Israel by states with poor human rights records made ‘the international system into one characterized by hypocrisy and one which acts according to prejudices … A distorted international reality has been created in which at any international forum there is an automatic majority of states which are very far from being concerned about issues of human rights”. The DPA report recalled that “South African jurist Richard Goldstone, who authored the damning report, earlier this week accused Lieberman of using the probe to cover his own desire to see the Israeli-Palestinian peace process stall. Goldstone made the claim in a conference call on Sunday with 150 U.S. rabbis from left-leaning organizations. ‘That just is a shallow, I believe, false allegation’, he said. ‘What peace process are they talking about? There isn’t one. The Israeli foreign minister doesn’t want one at all’.” This report is published here.

The matter was also discussed in the regular DPI noon briefing on Friday:
Question: “Can you just give us a readout on the phone call between Mr. Ban Ki-moon and the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Lieberman? There were reports that Mr. Lieberman said that if the Goldstone report goes to the Security Council, this will be end of the peace process. Is this the case?”

Associate Spokesperson: “Well, I don’t speak for Mr. Lieberman. I can confirm that the Secretary-General spoke by telephone to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on 22 October, which was yesterday. On the Goldstone report, the Secretary-General emphasized the importance he attaches to addressing the issues of justice and accountability ever since his visit to Gaza last January. He reiterated his call for credible domestic investigations by all parties into any allegations of serious human rights violations committed during the conflict. That’s all I have to say on that call.”.

Associate Spokesperson: “I can give you the full readout of that. The Secretary-General met today with Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom. They discussed a broad range of issues of mutual interest, including Iran’s nuclear programme, Lebanon and resolution 1701 (2006), the UN’s Gaza reconstruction proposal, the Goldstone report, and the Board of Inquiry led by Ian Martin. On the humanitarian front, the Secretary-General asked for a positive response by Israel to the UN’s Gaza reconstruction proposal, and he expressed his serious concern at the adverse impact that further delay would cause. So, that’s that”.

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Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu told Lally Weymouth in an interview published in the Washington Post today that “We’re looking into that [an independent inquiry into the Gaza war] not because of the Goldstone report but because of our own internal needs.  The best way to defuse this issue is to speak the truth because Israel was defending itself with just means against an unjust attack. Serious countries have to think about adapting the laws of war in the age of terrorism and guerrilla warfare. If the terrorists believe they have a license to kill by choosing to kill from behind civilian lines, that’s what they’ll do again and again. What exactly is Israel supposed to do?”.  Specifically on the Goldstone report, Netanyahu said that:  “I thought there were limits to hypocrisy but I was obviously wrong. The so-called human rights commission accuses Israel that legitimately defended itself against Hamas of war crimes. Mind you, Hamas . . . committed four. First, they called for the destruction of Israel, which under the U.N. Charter is considered a war crime — incitement to genocide; secondly, they fired deliberately on civilians; third, they hid behind civilians; and fourth, they’ve been holding our captured soldier, Gilad Shalit, without access to the Red Cross, for three years.   And who gets accused of criminal behavior at the end of the day? Israel that sent thousands of text messages and made tens of thousands of cellular phone calls to Palestinian civilians [to warn them to evacuate]”.

One thing that can be said: these Israeli officials all appear to be reading from the same page…

UPDATE:  The Jerusalem Post reported that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Saturday reiterated his opinion that Israel should not appoint a commission to investigate the actions of IDF officers and soldiers during Operation Cast Lead.  Barak stressed that he fully trusts the operational investigations conducted by the IDF, adding that ‘there is no army in the world that investigates its actions like the IDF’. The defense minister was responding to remarks by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who told the Washington Post that Israel was looking into the possibility of opening an internal investigation into the accusations ‘not because of the Goldstone Report but because of our own internal needs’.”   This JPost report is posted here.

UPDATE TWO: On Saturday night, the Israeli Government Press Office sent to journalists this clarification from the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser: “In his remarks to The Washington Post today (Saturday), 24.10.09, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not imply that there is a need to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the accusations included in the Goldstone report. In his full remarks to the newspaper, the Prime Minister made it clear that Israel routinely investigates incidents of the kind that occurred during Operation Cast Lead, according to existing procedures, without any connection to the Goldstone report. In Prime Minister Netanyahu’s words, as stated in the full interview, Israel investigated the events even before the report was adopted by the UN Human Rights council in Geneva: ‘We have (already) investigated 24 of 36 claims; [we did so] not because of UN decisions but because this is our practice. We have investigated and even tried people in the past for improper behavior because we are a democratic country’. When asked, ‘So you’re not in favor of an independent inquiry?’ Prime Minister Netanyahu replied: ‘We’re looking into that not because of the Goldstone report but because of our own internal needs’. The flow of the interview makes it clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu intended to say that Israel is already examining the events according to existing internal procedures, not that it is ‘considering’ investigating the course of events themselves by other means. In his full remarks, the Prime Minister even hinted that if there was any need to investigate anything – it was how the Goldstone commission was established in the first place: ‘It would be an interesting investigation to check how the Goldstone report was born in the first place’.”

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Actress Mia Farrow, a celebrity “Goodwill Ambassador” for the UN children’s agency UNICEF, who addressed a session of the UN Security Council about her incomprehension concerning the insufficient international action on the situation in Darfour, visited the occupied Palestinian territory (Gaza and the West Bank) last week.

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UPDATE THREE: The U.S. Congress is reportedly preparing new legislation to compel the government to reject the Goldstone report because it is “one-sided”…

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