Barak with UNSG: Trying to derail Goldstone mission?

This photo was published in the Israeli media – but it is not available on the UN photo site:

Israeli Defense Minister Barak meets UNSG BAN Ki-Moon - AP

Whereas this is one of two UN photos, published on the UN website, showing Barak — standing alone: his preference?  Or UN decision? — talking to journalists at a “stakeout” probably after the meeting:

Barak standing alone at UNHQ-NY after meeting UNSG BAN - UN photo by Mark Garten

UN Radio’s Diane Bailey reported from UNHQ/NY that “Barak said on Monday that he does not think that his government will cooperate with the team investigating alleged war crimes committed during the recent Israeli-Hamas conflict … The Israeli Defense Minister said knowing how such missions operate, he does not think his government should cooperate with the team despite the fact that Richard Goldstone has a lot of respect around the world.  ‘The mandate that the Goldstone committee got is to look into war crimes in regard to the operation in Gaza and from our experience, we well know that they will never be able to talk to Gaza side and to penetrate or to interrogate the series of terrorist operations along years, including thousands of rockets and missiles fell upon the heads of Israeli citizens in order to get unbiased conclusion’.”

How does Barak know that the Goldstone mission will “never be able to talk to [the] Gaza side”?

Another very real question is:  will they be able to talk to the Israeli side?

Justice Goldstone and his team entered Gaza via Egypt through the Rafah crossing on Monday — because the Israeli government did not respond to the mission’s request for visas to come to Israel.

They were greeted by Hamas official Ghazi Hamad, a former editor and journalist, and former adviser to Hamas’ deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who served as spokesman for the Palestinian Authority Government in 2006, after Hamas won Legislative Council elections, and who is sometimes described as a “moderate”.  Hamad has written that Palestinians should stop “limiting our thinking” and has recently urged Palestinians to take into account the international community.  He currently works in the Gaza crossings authority.

Goldstone told journalists later that “We have come here to see, to learn, to talk to people in all walks of life; ordinary people, governmental people, administrative people”.

The mission’s mandate is to “investigate all violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”

Goldstone has interpreted this to mean that the mission will look at violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by all parties — including Hamas.

“So far, Israel is refusing to cooperate”, said Rina Jabareen of Adalah, “and that means that the Goldstone mission wouldn’t have access to speak to the army, to the military and the political leaders”.

Was Barak trying to bully the UNSG, in this meeting at UNHQ/NY, to go easy on Israel with this investigation, as Israeli media reports suggested yesterday afternoon?

Israel’s YNet news website is reporting today that “Barak told the secretary general that Israel expects the organization, and the international community, to increase efforts to secure the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.   The Iranian nuclear threat was also discussed at the meeting. Barak said Tehran ‘is endangering both regional and global stability. We insist that the economic sanctions on the Iranians be intensified’ …

Barak, at least according to this report, notably did not discuss the Israeli sanctions against Gaza, which UN Security Council Resolution 1860 said should be modified to allow re-construction materials into Gaza after the very IDF Operation Cast Lead that the Goldstone mission is investigation.

Nor did BAN mention this, apparently … At least, there was no statement to this effect issued by the UN spokespeople.


UPDATE: At the regular noon briefing at UNHQ/NY on Tuesday [half a day after this post was posted], UN spokeswoman Michele Montas offered journalists this tidbit: “In response to questions I have been getting about the Secretary-General’s meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, the two discussed the Board of Inquiry, the Gaza fact-finding mission led by Justice [Richard] Goldstone, access and movement issues relating to Gaza, the importance of the peace process, Lebanon, and the upcoming report on Security Council resolution 1701 (2006). On the Gaza fact-finding mission, the Secretary-General renewed his call for cooperation from Israel. The full briefing transcript can be consulted here.

SECOND UPDATE: The next day — that is, at the regular noon briefing at UNHQ/NY on Wednesday 3 June — UN Spokeswoman Michele Montas announced:  “I have been asked in recent days about the Secretary-General’s position concerning inquiries into what happened earlier this year in Gaza, and I wanted to make a few points clear.  The Secretary-General has certainly not rejected the notion of an inquiry into the recent Gaza conflict.  On the contrary, and apart from the Board of Inquiry that he had instituted into the damages against the UN, he has both privately and publicly supported the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission.  He has also counselled and urged the Israeli Government to cooperate with this inquiry.  Indeed, he last did so yesterday at his meeting with the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.  It is precisely because such an inquiry exists that the Secretary-General did not contemplate establishing another commission to undertake the very same task.  The Secretary-General is conscious of the fact that the Human Rights Council is especially well placed to commission an investigation into whether breaches of international humanitarian law have taken place, and had done so, inter alia, by selecting respected jurists to undertake this task, and had revised their terms of reference to ensure a balanced approach”.  The full transcript is published here.

THIRD UPDATE: On Thursday 4 June, at the regular noon briefing at UNHQ/NY, UN spokeswoman Michele Montas, had the following exchanges with journalists:
Question: The Palestinian situation … continues to be dire. Has the Secretary-General spoken to anybody in the Israeli authorities now to loosen up the border crossings and things like that?
Spokesperson: Well, you know that he has been doing so extensively, actually. He met Israeli officials twice during the week, as we mentioned in the readouts, every time it was [discussed] … You know, nothing has changed in terms of the actual access. As you know, we talked about construction material, we talked about the fact that there was no way we could help reconstruct Gaza if none of the material was allowed in. Yes, Talat.
Question: Michele, the [inaudible] spoke with us last week from the region and said that there were 630 blockades [n.b., he must mean roadblocks and/or checkpoints] and that they were primarily being set up to protect Israeli settlements. Was there any statement or follow-up from the Secretary-General on that comment? He also had said that senior advisers on behalf of the Israeli side were speaking with UN officials about bringing down some of those blockades. Is that…?
Spokesperson: We have been talking about this for a long time now. Those blockades are not new, as you know, and they have been hampering the free circulation of people, and we have been talking about them since the Secretary-General has been Secretary-General. He has been talking about those restrictions to free movement … We have been following up, as I said, on a regular basis on this.
Question: So there is cohesive agreement that the blockades are being set up primarily to protect Israeli settlements?
Spokesperson: Well, this is something for the Israeli Government to say. They’re the ones setting up the blockades. It’s not for us to say. What we are saying, what we have been protesting, is the fact that there are so many of them and it makes the life of Palestinians increasingly difficult. That we have been saying over and over again.
Question: Michèle, just a follow-up on that topic?
Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: In the readout from the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister earlier this week, it says in among urging the Israelis to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid, it said that they discussed socio-economic projects in the West Bank. Is he referring to settlements in, by socio-economic projects, the Israeli socio-economic projects in the West Bank? I mean…
Spokesperson: I can try to get more details on what they mean.
Question: Okay, because it seems like there is a moment of opportunity here with President Obama calling today in a speech for the settlements to stop, there seems to be some momentum…
Spokesperson: Well, we have been coming out very strongly against the settlements ourselves. As you know, the UN has been very vocal about that, saying that these go against previous agreements and that they should not build any new settlements.
Question: Sure, but I mean, the Secretary-General has been urging the Israelis for over a year now to alleviate the blockade of Gazans and there has been nothing in response. Is he looking that this is a moment of opportunity to kind of elevate his pressure to try and…?
Spokesperson: Well, his pressure continues, you know. It was the case when he met two high Israeli officials this week and all these were expressed during those meetings.
Question: Well, it’s kind of, just the meetings, it’s kind of hard to determine which way the pressure was going. And just from reports, the Israeli media reports, it indicates that those Israeli Government officials were pressuring him, and the UN seems to be indicating that the Secretary-General was trying to pressure the Israelis. So, there is a disconnect here of who is…
Spokesperson: I don’t think there’s any disconnect. Each group or each side just flagged their own concerns and that’s the way it went. That doesn’t mean that one accepted the point of view of the other one … Yes, Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Also on the Middle East, Michèle. The United Nations is a part and parcel of the Quartet. Are there any preparations towards holding a meeting of the Quartet on the Middle East at this stage?
Spokesperson: Well, I think there are discussions about the next meeting and I’ll let you know when it happens”.
This briefing transcript is available here.


YNet also reported that “Barak also briefed Ban on the ‘Jenin Model’ project, which has seen Palestinian Authority defense forces assuming responsibility over security in West Bank cities. He also expanded on the actions Israel is taking to improve the quality of day-to-day life for the Palestinians in the West Bank, including the removal of roadblocks and various economic initiatives.  Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Barak explained that Israel would not cooperate with the UN investigation because by its very nature it cannot be objective … ‘And knowing the procedures by which such operations are taken, I don’t think that Israel has to or will cooperate with this interrogation and I say this despite the fact that Judge Goldstone personally has a lot of respect all around the world’, he said.   Asked whether Israel accepts the two-state solution, Barak said: ‘Israel wants peace with its neighbors. We are in favor of a regional process. This government recognizes all the agreements signed by previous governments, and that answers the question’.”

YNet also reported that “Barak will stay in New York today to meet with the US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell. On Tuesday he will arrive in Washington for a series of meetings with administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Advisor James Jones”.  This YNet report can be read in full here.