UN Disappointment; Goldstone Report; Trouble in Jerusalem

UN Disappointment; Goldstone Report; Trouble in Jerusalem by Warren Clark

The uncertainty about next steps in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts that followed the inconclusive trilateral meeting at the UN (September 22) deepened the following week with controversy surrounding publication of the UN Goldstone report about evidence of war crimes committed by both Israel and Hamas during the Gaza conflict last December-January.  One result has been violence in Jerusalem involving the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in the Old City.
   
In the weeks prior to the UN meeting, the US administration led by Special Envoy George Mitchell seemed to be seeking an Israeli commitment for at least a temporary suspension of settlement construction activity in the Palestinian territories. Palestinians were to have committed to start comprehensive negotiations with Israel on final status issues, including Jerusalem, borders, refugees and security.  In addition Arab states were asked to make gestures toward normalizing relations with Israel.  In the end there were no commitments and no change in the status quo.

The following week a report by Judge Goldstone to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva  concluded there was credible evidence of war crimes by both Israel and Hamas. War crimes generally require evidence of deliberately targeting non-combatant civilians, not mere evidence of civilian deaths.
 
To the astonishment of many, the Palestinian delegation (October 2) withdrew its draft resolution on the report, postponing HRC action. An uproar followed among Palestinian and human rights groups; many attacked Palestinian Authority President Abbas, assuming he had given into political pressure from the U.S. and Israel to withdraw the resolution, perhaps in return for some unknown quid pro quo.
 
The Palestinian Authority reversed itself a few days later and the UN Human Rights Council was reconvened October 15.  A new resolution in the HRC refers the Goldstone report and other matters to the UN in New York.  However, the resolution suggests HRC bias by neglecting to mention the Goldstone's finding evidence that Hamas also committed war crimes, a shortcoming that drew criticism from Judge Goldstone himself.

Eventual actions being considered include recommendations that Israel conduct UN approved investigations into the allegations, and, in case of refusal to conduct investigations, to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible legal sanctions.     

The lack of agreement at the UN and the initial deferral of consideration of the Goldstone report, perhaps combined with religious holidays, led to outbreaks of violence and the threats of violence on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem beginning October 4.

This sequence of events illustrates the well-known phenomenon that lack of movement and declining hope for Israel-Palestine peace is a formula for violence.

The next steps are not clear.  Palestinians, citing years of fruitless negotiations while Israeli settlements continued to expanded into Palestinian territories, refuse to enter comprehensive negotiations as long as Israel refuses to stop settlement activity. The government of Israel is reluctant to enter into final status  negotiations, but remains worried about the threat of ICC sanctions should it refuse to investigate allegations. The U.S. wants to get final status talks started; it reportedly has quietly encouraged Israel to conduct an independent investigation, but so far without result.

As long as the impasse remains, Jerusalem will be vulnerable to the risk of more violence.

Ambassador Warren Clark is Executive Director of Churches for Middle East Peace, of which the UCC and Disciples are members.

To read more about the Goldstone Report, in Spanish, click here for Dr. Samuel Pagan's article, "El Informe Gladstone y la Paz" which was to appear in El Nuevo Día.