Arab & Muslim nations push for war crimes prosecutions against Israel

From The National Post

Report on Gaza war set to ignite fierce debate

Steven Edwards, Canwest News Service Published: Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Palestinian stands in front of Israeli soldiers during a protest in the West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah against Israel's offensive in Gaza January 8, 2009. Eric Gaillard/Reuters files A Palestinian stands in front of Israeli soldiers during a protest in the West Bank village of Bilin near Ramallah against Israel’s offensive in Gaza January 8, 2009.

UNITED NATIONS — Up to 40 Arab, Muslim and other countries critical of Israel plan to turn a routine United Nations meeting on the Middle East on Wednesday into a war crimes debate focused on Israel’s assault on Gaza last winter.

The gathering at the UN Security Council in New York will serve as a curtain raiser to a parallel debate on Thursday and Friday in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where 18 of the 47 member states have successfully pushed for that body’s sixth “special session” on Israel in just three years.

Both meetings will see countries address results of a probe led by Judge Richard Goldstone of South Africa that says Israeli forces and Hamas gunmen in Gaza committed possible war crimes in the 22-day war that ended Jan. 18.

But Arab, Muslim and other countries that are heavily supportive of the Palestinian cause have made clear they are most keen on seeing implementation of recommendations in the report that could lead to war crimes prosecutions against members of the Israeli armed forces and political community.

The expected three-day verbal assault on Israel could provoke a series of diplomatic headaches for the Obama administration as it seeks to re-start the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and make progress on other regional issues.

The four-member Goldstone panel said the Security Council should give both Israel and Hamas six months to probe the war crimes allegations in the report, then respond to any failure to do so by referring the matter to the UN’s International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for possible prosecutions.

Canada does not plan on addressing either debate, while countries that have “sponsored” the request for the Human Rights Council session include China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Arab and Muslim countries have long used what is called their “automatic majority” at the UN to lobby for international sanction of Israel – often not without irony.

In the current campaign, Sudan is calling for the Goldstone report to be fully “operationalized” even as Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al-Bashir refuses to submit to an ICC arrest warrant accusing him of committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

While the bulk of the 574-page Goldstone report documents alleged violations by Israeli forces, the judge denied the investigation had been “anti-Israel.”

But both Israel and the United States rejected the results, saying the probe’s mandate from the Human Rights Council had been biased from the start.

Libya, among the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council, has signalled it will focus heavily on the Goldstone allegations against Israel when it speaks today.

This is despite the routine nature of the gathering as one of the Security Council’s monthly briefings by the UN secretariat under the title “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.”

Turkey, another Security Council member, may also weigh in after cancelling air force exercises with Israel scheduled for this week.

The United States, Britain and France are among member states that signalled they will use their addresses to discuss Middle East problems in general.

Israel among the non-member speakers will also address recurring regional concerns, among them rocket attacks from Gaza, which it cited as a reason for launching last winter’s offensive.

Palestine, which has observer status at the UN, is expected to lead the other non-member speakers in focusing exclusively on the Goldstone report, and pushing for action against Israel.

The Palestinian National Authority said in a statement yesterday that it had launched a parallel campaign to secure support in the Human Rights Council for voting on the Goldstone report Friday.

If the Geneva body agrees to send the report to the Security Council for action on the recommendations, New York would then have to hold an official meeting on it. At that time, the Arab and Muslim states would be closer to winning ICC involvement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday Israel would not allow its citizens to be tried for alleged war crimes over the Gaza war.

In the Security Council, the United States could also use its veto power to block any move to refer the Goldstone report to the ICC should the Palestinian campaign succeed in pushing the issue that far.

Still, the push for action against Israel has already notched some victories. Tuesday’s Security Council meeting had been scheduled to take place on Oct. 20, but was advanced by almost a week.

In addition, the Palestinian Authority had originally agreed to this week’s Human Rights Council debate taking place in March, but reversed that position Sunday following outrage over the deferral throughout the Arab world.

Canwest News Service

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