Quarterly Updates for (16 Feb 2011 — 15 May 2011)

While many Palestinian moves this quarter involved the UN (see “Recognition of Palestine” in the Palestinian-Israeli section above), in light of the broader regional unrest few actions affecting the peace process took place in UN bodies.

Goldstone Report

In a Washington Post op-ed (online 4/1, in print on 4/3; see Doc. A1), South African judge Richard Goldstone, head of the UN comm. investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during OCL (12/27/08–1/18/09), stated that “if I had known then what I know now,” he would have concluded that Gazan “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of [Israeli] policy” and would have given more weight to crimes perpetrated by Hamas (see Quarterly Update in JPS 154 for background). His statement reportedly came after intense pressure from Israel, pro-Israel groups, the Johannesburg Jewish community, and even family members (see John Dugard’s article in “Selections from the Press” in this issue). Of the 3 other experts who cowrote the report (British international law professor Christine Chinkin, Pakistani jurist Hina Jilani, and Irish peace-keeper Col. Desmond Travers), Jilani and Travers issued a brief statement on 4/1 defending the report as it stands. All 3 issued a statement on 4/14 denouncing Goldstone’s backtracking, saying that by yielding to intense outside pressure he was depriving the victims of justice (see Doc. A3).

Meanwhile, Netanyahu declared (4/2) that Israel had been vindicated by Goldstone and that the report should be officially nullified. On 4/3, he launched a diplomatic effort to convince the UN to repeal the Goldstone report formally, calling it libel. He vowed Israel would “act on the public-diplomacy front and on other fronts with the international community and the UN in order to demand the justice that is due to Israel.” By 4/7, Israeli MK Danny Danon (Likud) was in the U.S. organizing a team of pro bono Jewish-American attorneys to file a class-action libel lawsuit against Goldstone in New York District Court. The attorneys said that the plaintiffs (unspecified) would demand that Goldstone publicly apologize to the State of Israel and pay a symbolic amount of damages for the accusations he made in his fact-finding report. There was no evidence the lawsuit was filed, however. Meanwhile, the State Dept.’s spokesman said (4/4) that the Obama admin. noted “with great interest” that Goldstone had apparently come around to U.S. government’s assessment that there was never “any evidence that the Israeli government committed any war crimes, nor did it intentionally target civilians,” adding that Goldstone’s “retraction” revived concerns about an anti-Israel bias in the UNHRC.

The UNHRC said (4/2) it would continue to uphold the Goldstone Report as written, stating that Goldstone would have to submit a formal request signed by all of the committee members for the report to be withdrawn. Goldstone said (4/5) that he had no intention of asking the UN to rescind it. Israeli pres. Peres urged (4/8) UN Secy.-Gen. Ban to revoke the Goldstone Report during a one-on-one meeting at the UN headquarters in New York.

Meanwhile, the UNHRC met on 3/21 to receive the 2d report of a committee of independent experts mandated to assess the Israeli and Palestinian compliance with the Goldstone Report’s requirements. The committee concluded, as it did in its first report in 9/2010, that neither side had adequately investigated allegations that serious violations of international law were committed during OCL. Meanwhile, Amnesty International petitioned (3/7) the UNHRC to ask the UNSC to refer the investigation to the International Criminal Court for action if the committee’s final assessment reached this conclusion. The petition was signed by some 66,850 Amnesty members and supporters worldwide.

Other UNHRC Actions

UNHRC special rapporteur Richard Falk told (3/21) the council that Israel’s settlement building in East Jerusalem “can only be described in its cumulative impact as a form of ethnic cleansing.” The UNHRC at the time was drafting a res. condemning settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which passed on 3/25. On 3/24 and 3/25, another 5 UNHRC res. on Israel passed: (1) calling for a fund to compensate Palestinians who suffered losses during OCL; (2) noting the “grave human rights violations” by Israeli forces in the Palestinian territories and demanding that Israel end its occupation; (3) calling on Israel to end its occupation of the Golan Heights; (4) reaffirming the right of Palestinians to self-determination; and (5) denouncing the 5/2010 Gaza flotilla incident. The U.S. voted against all 6 measures.

In a statement marking the 2d anniversary since the U.S. rejoined the UNHRC, the State Dept. declared that the U.S. “maintains a vocal, principled stand” against “the Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel” and will continue “robust efforts” to end it.

Syria withdrew (5/11) its bid for a rotating seat on the UNHRC in light of domestic events. Kuwait was named to replace it as a candidate for the Asia bloc. The vote was set for 5/20.

For the first time since it was reconstituted 5 yrs. ago, the UNHRC appointed (3/24) a special investigator to look into human rights abuses in Iran.

Other Items of Note

On 2/24, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Robert Serry briefed the UNSC on the situation in the Middle East, urging the Quartet to make a serious effort to revive both the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian tracks—and even offer its own “concrete suggestions” for peace—arguing that resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict had become even more critical given the regionwide protests (see “The Quartet Considers Action” above).

On 5/14, UN Undersecy.-Gen. for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos began a 4-day visit to Israel and the occupied territories with a tour of the separation wall around Jerusalem. Noting that only 13% of land in East Jerusalem is available for Palestinian use, that it is already overcrowded, and that an estimated 86,500 East Jerusalem Palestinians face demolition of their homes for being built without permits, she called on Israel to halt “policies [that] lead to forced displacement of Palestinians from Jerusalem and from the rest of the West Bank” and to allow Palestinians to develop their communities. On 5/15, she visited Shaykh Jarrah and Silwan in East Jerusalem and met in Ramallah with PA Pres. Abbas and PM Fayyad. She planned to visit Gaza and meet with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv on 5/16 and 5/17.

Israel and the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) signed (3/7) an agreement for the establishment of a center within UNESCO (partially funded by Israel) devoted entirely to developing and promoting Holocaust education and combating its denial worldwide.