Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Israel: War crimes vote could smash peace bid

Flames and debris rise following an Israeli air strike on January 13, 2009 in Rafah, Gaza Strip
A Palestinian man reacts as he holds a blood stained sheet at the entrance to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. Israeli forces shelled the United Nations headquarters in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, setting the compound on fire as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was in the area on a mission to end Israel's devastating offensive against the territory's Hamas rulers. (AP Photo/Thaer Al-Hasani)
Israeli soldiers run away to avoid a stun grenade thrown by another soldier by mistake during clashes with Palestinians, following a demonstration against the Israeli missiles strike on Gaza, at the Kalandia checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem Saturday, Dec. 27, 2008. Israeli warplanes attacked dozens of security compounds across Hamas-ruled Gaza on Saturday in unprecedented waves of air strikes. Gaza medics said at least 145 people were killed and more than 310 wounded in the single deadliest day in Gaza fighting in recent memory. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Israel's prime minister warned the United Nations that backing war crimes accusations against the Jewish state and the Palestinians could destroy Middle East peace efforts.

Benjamin Netanyahu called on the UN's Human Rights Council to vote today to reject a resolution that backs a report accusing Israeli forces and their Palestinian opponents of war crimes during the fighting in Gaza last year.

The council, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is expected to vote on a resolution that would ask the UN Security Council in New York to determine within six months whether both sides are carrying out credible investigations into alleged abuses or to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands.

"Israel's only real crime is that it does not have an automatic majority in the UN," Mr Netanyahu said yesterday at a joint press conference with visiting Spanish premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

"We hope that all responsible countries will tomorrow vote against that decision, which aids and encourages terror and strikes at peace."

Mr Netanyahu said the resolution, if adopted, would hamper Israel's ability to defend itself and therefore discourage it from making possibly risky concessions for peace with the Palestinians.

His comments came after the UN's human rights chief Navi Pillay backed the report by an expert group led by Judge Richard Goldstone.

Ms Pillay told the 47-member council that she supported the report's recommendations, "including its call for urgent action to counter impunity" - meaning that Israel and Hamas must investigate and prosecute those who committed war crimes.

The 575-page report concluded that Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields, and destroyed civilian infrastructure during its December 27-January 18 incursion into the Gaza Strip to root out Palestinian rocket squads.

It accused Palestinian armed groups including Hamas of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through rocket attacks on southern Israel.

Nearly 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the three-week conflict.

Ms Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights, said it was necessary for both sides "to carry out impartial, independent, prompt, and effective investigations into reported violations of human rights and humanitarian law" as recommended by the report.

Israeli ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yaar condemned the Goldstone report as "biased and flawed", warning that a vote endorsing the document "will set back hopes for peace".

He accused the council, which has a history of passing resolutions critical of Israel, of using the report for more "Israel bashing".

The US took a similar view that excessive attention to the report and alleged crimes in the Gaza war could hamper efforts to rejuvenate struggling peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.

"We stand at an important moment, and must all be mindful of the larger context of ongoing efforts to restart permanent status negotiations that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state," said US diplomat Douglas Griffiths.

But Ms Pillay said holding war criminals accountable and respect for human rights "are not obstacles to peace, but rather the preconditions on which trust and, ultimately, a durable peace can be built".

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