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Israel launches diplomatic, legal struggle against UN Gaza report
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09:08, September 24, 2009

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Up until the day on which UN report on Israel's military operation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip last winter was published, some Israeli senior government officials still believed they could simply ignore the report and "bury" it.

But now, Israelis realized they have to take aggressive action against the report, with the central goal of preventing a hearing on the topic in the UN Security Council.

Teams of legal experts in the various government ministries as well as in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) have already begun planning for the possibility that the report's conclusions will be translated into hearings in international and European courts.

For Israelis, the UN General Assembly now ongoing in New York provides another chance.

PUBLIC RELATION BLITZ

In contrast to the initial decision by Israel not to cooperate with the UN investigation mission and not to present testimony before it, in recent days awareness is growing that Israel must act with all its diplomatic might against the mission with the intent of denying its legitimacy.

The UN mission led by Judge Richard Goldstone said in a report last week that the mission has found evidence that both Israeli and the Palestinian forces committed "war crimes" during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza from Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 182009.

The report, using large pages describing behaviors of Israeli army, reads that the military operation in Gaza was directed against the citizens of Gaza generally, in order to advance a general policy whose goal was to punish the Gazan population and to carry out an intentional policy of utilizing non-proportional force against the civilian population.

According to officials from Israeli government and local media reports, throughout the past several days, Israeli leaders and ministers have held marathon talks with leaders and diplomats worldwide. Israel's ambassadors have also been enlisted to run a massive campaign to ensure that the report will not be sent for discussion in the UN Security Council.

A senior official in Israeli Foreign Ministry who declined to give his name said "the activity is being carried out in two circles. The primary circle is toward the 47 states that are members of the UN Human Rights Commission, except for those like Libya and Sudan which do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. The second circle is toward the states that are members of the UN Security Council."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have talked with many of their counterparts worldwide, including the United States, Russia and European countries, before they travelled to New York for the UN General Assembly.

According to officials from their offices, Netanyahu spoke with some more senior world figures in New York on Tuesday, and Lieberman is expected to raise the topic with some 15 foreign ministers during his visit to the UN. While Barak, said an official in his chamber, intends to publish a chain of articles against the report in the American press.

Netanyahu will also speak at the UN General Assembly on Thursday, with the Gaza report one of his topics, along with the Iran issue and regional peace process, local daily The Jerusalem Post quoted the Prime Minister's Office as saying.

The UN Human Rights Commission was set to convene on Sept. 29. A senior Israeli official with the Foreign Ministry said in anonymous condition that Israel is already acting to convince six countries, which are members of the Security Council, to oppose in advance the scheduling of any hearing in the Security Council on the report.

The last resort of Israel, according to the officials in Foreign Ministry, is to request that the Americans use their veto power.

LEGAL ARENA

Israel is also concerned about the transfer of the report to the legal arena, either at the International Human Rights Court at Hague or at the European courts, which are likely to hold hearings against Israeli officers and politicians involved in the operation.

Preparations, said officials in various departments who insist anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter, are being made.

Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has put out a list of instructions to aid people in avoiding being tried. The security establishment in Israel is also already preparing for the possibility of providing legal defense for officers and politicians who could have complaints filed against them in European courts.

A senior official with the Foreign Ministry said "beyond the Israeli desire to deny the legitimacy of the commission, Israel is also trying to pass a message that this is an orderly country that has laws and courts and that can investigate itself without assistance from the UN or other countries."

In light of that, it was announced on Monday that the IDF Judge Advocate Gen. Avichai Mendelblit passed onward 20 probes that the IDF conducted following the military operation in Gaza, in which there was a suspicion of criminal offenses carried out by soldiers and officers.

One of the ideas currently being considered in Israeli diplomatic policymaking circles is to appoint a special legal commission, which will work together with the IDF and will determine the boundaries of military action in accordance with the international law and global ethical standards.

Within the Israeli political establishment, the name of former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak has been raised as someone who could serve as chairman of the commission.

Ben Dror Yemini, an Israeli journalist and a diplomatic affairs author, who is working to advance the idea, said that "Israel is in the midst of a problem. There is no choice but to establish an investigative commission led by someone who has international recognition in legal circles. Aharon Barak is the person who meets that need."

Source: Xinhua



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