January 28, 2010
In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict
Israel is likely to tell the United Nations that it will agree to the appointment of a committee tasked with focusing on a few issues related to last year’s military operation in the Gaza Strip.An agreement to this effect is being hammered out between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. The examination committee would consist of senior Israeli jurists. It would hear testimony from the country’s political and military leaders as well as the IDF investigators who conducted probes into incidents that occurred during Operation Cast Lead but would not be authorized to question officers and soldiers who took part in the Gaza incursion. The decision will apparently be part of Israel’s response to the Goldstone report, the final version of which is being completed. The document will be given to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon prior to the February 5 convening of the General Assembly to discuss progress on the report and its recommendations. However, Diaspora and Information Minister Yuli-Alon Edelstein on Tuesday said Israel will not establish a commission of inquiry into allegations of war crimes committed during last winter’s Gaza war. “There is no intention of establishing a commission of inquiry,” said Edelstein. “Israel as per a UN request is submitting a document which replies to very specific allegations,” Edelstein told Israel Radio. He was speaking from New York, where he was scheduled to meet UN officials. The possibility of creating a committee of examination or inquiry has been discussed by the political and military leadership since the publication in September of the Goldstone report. The main opposition to the appointment of a body with broad authority came from Barak and Ashkenazi, who fear the possibility of operational commanders facing prosecution. Recently, however, they agreed to meet some of the UN’s demands so as to reduce the harm caused by the report without causing damage to combat soldiers and officers. Under Barak’s proposal, which is acceptable to Netanyahu and to Ashkenazi, the committee would focus on two main issues: the quality of the investigations conducted by the IDF of incidents and of the decisions taken by the cabinet, the security cabinet and the IDF General Staff regarding the policy of the use of force in the operation. The committee will have to determine whether the internal investigations met the relevant international standards. On the civilian side it will ask whether there is a basis to the Goldstone report’s claims – which are categorically rejected by Israeli officials – that the operation was planned in advance as a punitive campaign against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. The committee, if it is indeed appointed, will have the authority to summon everyone who was in charge of the IDF investigations and anyone who took part in the main deliberations on the civilian level. It will not have the authority to question operational commanders. The intention is to include on the panel Israeli jurists with international standing and perhaps also an international jurist. One name that has been mentioned in discussions is Prof. Alan M. Dershowitz. A final decision has not yet been made with regard to the committee. Netanyahu will apparently have to get both Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman on board. Israel’s response to the UN will reject most of the fundamental claims of the Goldstone report: that it intentionally waged a punitive campaign against a civilian population, including the destruction of infrastructure; that Gaza is still under Israeli occupation despite the disengagement; that the warfare must be examined against human rights law (which is tougher on armies) and not international humanitarian law (which would hold Israel to a lower standard); that Israel’s enforcement system is inoperative and that its only purpose is to provide immunity to decision makers – and that as a result efforts must be made to investigate and prosecute the Israelis responsible via international institutions. The results of internal IDF investigations of incidents cited in the Goldstone report contradicted those of the UN committee. Some of the investigations, however, are not finished, so Israel’s response might treat these cases in a general rather than a specific manner. Israel’s response to the UN is expected to include a progress report on the IDF’s investigations into 140 incidents that occurred during Operation Cast Lead. Of these, 35 were investigated or are being investigated by the IDF’s Criminal Investigations Division. About 8 Gazans testified at the Erez checkpoint in connection to the incidents, with the mediation of international humanitarian organizations. In the wake of the Goldstone report, which dealt with more than 30 incidents, the IDF initiated 11 CID investigations. Two of them turned out to be different reports of the same incident and were closed when the Military Advocate General’s Corp concluded that no crime was committed. The other nine cases are still being investigated.