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In do-over on Goldstone, Human Rights Council ignores Hamas

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Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations in Geneva, talks to journalists on Oct. 16, 2009 about the U.N. Human Rights Council's resolution endorsing the Goldstone report on the Gaza war. (Ryan Brown / UN Photo)

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations in Geneva, talks to journalists on Oct. 16, 2009 about the U.N. Human Rights Council’s resolution endorsing the Goldstone report on the Gaza war. (Ryan Brown / UN Photo)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Who says there are no do-overs in international politics?

When the U.N. Human Rights Council endorsed the Goldstone report on the Gaza war last Friday, it reversed a surprise delay of its endorsement two weeks earlier. The Palestinians viewed last Friday’s endorsement as a corrective; Israel saw it as a return to the problematic policies of the past.

The Palestinian Authority had sparked a firestorm of anger among Palestinians late last month when it asked the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to delay a vote on a resolution endorsing the Goldstone report, which cited evidence that Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during the three-week war and possibly crimes against humanity.

Hamas leaders and protesters in the West Bank declared that P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas had betrayed the Palestinian people by caving in to U.S. and Israeli pressure, scuttling a resolution on a report faulting Israel with war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza.

So Abbas quickly reversed course, first pressing the U.N. Security Council to take up the matter — which it did last week, albeit informally — and then asking the Human Rights Council to reconvene for a special session on the report. The council, whose next scheduled session is in March, agreed.

The result was a quick endorsement last Friday by the 47-member council of the report, produced by a fact-finding mission on the Gaza war led by retired South African jurist Richard Goldstone.

Israel had refused to cooperate with the fact-finding mission from the start, asserting that its mandate to investigate only Israeli “grave violations of human rights” and not Hamas’ actions was inherently biased.

While the report’s mandate later expanded to include consideration of Hamas misconduct during the fighting, the draft resolution debated at the council last week restored that bias, prompting a rebuke from Goldstone himself.

"There is not a single phrase condemning Hamas, as we have done in the report," Goldstone was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP.

The resolution was slightly amended before its passage to include a line condemning the targeting of civilians and calling for all parties to be held to account. It also expressed “deep concern” at Israeli restrictions on Arab worshipers at the Temple Mount, which Israeli police imposed amid unrest during the recent Sukkot holiday.

Supporters of Israel complained that the unrest in Jerusalem had nothing to do with the Goldstone report and constituted little more than a gratuitous swipe at Israel.

Nevertheless, the resolution passed by a vote of 25 to 6.

While the council’s vote is not legally binding, it asks that the U.N. General Assembly consider the Goldstone report, and the report itself recommends that the U.N. Security Council refer war crimes prosecutions to the International Criminal Court if Israel does not take action within six months to investigate the alleged crimes.

In last Friday’s vote, the countries voting against the resolution were the United States, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Ukraine. Eleven countries abstained and five countries did not vote at all — a highly unusual occurrence at the council — including Britain and France. Among the yes votes were Russia, China, Argentina and Egypt.

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