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Will Israel’s response to Goldstone be enough?

Israel rebutted the substance of the report on the Gaza war by Richard Goldstone, left, shown meeting in June 2009 with Ghazi Hamad of Hamas at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. (Rahim Khatib / Flash90 / JTA)

Israel rebutted the substance of the report on the Gaza war by Richard Goldstone, left, shown meeting in June 2009 with Ghazi Hamad of Hamas at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. (Rahim Khatib / Flash90 / JTA)

NEW YORK (JTA) — With Israel’s submission of its formal response to the Goldstone report on the Gaza war, the question now is: Did the response suffice?

On Jan. 29, the Israeli government offered its reply to the U.N. report last fall by retired South African judge Richard Goldstone that accused Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during their three-week war in Gaza a year ago.

Israel’s 46-page reply addressed the specific allegations cited in the Goldstone report and, in Israel’s mind, fulfilled the report’s demand that Israel carry out a credible investigation of its wartime conduct.

"This Israeli document expresses Israel’s full commitment to carry out credible independent investigations that meet the standards of international law," the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement last Friday, after the U.N. General Assembly met to discuss it.

But the jury’s still out on whether the United Nations will agree.

When he presented Israel’s reply to the U.N. General Assembly last Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he understood that Israel’s process of investigation was “ongoing” and therefore “no determination can be made on the implementation” of the Goldstone recommendations.

The question now isn’t whether or not Israel committed war crimes during its offensive in Gaza, which killed 1,100 to 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis; the Israeli investigation found that Israel’s wartime action did not deviate from international norms.

The question is whether Israel’s reply met the standards outlined by Goldstone of a credible investigation.

In his report, which was published last September, Goldstone noted that Israel had not shown the capacity to investigate itself in the past. He called for the matter to be turned over to the International Criminal Court if Israel and Hamas did not undertake credible investigations of their own within six months.

After the General Assembly formally endorsed the Goldstone report last fall, the secretary-general gave the parties until Jan. 29, 2010 to demonstrate that they were implementing its recommendations.

Israel’s point-by-point response to the accusations leveled in the Goldstone report represented a shift in strategy by Jerusalem. During the course of Goldstone’s fact-finding mission, Israel refused to cooperate on the grounds that the report’s mandate from the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council was inherently biased against Israel and that no good could come of it.

Israeli officials at first set out to discredit the report, casting it as a one-sided broadside against the right of the Jewish state to defend itself. Israeli President Shimon Peres called the report a “mockery of history” for equating Israel’s actions with those of Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

But once the report gained traction internationally and was adopted by the General Assembly last November, Israel had little choice but to comply with the Goldstone recommendation that Israel launch its own investigation of the incidents cited if Israel wanted to avoid further U.N. action.

With its response Jan. 29, Israel rebutted the substance of the report’s accusations — a move Israeli officials hope will silence some of the criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza.

For its part Hamas, which was treated as an equal party to Israel in the Goldstone report, has sent mixed messages. In its formal, 55-page reply to the United Nations, also on Jan. 29, Hamas said it did not intentionally target Israeli civilians during the war. (The Goldstone report did not demand accountability for Hamas’ actions firing rockets at Israeli cities during the years prior to the war, which Israel said precipitated its invasion of Gaza.)

But this week, Hamas officials said they do not apologize for targeting Israeli civilians. Palestinian officials with Hamas’ rivals in the West Bank, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, accused Hamas of double-speak. In Gaza, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights dismissed the reports submitted by Hamas and Israel to the United Nations as lacking credibility.

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