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The Goldstone fallout

Reaction to the U.N. report on Gaza is not helping the peace process.

October 15, 2009

Israel may have achieved its military goals against Hamas with last winter's offensive in the Gaza Strip, but the country has since faced increasing political isolation, all the more so as U.S. efforts to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have faltered. Among the fallout: Turkey banned Israel from a planned NATO military exercise this week, and today the U.N. Human Rights Council is to take up a report that accuses both Israel and Hamas of having violated international law in Gaza. In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily announced that he would not pursue peacemaking if Israelis are to be accused of war crimes for defending themselves. His irritation is understandable, but threatening to abandon the pursuit of peace is not. Rather, Israel should launch its own, independent investigation into the allegations of wrongdoing -- and pursue peace negotiations.

The Gaza report was produced by a U.N. mission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The Israeli government refused to cooperate with the investigation and then rejected the results as biased. Palestinians embraced the accusations against Israel while ignoring charges against Hamas. The U.S. government called the account "deeply flawed."

The 500-page report charges that Israel used disproportionate force against Palestinian civilians, from a punishing economic blockade to the assault that left 13 Israelis and about 1,400 Palestinians dead. Israeli forces illegally razed government buildings and infrastructure, fired white phosphorous shells and flechette missiles in urban areas, and used Palestinians as human shields, it says. Unfortunately, the report treads lightly on Hamas, which invited military retaliation by shelling from heavily populated areas and taking refuge among civilians. Even so, the charges are grave: Armed groups indiscriminately have fired 8,000 rockets and mortars into Israel since 2001, deliberate attacks on civilian areas that caused four deaths and hundreds of injuries; captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, deemed a prisoner of war, has been denied his human rights; and Gaza authorities carried out postwar extrajudicial executions.

Hamas will almost surely thwart any objective Palestinian inquiry, but Israel should not follow suit. Failing serious probes, the report recommended that the cases be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. That wouldn't help the cause of peacemaking. As long as Israelis and Palestinians are not perceived to be making progress on peace, the world tends to focus on their warring past. The Goldstone report is but one more argument for moving forward to resolve the deeper issues that have plagued the two societies for decades.

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