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UN General Assembly backs Goldstone report

Nov. 6, 2009 1:56 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 8, 2009 6:30 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - The UN General Assembly in New York overwhelmingly endorsed South African jurist Richard Goldstone's Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict on Friday.

A resolution supporting the report passed the UN's largest body with 114 votes in favor versus 18 opposed. Forty-four states abstained.

The report accuses both Israel and Palestinian combatants of committing war crimes during the Israeli army's three-week assault on Gaza, which left some 1,400 Palestinians dead. Thirteen Israelis also died.

The unaltered resolution passed with wide support from Muslim states and the Nonaligned Group. There had been concerns the Arab Group, backed by the PLO's envoy, would tone down the report's content in an effort to make it more amenable to European Union support.

Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour applauded the vote, saying the implementation of Goldstone's report would begin in stages. "In three months we will come back to General Assembly to consider the report of the Secretary-General for further action, including in all parts of the United Nations, including in the Security Council," he said, according to Voice of America.

But critics say the Arab states' resolution, while expressing support for the report, does little to implement the document's recommendations for investigation and prosecution. The issue centers on the fact that the Security Council, dominated by veto-wielding US, UK, Russia, France, and China, is not likely to act on the report.

"Ideally, the General Assembly should retain authority to recommend the report to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or establish an ad hoc tribunal," said Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton University, earlier this week. "There’s nothing in the charter precluding the General Assembly."

He told Ma'an there would be "a quiet celebration in Washington and Tel Aviv and disappointment for those holding Israel accountable."

But Mansour, in a separate interview with Ma'an, said the resolution would not spell the end of possibilities for prosecution.

"There is a new environment forming," he said. "We entered a new era of fighting impunity" with the ICC's establishment. "I am sure that Israel will think 1,000 times before trying a similar operation in Gaza ... and our brothers in Hamas will think again before firing rockets on civilian populations."

The United States was the only permanent Security Council member to vote against the non-binding resolution. US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice did not attend the discussion, sending instead her deputy, Alejandro Wolff, as an observer.

Israel's UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, told Hebrew-language media on Wednesday the vote was "conceived in hate and executed in sin," and said politics, rather than protecting human rights, was the only reason the report was even being discussed in New York.

The US House of Representatives condemned the report as biased on Tuesday. A nonbinding resolution passed by an overwhelming margin of 344 to 36. Twenty-two lawmakers voted "present," in effect abstaining from the vote.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who visited Israel in August on a trip sponsored by a pro-Israel lobby group, said the report "paints a distorted picture," and "epitomizes the practice of singling Israel out from all other nations for condemnation."

The Fact Finding Mission was tasked by the UN Human Rights Council with investigating Israel's three-week attack. Goldstone and an international team of experts visited Gaza in June and poured over thousands of documents in compiling the 575-page report.

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