The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday condemned a UN report that accuses Israeli forces and Palestinian militants of committing war crimes in Gaza early this year as irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.
With a 344-36 vote, the House passed a nonbinding resolution that urged President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to oppose unequivocally any endorsement of the report. Twenty-two representatives voted present.
The report, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council, accuses both Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group of war crimes but presents Israel's actions as much more serious.
The report "paints a distorted picture," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. It "epitomizes the practice of singling Israel out from all other nations for condemnation."
The Ros-Lehtinen/Berman resolution defines the report as "biased and unworthy of further consideration," U.S. Representative Howard Berman, chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, said recently at the Jerusalem Conference.
Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey, Chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, warned lawmakers that further consideration of the Goldstone report could seriously harm Middle East peace negotiations.
"Israel, like all sovereign nations, has the responsibility to respect human rights and adhere to international law," she said, "However, its defense of its citizens against attacks by Hamas militants simply cannot be conflated with terrorist actions.
"Facilitating a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians is among our most important foreign policy priorities, and further consideration of the Goldstone report could hinder movement toward peace negotiations," said Lowey.
However, opponents of the House move warned that although the resolution was non-binding, it would hurt U.S. credibility as a broker of Middle East peace.
The National Jewish Democratic Council urged Democratic members of Congress to support the resolution and denounce the commission's report.
"The Obama administration has made it abundantly and repeatedly clear that they stand with Israel against the distorted Goldstone Commission report. And as this legislation correctly asserts, the report is indeed 'irredeemably biased,'" the JDC said in a statement.
"We concur with the findings of the Ros-Lehtinen/Berman resolution that this report is deeply flawed, and that the U.S. government should do all in its power to stop this report in its tracks at the UN, lest it be used to undermine Israel's fundamental right to self-defense in the future."
PA envoy: Report is balanced and responsible
The Palestinians are pressing for adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution that urges Israel and the Palestinians to carry out independent investigations of alleged war crimes during their conflict in Gaza last winter.
The proposed General Assembly resolution also calls for possible Security Council action if both sides don't take credible steps in three months.
The 192-nation world body has scheduled a meeting Wednesday to consider a resolution adopted by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council on Oct. 16 that endorsed the report on the Gaza war by an expert panel chaired by Goldstone.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, said Tuesday the draft resolution is balanced and very responsible and is supported by many countries, though several European nations indicated they are still seeking changes.
"We're listening to all comments, but the draft resolution as it stands, the thrust of it, is asking for investigation, and there is unanimity on that call," he said. "We'll take it from there."
Mansour said the resolution will definitely be approved, but he said, "I don't think it will be put to a vote before Thursday."
Israel urges West to reject Goldstone report
Meanwhile, Israel has called on Western nations to speak out against any endorsement of report when the matter comes up for deliberation at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.
Israel has told the countries of the European Union and other friendly nations that it expects them to vote against any resolution proposed by the Arab states on the report.
The deliberations will revolve around a draft resolution by Arab states calling for the adoption of the report and the transfer of the debate from the General Assembly to the Security Council. The resolution also calls for an independent inquiry by Israel into Operation Cast Lead and the presentation of its conclusions in three months.
Senior officials at the Foreign Ministry described the Arab resolution as very extreme and said it constitutes an escalation of the attacks against Israel in international forums.
A vote is not expected immediately, but Israeli sources say one is likely by the end of the week.
On Tuesday, Britain and France, representing the EU, held talks with representatives of the Palestinian Authority and Arab states at the United Nations in an effort to soften the proposed resolution.
Accordingly a Franco-British document representing the EU has been drafted, describing "red lines" that the resolution should not cross if the Arab states and the Palestinians expect Western support.
Essentially, the offer seeks to avoid the transfer of deliberations from the General Assembly to the Security Council or the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The Europeans are asking Israel and the Palestinians to agree to an independent inquiry into the war and a return of the matter to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
A notable element in the Arab draft resolution is a failure to mention Hamas; it refers only to the Palestinians, even though the original Goldstone report mentions Hamas and accuses it of carrying out war crimes along with Israel.
Whatever form it takes, the Arab resolution is expected to gain a majority with 130 votes. However, if it remains extremist and the Europeans refuse to support it, there is a chance that around 60 countries will vote against it or abstain.
Foreign Ministry director general Yossi Gal told ambassadors on Tuesday that any further support for the Goldstone report would have a negative effect on the peace process and undermine democracies' right to self-defense.
ADL director to Goldstone: As a good Jew, repudiate report
Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman of ADL called on Goldstone to repudiate his report: "I have had great respect for you over the years. Your work at the head of the South Africa Reconciliation Commission and in helping to find a just solution to the Bosnian conflict deserves the highest commendation.
"Moreover, I know you to be a proud Jew who serves on the Board of Trustees of Hebrew University and who has a daughter living in Israel."
"With this background, I wondered in the first place how you could take on the chairmanship of the investigation of the war in Gaza mandated by the UN Human Rights Council," he said. "After all, the Human Rights Council has repeatedly demonstrated its bias against Israel and in its stated mission for the investigation began with assumptions presuming Israeli guilt."
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