Israel achieved a major public relations coup this weekend, comparable to the United Nations rescission of its notorious resolution equating Zionism with racism. South African Judge Richard Goldstone, who came to symbolize more than anyone else the efforts to delegitimize Israel as a civilized and law-abiding country, has now retracted his allegations that Israel had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during Operation Cast Lead.
In his opinion piece published in Friday's Washington Post, Goldstone underlined Israel's clear moral superiority over Hamas, saying the Israel Defense Forces did not intentionally hit civilians in its operation in the Gaza Strip, while Gazans by contrast did in fact deliberately hit Israeli civilians.
Goldstone also acknowledged being naive in thinking Hamas would conduct itself as a law-abiding government and investigate allegations of its own war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by those firing rockets and mortar shells from the Strip into Israel. He has come to the understanding, however belatedly, that Hamas is not interested in humanitarian laws or human rights, but rather only in waging war against Israel.
Now Goldstone is calling for the international community to enforce the laws of war that apply to states to entities such as the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip as well.
Goldstone's change in position followed hundreds of IDF investigations into exceptional events during Cast Lead. Doubtless these investigations would not have come about had it not been for the Goldstone Report and concern over a future international investigation. In this way, the former jurist performed a service in support of the IDF's enforcement of the laws of war and in deterring Israel from entanglement in a new operation in Gaza.
It is once again clear that Israel erred in boycotting the Goldstone commission and refusing to cooperate with it. Former cabinet minister Isaac Herzog was correct in advocating dialogue with Goldstone, but stood against 11 cabinet colleagues.
The lesson to be drawn here is that we must not cut ourselves off and assume that judges and investigators are biased against us. Even if that is the case, it's better to fight Israel's cause during the investigation rather than counter subsequent conclusions by the UN that have already been officially adopted.
Goldstone's op-ed provides Turkey and Israel the opportunity to rehabilitate their relations, which soured over Cast Lead. If Israel's explanations are worthy of consideration, it may mean its explanations about the flotilla are, too.
Secondly and more importantly, the new Goldstone captures the change in how the West relates to Israel against the backdrop of the turmoil in the Arab world. Israel may be aggressive sometimes, but there is no other country in the Middle East whose stability is assured and which isn't threatened by a popular uprising. Israel isn't perfect, but it's much closer to Western standards than its enemies.