Don’t Be Afraid of International Institutions

The Israeli government must deal with the claims of the international community as an active player.

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The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Credit: Reuters

A new norm has come to Israel: The United Nations, the International Court, human rights commissions are all perceived today as threats against our wellbeing and existence. They are institutions to be boycotted and ignored, whose personnel must not be allowed into the country, institutions from which documents must be concealed and access to officials prevented.

After refusing to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission established by the UN Human Rights Council to examine the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces in Operation Cast Lead, Israel is now boycotting the Schabas committee investigating Operation Defensive Edge. Floating through the air is also the Palestinian threat of the “doomsday weapon”: lawsuits against senior IDF officers, Israeli politicians and ministers in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Ostensibly, these concerns are justified. The UN Human Rights Council is a strange body with enlightened democratic members like Iran, Cuba, Kuwait and Libya. Since its establishment in 2006, the council has released more than 50 condemnations of Israel – half the number for the entire rest of the world. William Schabas himself spoke out against Israel and called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be put on trial. So what is there for us in this playing field?

But such an attitude will not stop international moves, it will only leave them to the most hostile entities – as happened with the Goldstone report, which caused Israel major damage. In relating to the work of the committee he chaired, Judge Richard Goldstone said he could only work with the facts he had before him. Like the Jewish joke about the man who prays to win the lottery but never buys a ticket, Israel cannot hope for a positive outcome when all the materials before the committee were given to it by the other side.

In retrospect, Goldstone retracted some of what was written in the report, and it may be assumed that presenting the facts ahead of time would have resulted in an easier outcome from our point of view.

Experienced jurists and diplomats will always know how to bend investigations and complex legal procedures in their favor, or at least to make it difficult to use these against their countries. One example of this can be seen in Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, after the explosion of the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, Scotland. As opposed to democratic Israel, fighting for its life and doing everything to prevent harm to innocents, the blowing up of this plane was an act of terror carried out by the agents of a rogue state – and yet the Libyans managed to void significant sanctions against them.

They devised a strategy of legal-bureaucratic battle. They claimed that the sanctions were imposed before the investigation had been completed, objected to the authority of Western powers to judge Libyan citizens, and even dragged Britain and the United States into the International Court of Justice. In the end the Americans and British agreed to a compromise they had rejected in the beginning: Only two suspects were handed over to the Scottish court, which met in Holland and was permitted only to discuss the personal responsibility of the pair. Investigators were not allowed to ask them about their Libyan handlers or the regime’s involvement in the attack.

Israel is a democracy with Western values, fighting to defend its citizens. The IDF acted in Operation Protective Edge in keeping with the instructions of its legal advisers, documenting all military moves. Israel will have no problem dealing with any investigative body. In fact, Israel has the tools to place Hamas in the dock.

The Israeli government must deal with the claims of the international community as an active player. It must involve procedural reasoning with elemental work based on the variety of materials we have at our disposal.

Israel turning its back on the world will not stop the investigation or the report; all this will do will be to leave the terror organizations as the sole spokesmen in the international halls of justice. In such a game, it really is impossible to win.

The writer is the chairman of Smart Middle East Forum and the former head of Israel’s diplomatic mission in Qatar.