As a 72-hour truce between Israel and Hamas entered its second day Wednesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman urged lawmakers not to cooperate with any international fact-finding mission on Israel’s campaign in the Gaza Strip.
After holding consultations with senior Foreign Ministry officials, as well as the ministry’s director-general, Liberman said a decision was made to not cooperate with any committee probing the IDF’s conduct during the 29-day Operation Protective Edge, should such a committee be set up by the international community.
The ministry’s assessment was that any international fact-finding mission would implicate Israel in any case, despite the fact that both the military and the defense establishment received legal counsel on international law during the course of the war in order to avoid violating laws and treaties to which Israel is bound, according to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
Two weeks ago, the UN Human Rights Council announced it would be launching an investigation into the conflict in Gaza, backing calls by the Palestinians to hold Israel to account despite fierce opposition from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The decision came after a marathon seven-hour emergency session of the top UN human rights body, where the Israelis and the Palestinians traded accusations of war crimes.
The 46-member council backed a Palestinian-drafted resolution by 29 votes, with Arab and fellow Muslim countries joined by China and Russia, plus Latin American and African nations.
The United States was the sole member to vote against. The 17 abstentions were by the council’s European members, plus Japan and South Korea.
The probe’s team, yet to be appointed, will be tasked with reporting back to the council by March.
Netanyahu’s media office slammed the decision as a “travesty” that ignored human rights violations by Hamas terrorists.
“This investigation by a kangaroo court is a foregone conclusion,” his office said.
From the first day of Operation Protective Edge on July 8, human rights groups operating in Gaza collected detailed information about the aftermath of Israeli strikes — more than 4,700 in all, according to the military — to lay the groundwork for legal proceedings.
But Israel has blamed Hamas for the death and destruction in Gaza, saying it placed its rockets, rocket launchers, cross-border tunnel openings and other military infrastructure in homes, schools and mosques, thus using noncombatants as human shields.
Israel has “also learned a lot from 2009,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor. He was referring to the UN fact-finding mission established after the three-week Operation Cast Lead that ended in January 2009. The mission, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, accused both sides of war crimes — Israel by deliberately or recklessly targeting Gaza civilians, and Hamas by launching indiscriminate rocket attacks at Israeli civilians. Goldstone later retracted the assertion that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians.
Palmor said military legal advisers had cleared every army strike in Gaza. “We have a very thorough legal defense, should we need one,” he said. “Everything is documented.”
Israel’s relations with the Human Rights Council, and with director Navi Pillay, have long been strained. In March 2012, Jerusalem cut off all ties with the body after it announced the establishment of a fact-finding mission into Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A few months later, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem slammed Pillay for failing to condemn Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.
In the winter of 2013, Israel rejoined the UNHRC after Western member states promised to admit the country into the Western European and Others Group, which significantly increases Jerusalem’s ability to advance its interests at the body. In addition, the WEOG states agreed not to participate in discussions over the council’s notorious Agenda item 7 (“the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories”) for two years.
Since 2007, Israel has been the only country whose alleged human rights abuses are discussed in the framework of a permanent item on the council’s agenda.
Raphael Ahren and news agencies contributed to this story.