Middle East peace plan threatened after UN passes Gaza war crimes report

The UN Human Rights Council today voted to endorse a Gaza war crimes report despite Israel's threats to pull out of the Middle East peace talks in retaliation.

The international body approved a resolution recommending the report after two days of heated debate. The document condemns Israel’s conduct in last winter’s conflict and theoretically paves the way for international prosecution of Israelis and Palestinians accused of war crimes.

Britain opted out of the vote in protest after the failure of frantic last-minute negotiations between London, Paris and Tel Aviv to wring Israeli concessions in return for a no vote.

Britain and France had been planning to abstain and had hoped for a united European position. But as it became clear that other European countries would vote against, a decision was taken to use the lure of a no vote as a bargaining tool with Israel.
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Opening quote For Mahmoud Abbas the future is bleak, even after the report condemning both Israeli and Hamas for their actions Closing quote
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Gordon Brown spent the morning in intense telephone exchanges with Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, according to British officials, offering him Britain’s support in return for three concessions: an immediate independent Israeli investigation into alleged war crimes committed in Gaza; a freeze on all settlement activity; and full freedom of access to Gaza.

“Obviously that would have influenced our decision on the vote,” Peter Gooderham, the British Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told The Times.

Last night Mr Brown and Mr Netanyahu engaged in a "robust exchange", when the Israeli leader strongly urged Britain to oppose the resolution.

France’s representative urged the Council to defer the vote until the afternoon to allow negotiations to continue but was refused twice by Egypt, the co-sponsor of the resolution, which insisted that the vote go ahead immediately. It passed with 25 votes for, 6 against and 11 absentions. Britain, France, Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan and Angola were the only countries that refused to register a vote.

Eli Yishai, the Israeli Interior Minister, said it was an “anti-Israel decision".

“The Israeli Army acted with silk gloves towards innocent [civilians],” he said. “The committee’s decision is a diplomatic farce.”

The resolution calls for the endorsement of the recommendations contained in the report produced by Richard Goldstone, a South African international war crimes prosecutor, who investigated the 22-day conflict.

It also “calls upon all concerned parties including United Nations bodies, to ensure their implementation".

Mr Goldstone concluded that both Israel and Hamas, Gaza’s rulers, committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the conflict launched by Israel in response to rocket fire from the enclave in late December 2008.

The report recommends referring its conclusions to the International Criminal Court prosecutor in The Hague, if Israel and Hamas fail to conduct credible investigations within six months.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said he was delighted that the resolution had been passed. “The Palestinian Authority welcomes the decision of the UN Human Rights Council and we hope this will be followed up in the UN Security Council to ensure such Israeli crimes are not repeated,” he said.


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