Barak Ravid
October 26, 2009 - 12:00am

Following much deliberation and evasion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have devised a plan to resolve pressure on Israel to independently investigate the war crimes allegations made by the Goldstone commission.

The commission, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, investigated the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces during their winter offensive in Gaza. In their report, the commission accused both Israel and Hamas, the Gaza rulers, of committing war crimes.

Netanyahu, Barak and high-ranking defense officials met Sunday afternoon and decided to appoint a small task force, not an inquiry committee, to review the issue.

Netanyahu instructed Justice Minister Ya'akov Ne'eman to coordinate the task force, which will present its recommendations as to Israel's course of action on the Goldstone report and its ramifications.

The team will make recommendations on what should be done in the diplomatic, legal and public relations planes.

The prime minister said during the meeting that the establishment of an investigation committee was "not an option."

"IDF soldiers and officers will not be subjected to investigation," he stressed.

An official at the prime minister's office said that there were "differing opinions on what should be done."

Barak added that "we sent the fighters on the mission, and they deserve our full support."

"Israel is prepared to fight against the legitimacy of the Goldstone report. In addition, Israel will act to amend rules of war to adjust them to the battle against terrorists who fight from among civilians," he said.

Netanyahu and Barak voiced hope that "this move will put the issue to rest", a government aide speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

Israel invaded the Gaza Strip last December in what it said was a response to rocket fire by Palestinian Hamas. It refused to cooperate with Goldstone's United Nations fact-finding mission, citing bias concerns.

The Goldstone report lambasted both sides in the war, which killed up to 1,387 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, but was harsher toward Israel. It gave both sides six months to mount credible investigations or face possible prosecution at The Hague.

Goldstone has said he would have confidence in an independent Israeli investigation. Such panels have, in the past, prompted high-level political resignations and reshuffles.

But the political source said Netanyahu and Barak did not want to supersede a series of internal military investigations that supported the army's tactics. The handful of court-martials since the war has been on minor charges such as looting.

"The idea is to set up a team to double-check the findings, to ensure there was no whitewash or lack of professionalism," the source said, adding that Netanyahu's and Barak's initiative awaited cabinet approval next week.

Asked why the government resisted the idea of an independent investigation, the source said: "Netanyahu is afraid of having his hands tied if further action is required in Gaza."

A Netanyahu spokesman declined comment.

Israel has lobbied against any bid to bring the Goldstone report to the UN Security Council. Netanyahu said such a move would be an assault on Israel's right to self defense and would hurt U.S.-led efforts to revive peacemaking with the Palestinians.

Hamas has said it would form a committee to investigate the allegations in the Goldstone report.


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