Rami Khouri
The Daily Star (Opinion)
December 16, 2009 - 1:00am

A brief news item in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) a few days ago made depressing reading. It was entitled: “State Department blames Goldstone for stalled peace talks.” “Wow!” I thought to myself, has it really come down to this? The United States and Israel, who do not hesitate to toot their horn about their democratic credentials, now blame the stalled Arab-Israeli peace process on Judge Richard Goldstone, the main author of a report on potential war crimes during the Gaza war that was issued last September by the United Nations Human Rights Council inquiry commission?

It is hard to think of a more distorted and backward brand of political morality than this American-Israeli view of the Goldstone report, which most of the world sees as a historic breakthrough in the elusive quest to apply international norms of accountability to avoid the savagery that has come to define Arab-Israeli warfare.

The JTA report noted: “The Goldstone report drove the Israelis and Palestinians apart, a US State Department official said. The aside by Assistant US Secretary of State P.J. Crowley in a briefing for reporters Tuesday was the clearest signal of US frustration with the United Nations Human Rights Council report into last winter’s Gaza war, authored by South African Justice Richard Goldstone, that recommended war crimes charges against Israel and Hamas.”

Crowley went on to say this about Palestinian-Israel talks: “It’s not a failure, because the process isn’t over. The process is ongoing. But clearly, in the aftermath of the Goldstone report, we’ve seen this fairly substantial gap emerge, and we’re seeing what we can do to move both sides closer to a decision to enter into negotiations.”

The JTA story also noted: “After its publication in September, Israel insisted on quashing the report as a precondition for going forward with the peace process; the Palestinian Authority has insisted it be addressed.”

If the Obama administration’s position truly is that the fairly substantial gap in peacemaking has emerged “in the aftermath of the Goldstone report,” then we have three enormous problems on hand certain to doom any prospect of serious peace negotiations in the near future. Instead, we are much more likely to witness new warfare, though it is difficult to know where that will be – Gaza, the West Bank, Israel, Lebanon or Iran.

The three problems are the illusion that peacemaking is taking place; that the Goldstone Report is an obstacle to peacemaking; and that – in this instance, at least – the United States is an impartial mediator that seeks the best interests of Israelis and Arabs by trying to promote negotiations on the basis of prevailing international law and norms.

The Goldstone Report is a challenging document for all concerned, no doubt, but the attempt to align the conduct of states at war with agreed international ethical standards always is. The report is important because it provides several essential and constructive elements that have been missing from recent Arab-Israeli peacemaking attempts, and are glaringly absent from the American desire to shape diplomatic mediation in its own image and interests.

These elements are: an impartial assessment of the conduct of both warring parties in the Gaza war by a respected third party; an assessment of both warring parties’ conduct simultaneously against the same standards of established international humanitarian law and human rights law; a demand that those who wage war indiscriminately be held accountable and not be allowed to kill and maim with impunity; and the proposing of an escalating mechanisms of accountability to end impunity through established international forums if the parties do not seriously investigate the charges against them.

Such an impartial attempt to use the rule of law as a means of blunting the scourge of war, siege and terror against civilians is admirable, and should be promoted as vigorously as possible, especially if the process is anchored in international legitimacy and conducted by respected men and women. The US and Israel appear sick as they keep attacking the Goldstone Report as the purported reason for the breakdown of peace negotiations, when the reality is that these negotiations have been going nowhere for decades under the weight of continued Israeli colonization of Arab lands, a policy impervious to any Arab or international pressure.

The United States and Israel do not seem to care if their position runs against the grain of the rest of the world’s thinking. They seem comfortable smashing the global commitment to the rule of law, in order to protect the American-Israeli penchant for military supremacy as the only law that matters. For two countries that work overtime to market their democratic credentials, it seems hypocritical at best, and criminal at worst, to lead such a frenzied assault on the first serious and credible attempt in modern history to hold Israelis and Palestinians equally accountable for their conduct in war.


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