Tobias Buck, Harvey Morris
The Financial Times
January 25, 2010 - 1:00am

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are preparing for a fresh diplomatic battle over the controversial United Nations report alleging that Israel and the Islamist Hamas group committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

Both sides are under pressure to show they are implementing the report's recommendations before February 5, when Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, is due to issue a progress report on the issue to the UN General Assembly. Israel, in particular, is bracing itself for further condemnation in a forum that Israeli diplomats have long regarded as hostile to their country.

The UN report was drafted by a panel led by Richard Goldstone, a South African jurist, and found that Israel's actions during last year's Gaza war amounted to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. The panel also levelled harsh allegations at Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Attention is now likely to focus less on the substance of the Goldstone report than on its recommendations – and in particular the plea for both Israel and the Palestinians to launch "independent" investigations into allegations and prosecute violations if necessary.

In a bid to comply with that recommendation, the Palestinian Authority on Monday set up a special commission headed by Issa Abu Sharar, the chief justice of the Palestinian Supreme Court in the West Bank. According to a PA statement, the commission's main responsibility will be to "monitor and follow up the implementation of the Palestinian Authority’s responsibilities stated in the Goldstone Report recommendations".

The Palestinian move is likely to be at least in part motivated by a desire to keep the pressure on Israel, which has faced a severe international backlash over its conduct during the Gaza war. The three-week military offensive claimed the lives of about 1,400 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including hundreds of civilians.

The Israeli government refused to co-operate with the Goldstone inquiry, and has sharply criticised its conclusions. It has promised all the same to publish at least two reports of its own into the allegations raised by Mr Goldstone. One, drafted by officials at the Israeli foreign and justice ministries, will be a legal rebuttal of the UN report, and will be made available to UN officials by Thursday this week.

Another report, drafted by the ministry of defence, will examine about 100 military incidents, including the 30 cases highlighted in the Goldstone report itself. Speaking to foreign journalists last week, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, promised the report would be published "in the very near future".

He added: "I hope that we can put this issue behind us."

Even Israeli officials admit, however, that the country's critics are unlikely to be silenced by the government's response to the Goldstone report. Palestinian officials are, in any case, certain to point out that none of the Israeli reports is being drafted by an "independent" body, and that all probes have so far been conducted by the Israeli military itself.


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