Sharmila Devi
The National
March 4, 2010 - 1:00am

Two unrelated diplomatic upsets have underlined growing impatience with the behaviour of the Israeli government among western countries that are traditionally supportive.

Backing from the European Union and Australia in the United Nations to sustain the issue of Israel’s alleged war crimes in Gaza more than a year ago has coincided with controversy over Israel’s apparent use of western passports in the assassination of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, a Hamas official, in Dubai.

Support for an Arab resolution last Friday at the UN – most EU countries voted in favour while others and Australia abstained – gave Israel and the Palestinians five more months to report back on progress in their respective investigations of war crimes alleged in a report by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge.

The vote was a victory for the Palestinian delegation, which drafted the terms of the more moderate resolution compared with one influenced by Syria last November and that was voted down by many western countries, including Australia.

Israel had hoped that assurances it was carrying out full internal investigations would keep western countries on its side and vote down the resolution.

But in Friday’s vote, 98 voted in favour of renewing the call for independent inquiries. The United States and Israel were among only seven members to vote against. Thirty-one abstained, many of them countries in eastern Europe, such as Croatia and Poland, which are usually at pains to secure good relations with Israel because of wartime sensitivities. But their abstentions showed growing impatience with the government’s foot-dragging after the Gaza war.

Diplomats said the yes vote was expected to be as high as 130, but Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, said attendance had been hindered by a severe snowstorm.

The vote in the 192-member UN General Assembly is non-binding and signalled support for independent investigations rather than the actual Goldstone report, which many western countries consider flawed and biased against Israel.

A majority of European countries had signalled their intention to support a similar resolution in November, but changed their minds after a Palestinian text was hardened up by other Arab states to include a full endorsement of the Goldstone report.

John Sawers, who was UK envoy to the UN and is now head of MI6, the British intelligence agency, provoked Israeli anger at the time when he attacked the government’s failure to co-operate with the Goldstone inquiry. “This investigation is being led by a serious figure, Judge Goldstone, who’s a South African Jew who’s got long experience of injustice against his own people and in his own country,” Mr Sawers told Israel Army Radio.

Mr Mansour called Friday’s vote a “victory to the victims of the Palestinian people and victory to international humanitarian law”. He promised the Palestinians would conduct a “credible” investigation although they only created a commission to conduct it in late January.

Gabriela Shalev, Israel’s UN ambassador, stressed the government’s opposition to the Goldstone report: “Israel is conducting and will continue to conduct investigations that are independent, credible, in conformity with international standards.”

The Goldstone report found both sides committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the three-week Gaza war, which began at the end of 2008 and left almost 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. The report focused more on Israel. Both Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, deny they committed war crimes.

The reputation of Israel and Mossad, its intelligence agency, has taken a battering internationally following the Dubai Police’s revelation of operational details surrounding the January assassination of a Hamas official. Israel is widely believed to have masterminded the operation and members of the hit squad used fraudulent passports from Britain, Ireland, Germany, France and Australia.

Although Kevin Rudd, the Australian prime minister, said his country’s failure to support Israel in the UN vote last week had nothing to do with recent tensions between the two countries, Israel was left clearly rattled.

“The Australian government always reviews UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions on their merits,” Mr Rudd said. “This specific resolution does not explicitly endorse the so-called Goldstone report and therefore we have taken our decision based on its merits.”

The diplomatic wrangling came amid US calls for the resumption of long-stalled peace talks. If negotiations resumed, they would be in the form of “proximity talks” with George Mitchell, US envoy, shutting between the two sides, said Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, last week.


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