By Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem
October 11, 2009
A jittery Israeli government reacted furiously yesterday after a top British diplomat voiced support for aspects of a UN report that could lead to prosecution of Israeli army officers for alleged war crimes.
The UK ambassador to the UN, John Sawers, told Israel Army radio that the report on last winter’s Gaza war contains “some very serious details which need to be investigated by both the Palestinian authorities and the Israeli authorities.”
He added that “serious information” in the document gives rise to the suspicion that violations of the laws of war were committed.
The remarks, three days before the report is expected to be raised in the security council at Libya’s behest, highlighted a British position that is rhetorically distinct from that of Washington, which has been strongly backing an Israeli campaign to scuttle the report on the grounds it is biased.
Mr. Sawers took issue with the prevalent Israeli idea that the commission headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone had reached its conclusions in advance of its research. “This investigation was led by a serious figure, Richard Goldstone, a South African Jew with long experience in justice. It’s not as if he was in any way biased,” he said.
Israeli officials warned in response that any British support for the report would boomerang. If a precedent is set of Israelis being prosecuted for acts during the Gaza war, Britons could also be placed in the dock for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, they said. “London, which is also in the midst of a war against terror, could find itself in handcuffs if it supports the document,” they said.
The report issued last month said that both Israel and Hamas were guilty of war crimes during the conflict in which nearly 1400 Palestinians and thirteen Israelis died. It said the Israeli military had proven unable to investigate itself and recommended the war crimes allegations be referred to the International Criminal Court if “good faith investigations” were not underway within six months.
Israel’s concerns about a renewal of diplomatic momentum for the report have intensified in recents days after the Palestinian Authority began working to revive debate over it at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Palestinian moves aim to reverse a highly unpopular decision by PA President Mahmoud Abbas ten days ago under US and Israeli pressure to postpone a discussion for six months.