Leigh Phillips 10 March 2010
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – Despite an intensive lobbying effort on the part of European Jewish groups, the European Parliament has endorsed the Goldstone report, the UN’s official investigation into the bombardment of the Gaza Strip in January 2009, a report that accuses Israel of war crimes and calls for the prosecution of Israeli officials in the Hague.
In a 335-to-287 vote splitting the house between left and right, MEPs backed a joint resolution from the centre left, far left, Greens and Liberals calling on the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and the bloc’s member states to “publicly demand the implementation of [the report’s] recommendations and accountability for all violations of international law, including alleged war crimes.”
In April, 2009, a team of UN investigators headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, a former member of the South African Constitutional Court and chief prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, was established to look into violations of international human rights law during the Gaza conflict in which Israeli forces killed over 1,400 Palestinians and Hamas killed 13 Israelis.
While the report found that both sides had committed war crimes, Tel Aviv has since attempted to rubbish the document, an effort that has met with success in the US Congress, which last November passed a resolution calling the report “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.”
EU parliamentary deputies in recent days have been inundated by lobbying emails from the European Jewish Congress over the vote. A spokesperson for the group told this website that it had been “definitely a really major effort by the EJC, but it’s only a work in progress and there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, which represents 42 Jewish organisations on the continent, warned in one letter: “It appears inconceivable that while the United Nations itself hasn’t yet officially adopted this report, the European Parliament, in this motion for a resolution, calls for and demands its implementation.”
He said that if the European Parliament backed the document, it would give it its most important international endorsement yet.
Mr Kantor travelled to Israel last week to meet with foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman to strategise over the vote.
On Tuesday afternoon, the level of lobbying had reached such an extent that Irish socialist MEP Proinsias de Rossa, the chair of the chamber’s Palestinian Legislative Council liaison delegation, sent around his own email encouraging deputies not to buckle under the pressure.
“You are being bombarded with mails at present seeking to undermine your support for the the Goldstone Report in the vote tomorrow,” he said.
“Tomorrow’s vote is a test of the credibility of this parliament’s commitment to human rights irrespective of political considerations,” he continued. “The joint resolution is a fair and balanced position negotiated by all the main political groups. I appeal to you to support it.”
All the major groups in the house had originally agreed to a compromise resolution on the subject in a meeting last Thursday, but by Monday, the centre-right grouping, the European People’s Party, which traditionally has been the most sympathetic to the Israeli perspective in the conflict, pulled out of the agreement, blocking the joint text.
In the end, even the EPP draft still endorsed the Goldstone report, but did not go so far as to criticise Israel’s blockade of supplies to the Gaza Strip or make mention of reported intimidation of NGOs in the wake of the conflict.
The resolution backed by the centre and left of the house however “expresses its concern about pressure placed on NGOs involved in the preparation of the Goldstone report and in follow-up investigations, and calls on authorities on all sides to refrain from any measures restricting the activities of these organisations.”
As recently as yesterday, the EJC thought it had won the lobbying battle. A report that appeared on Wednesday morning in Israeli daily Haaretz described how all the party grouping leaders had backtracked from their demands that the Goldstone recommendations be implemented as a result of lobbying by European Jewish leaders and that the EPP counter-resolution was most likely to be endorsed instead.
David Lundy, a spokesperson for the United Left grouping in the parliament, which has long championed the Palestinian cause, said he was surprised to see the parliament withstand the lobbying pressure.
“I think it was the Gaza bombing that did it, especially after the fact-finding missions [from the parliament]. After all that I think people found it just impossible not to denounce what had happened.”
The EJC’s Mr Kantor said following the vote that his organisation was disappointed in the result and that it threatened EU participation in the Middle East peace process.
“Blaming the conflict and placing the onus for it on Israel, as the report does, will push the Palestinians further away from the negotiating table and make them more recalcitrant, believing they can use international bodies to fight Israel’s case rather than reaching a negotiated solution,” he said.
However, with over 45 percent of deputies voting against the resolution, he said he was pleased at his organisation’s efforts. “We can see our lobbying efforts bore fruit due to the fact that the resolution passed by only a narrow margin, and not the consensus that was expected,” Mr Kantor said. “This shows that we are on the right track.”
The Israeli mission to the EU called the result counterproductive towards reconciliation in the Middle East: “While the other players are striving to find ways to support the peace process, and as ‘proximity talks’ are about to start between Israel and the Palestinians, the European Parliament chooses to concentrate on a highly controversial issue, one that has already been deliberated in other fora.”
Respect for human rights by all parties to the Gaza conflict, independent investigations of alleged violations of human rights, a strong EU common position on the follow-up of the Goldstone report and close monitoring of its implementing measures are Parliament’s key demands in a resolution adopted on Wednesday.
The resolution, tabled by the S&D, ALDE, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL groups, was approved with 335 votes in favour, 287 against and 43 abstentions.
All parties should respect human rights
“Respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties under all circumstances and trust-building between Israelis and Palestinians are essential components of a peace process leading to two states living side by side in peace and security” says the resolution, which stresses “once again the importance of achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, and between Israelis and Palestinians in particular”.
Independent and impartial investigations within the next five months
The European Parliament “urges both sides to conduct investigations within five months that meet international standards of independence, impartiality, transparency, promptness and effectiveness.” This is in line with the UN General Assembly resolution adopted on 26 February, which requests a further report, as the recent report of the UN Secretary General was “inconclusive on investigations into possible violations of international law during the deadly 2008/2009 conflict in Gaza.”
Implementing and monitoring the Goldstone recommendations
The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and EU Member States should work towards a strong EU common position on the follow-up to the Fact-Finding Mission report on the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel, says the resolution.
They should also publicly “demand the implementation of its recommendations and accountability for all violations of international law, including alleged war crimes, and urge both sides to conduct investigations that meet international standards of independence, impartiality, transparency, promptness and effectiveness”, it adds.
Furthermore, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Member States should “monitor actively the implementation of recommendations included in the Goldstone Report by consulting the EU’s external missions and NGOs working in the field”, it says.
No restriction of NGO activities
MEPs stress the importance of co-operation between official authorities and NGOs, and are concerned about “the pressure placed on NGOs involved in the preparation of the Goldstone report and in follow-up investigations”. They call on authorities on all sides “to refrain from any measures restricting the activities of these organisations”.
Finally, Parliament welcomes the Council’s 8 December 2009 call for “an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings” along the Gaza-Israel frontier as the blockade has further worsened the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
“The European Parliament ,
– having regard to the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, on which the Union is based, as set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union,
– having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
– having regard to the Geneva Conventions,
– having regard to its previous resolutions on the Middle East,
– having regard to the Council conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process adopted on 8 December 2009,
– having regard to the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission’s report on the Gaza conflict,
– having regard to UN General Assembly Resolution 64/10,
– having regard to the UN Secretary-General’s report of 5 February 2010 to the UN General Assembly,
– having regard to the UN General Assembly resolution of 26 February 2010;
– having regard to the fact that Hamas is included in the EU’s list of terrorist organisations,
– having regard to Rule 110(4) of its Rules of Procedure,
A. whereas the armed conflict in Gaza that started on 27 December 2008 and ended on 18 January 2009 saw more than 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed, and led to considerable destruction of civilian infrastructure,
B. whereas the UN General Assembly, in its Resolution 64/10 of 5 November 2009, has called for all sides to undertake investigations that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards,
C. whereas, on 3 December 2009, the UN Secretary-General drew the attention of all parties to the relevant provisions of UN General Assembly Resolution 64/10, and requested written information within three months on any steps they might have taken or were in the process of taking,
D. whereas the UN Secretary-General, in his statement of 4 February 2010, called on the parties to carry out credible domestic investigations into the conduct of the Gaza conflict,
E. whereas the UN General Assembly, in its resolution of 26 February 2010, reiterated its call on both Israel and the Palestinian side to conduct credible investigations, and requested further reports within five months,
F. whereas the EU’s action on the international scene must be guided by strict respect for the principles and objectives of the UN Charter and for international law; recalling that, under international law, states have an obligation to respect, protect and ensure the application of international humanitarian law,
G. whereas the Government of Israel reports that it is investigating 150 separate incidents that occurred during the operation in Gaza,
H. whereas the Palestinian authorities set up an independent investigation commission on 25 January 2010,
I. whereas the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip has further deteriorated as a result of the blockade, which is in contravention of international humanitarian law,
1. Stresses once again the importance of achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, and between Israelis and Palestinians in particular; underlines that respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law by all parties under all circumstances and trust-building between Israelis and Palestinians are essential components of a peace process leading to two states living side by side in peace and security;
2. Reiterates its call on the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and on the Member States to work towards a strong EU common position on follow-up to the report of the fact-finding mission – led by Judge Goldstone – on the conflict in Gaza and southern Israel, publicly demanding the implementation of its recommendations and accountability for all violations of international law, including alleged war crimes;
3. Urges both sides to conduct investigations within five months that meet international standards of independence, impartiality, transparency, promptness and effectiveness, in line with the UN General Assembly resolutions adopted on 5 November 2009 and 26 February 2010; stresses that respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties and under all circumstances is an essential prerequisite for achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East;
4. Reiterates its call on the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and on the Member States to monitor actively the implementation of the recommendations set out in the Goldstone report by consulting the EU’s external missions and NGOs working in the field; calls for these recommendations and related observations to be included in EU dialogues with both sides, and in multilateral fora;
5. Calls on the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to assess the findings of the investigations by all parties, and to report back to the European Parliament on these assessments;
6. Welcomes the efforts made by the UN General Assembly to ensure accountability for all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the Gaza conflict, and encourages it to continue these efforts;
7. Stresses that respect for the rule of law is a fundamental value both within the European Union and in its relations with third countries and parties; also underlines that the responsibility and credibility of the European Union and of its Member States require the investigations to be monitored fully;
8. Urges the European Union and its Member States to take into consideration the outcomes of follow-up investigations and of the implementation of the Goldstone report’s recommendations vis-à-vis all the parties referred to in that report;
9. Stresses the importance of cooperation between official authorities and non-governmental organisations in the context of follow-up investigations and the implementation of the Goldstone report’s recommendations by all sides; expresses its concern about pressure placed on NGOs involved in the preparation of the Goldstone report and in follow-up investigations, and calls on authorities on all sides to refrain from any measures restricting the activities of these organisations;
10. Recognises the continuing plight of the people of Gaza as a result of the blockade, and welcomes the call made by the Council on 8 December 2009 for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings;
11. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Member States, the governments and parliaments of the Member States, the UN Secretary-General, the Quartet, the Quartet envoy to the Middle East, the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, the Israeli Government and Parliament, the President of the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Legislative Council.”