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Now that Goldstone has changed his mind, what’s next?

By Ron Kampeas and Marcy Oster, JTA

April 5, 2011 | 3:25 pm

What happens now with the Goldstone Report may well be up to Goldstone.

Richard Goldstone’s April 2 Op-Ed in the Washington Post disavowing his earlier assumption that Israel had committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity during the 2009 Gaza war has left pro-Israel activists wondering: What next?

Moves already are afoot to get the United Nations to retract the U.N. Human Rights Council’s endorsement of the Goldstone report on the monthlong 2008-09 Gaza war. The Israeli government and an array of Jewish groups have issued such calls.

The problem is the mechanics. According to the council, the next move is up to Goldstone: He must not only submit a written request to retract the report, but get the three other members of his investigatory committee to sign on as well. Goldstone, who has not talked to reporters since his Op-Ed was published, did not return a request from JTA for comment.

A spokesman for the American Jewish Committee, which is accredited at the United Nations, told JTA that his organization spent most of Monday and Tuesday trying to figure out how to work around the logistics.

U.N. Human Rights Council spokesman Cedric Sapey told Israel’s daily Yediot Achronot on Monday that Goldstone’s Op-Ed represented nothing more than his personal opinion, not that of the committee. Sapey also told The Associated Press that Goldstone would have to submit a formal request signed by all committee members to withdraw the report. The committee was disbanded after the report was filed in August 2009.

Last month, the council voted to send the report to the U.N. General Assembly with the recommendation that the U.N. Security Council turn it over to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in the Hague for possible prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The question for pro-Israel organizations is how to stop that process and force the United Nations to reverse course.

Meanwhile, groups that criticized Israel’s actions in the Gaza war are saying not so fast.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in a letter to The New York Times that the significance of Goldstone’s Op-Ed is being overblown.

“As the judge who led an investigation into the Gaza conflict, he stands by most of his report,” Roth wrote. “Mr. Goldstone has not repudiated his panel’s findings that Israel committed numerous serious violations of the laws of war.”

He concluded that “Israel must still mount a credible investigation of its overall actions in the war.”

Israeli groups that advocate for Palestinian rights echoed that call even as they welcomed Goldstone’s finding that Israel did not intentionally target civilians or commit war crimes.

Hagai El-Ad, director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, known as ACRI, said the triumphalist tone that Israelis are taking in the wake of the Op-Ed is discouraging because it’s a sign that efforts at self-examination would be put to rest.

“That’s extremely troublesome,” he said.

ACRI and B’Tselem, an Israeli group that advocates for Palestinian rights, are still pressing Israel to investigate dozens of cases involving alleged abuses by individuals cited in the Goldstone Report. Only three cases are known to have been prosecuted so far.

“This take-it-or-leave-it, this kind of bombshell Goldstone dropped both times is problematic,” said Uri Zaki, the Washington director for B’Tselem. “Our criticism when it came out was that conclusions of war crimes, crimes against humanity, were not substantiated in the report itself. Those bottom lines were problematic, and now retreating from those conclusions is problematic.”

On Tuesday, Goldstone’s Op-Ed came up in the meeting between President Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres, who later told reporters that the Op-Ed represented something of a vindication for a position shared only by the United States and Israel—that the Goldstone Report’s original conclusions were a calumny.

“I thanked the president for standing with us on Goldstone, for being the only one to stand with us on Goldstone,” Peres said at a news conference following his meeting with Obama.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday that Washington officials read Goldstone’s Op-Ed “with great interest.”

“We’ve made clear from when the Goldstone Report was initially presented and maintained ever since that we didn’t see any evidence that the Israeli government had intentionally targeted civilians or otherwise engaged in any war crimes,” Toner told reporters. “And now that we see that Justice Goldstone has reached the same conclusion, and then also we believe that Israel has since undertaken credible internal processes to assess its own conduct of hostilities, and I think that’s something that he acknowledged as well.”

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office told The Jerusalem Post that Britain does not support a retraction of the Goldstone Report.

“Justice Goldstone has not made such a call, and he has not elaborated on his views surrounding the various other allegations contained in the report—allegations which we firmly believe require serious follow-up by the parties to the conflict,” a Foreign Office spokesman told the newspaper on Monday night.

Absent action by Goldstone, the United States holds the key to retracting the report because it is the only nation with the clout to make it happen—especially now that the Human Rights Council has referred the matter to the General Assembly, said David Michaels, B’nai B’rith’s director for United Nations and intercommunal affairs.

“It will have to come from the U.S.,” Michaels said. “I’ll leave it to the diplomats to explore the channels.”

Reversing the course of the report is critical both because its adoption in 2009 spurred forward Palestinian Authority plans to achieve recognition of statehood unilaterally, and because its conclusions threaten counterterrorism not just in Israel, but throughout the West, Michaels noted.

Meanwhile, Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that Goldstone has accepted a personal invitation from Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai to visit Israel in July and tour its southern communities, which have been besieged by Hamas rockets. Yishai said the invitation came up when he called Goldstone to thank him for his reassessment.

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