Despite heavy lobbying, EU parliament endorses Goldstone report
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."
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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."