Commentary and Newsletters

Anne Bayefsky

Obama's New Leverage - Against Its Ally

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This article, by Anne Bayefsky, originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post.

On September 29, Richard Goldstone presented his report on the Gaza conflict to an enraptured UN Human Rights Council. The Council, in which the Organization of the Islamic Conference holds the balance of power, commissioned his report. Goldstone promoted his 575-page smear campaign against the State of Israel by parading his Jewishness and then analogizing his work to his prior efforts to combat apartheid.

At its core, the report repeats the ancient blood libel against the Jewish people. Or as Goldstone casts this abomination for a modern audience, Israel "deliberately...terrorize[d] a civilian population;" Israeli "violence against civilians w[as] part of a deliberate policy."

The report claims to be a human rights document but never mentions the racist, genocidal intent of the enemy which Israel finally confronted after years of restraint. It invents laws of war which never mention the "right of self-defense," and it relies on testimonies from witnesses speaking under circumstances that gave rise to "a fear of reprisals" from Hamas should they have dared to tell the truth.

After the report was presented, the Council resembled an assemblage of vultures moving in on their prey. But instead of adopting a resolution intended to implement the report's recommendations, on October 1, the matter was tabled until the following Council session in March 2010.

REPORTS INDICATE that the American administration told the Palestinian Authority to back off. So the delay is not an indication that the hysterical Goldstone report went too far even for the UN. After all, this lead human rights body is populated by the likes of China and Saudi Arabia.

What is less clear, however, is what the breathing space will mean. Does President Obama plan to use the opportunity to extract concessions from Israel in exchange for putting the Goldstone report permanently to rest? Or does he appreciate that there can be no peace progress so long as Israel's alleged "peace" partners are bent on gutting its right of self-defense, and the phrase "living side-by-side in peace and security" is meant to apply to a party of one? Initial signs are worrying.

The Bush administration refused to lend the Human Rights Council any credibility. While aware of the fact that the Council had adopted more resolutions and decisions condemning Israel than all other 191 UN member states combined, the Obama administration reversed course. The United States joined the Council and took its place as a full member for the first time at this latest session.

Given the Council's preoccupation with Israel, participating and lending it legitimacy handed the Obama administration new leverage - against its ally. In the past, Canada insisted that anti-Israel resolutions be brought to a vote, rather than railroaded through by "consensus," and courageously voted against.

But when the United States came on board, Canada rotated off the Council, thus creating a dynamic in which Israel became dependent on US proclivities.

The Goldstone report, however, has forced the Obama administration to recognize that the leverage over Israel presented by Council membership is not cost-free. No Israeli administration is going to take a seat at a negotiating table that its "peace partner" has festooned with a sword of Damocles.

So the report presents the president with a dilemma: how to avoid alienating his new friends in the Arab and Muslim world while keeping the peace process percolating? Moreover, sooner or later the Goldstone "rules" of engagement could well be turned against American action in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.

The Obama administration needs to make a policy decision on the Goldstone report quickly. There are likely to be various attempts to insert references to the report at the UN General Assembly this fall.

Goldstone himself can be expected to continue seeking the limelight. In September, he made the unprecedented move of commandeering the UN Headquarters' press room in New York to release his report, even though it had been authorized by a Geneva institution and was due to be considered shortly. Having made recommendations to continue the witch hunt, including at the Security Council, Goldstone is very likely to attempt to turn the report's "implementation" into a permanent meal ticket.

The president, therefore, should be under no illusions. Waxing eloquent about multilateral engagement will not make the report and its progeny all go away - if that was ever his game plan.

UNFORTUNATELY, IT appears that the president may have a different agenda. Speaking at the Council in the presence of Goldstone, the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner said that the United States was ready "to engage in discussion of this report," and the US takes Goldstone's allegations against Israel "seriously." Posner was well aware that the report found that violence against Palestinian civilians was part of a deliberate Israeli policy, and yet could only manage to respond: "The report makes negative inferences about the intentions of Israeli officials... on the basis of a limited factual record." The only problem with referring the allegations to the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court, according to Posner, was that "then the role of the Human Rights Council would be dramatically different."

In language similar to Goldstone's trashing of the Israeli judicial system, Posner asked the Council to adopt a resolution telling "Israel to investigate and address allegations through a credible domestic process." It therefore appears that the Goldstone report will continue to fester and that administration officials may be preparing to use its threatened revival as a bargaining chip.

Now is the time for concerned Americans and members of Congress to demand that this scandalous report be buried permanently and immediately, and that it not become a weapon in behind-the-scenes struggles between Israel and the United States on vital issues. The right of every democracy to defend itself against a fanatical enemy who is prepared to put its own people in harm's way depends on it.