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Richard Goldstone, whose UN Report alleging Israeli (and Hamas) war crimes in the Gaza Conflict last winter, has responded vigorously to PM Netanyahu’s accusation at the UN that the report seeks to undermine Israel’s legitimacy.

"It is disingenuous, to put it lightly, what Netanyahu said," Goldstone told The Nation. "The idea that this is aimed at delegitimating the state of Israel--that is the last thing I would want to do." Goldstone, a Jew and a Zionist, said that Israel's leaders were behaving contemptuously, "ignoring the specific allegations and simply launching a broadside."

Israel appears to be responding to the report in two ways, by trying to attack human rights and peace groups, while simultaneously preparing for possible war crimes prosecutions abroad.

The Nation reports that Israel has moved to suppress domestic peace groups such as New Profile and Breaking The Silence, threatening to cut off financial aid to the latter that it receives from the Dutch, Spanish and British governments. Likewise, Palestinian human rights activist Mohammed Othman was arrested after advocating for a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel on a recent trip to Norway.

Clearly, Israel is rattled by the report and the effect it will have on world opinion. According to another article today in the AP, the government is preparing for possible war crimes arrests and prosecutions abroad. Just this week, British activists tried to have Defense Minister Ehud Barak arrested during a trip to England. A court ruled that he had immunity as a Cabinet minister, but the incident further raised concerns that government officials and military officers traveling abroad might be arrested in European countries that recognize universal jurisdiction. In response, a Israeli government task force has "gone into high gear" to protect such officials against prosecution.

Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli justice minister, notes the irony of this situation, since Israel pushed for such mechanisms beginning in the 50’s to track down Nazi war criminals. Geoffrey Robertson, an expert on international law cited in the article, observes that "a time will come when diplomatic immunity gives way to actual justice".

On Tuesday, Goldstone urged the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to adopt his panel’s report, saying that

"the lack of accountability for war crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point; the ongoing lack of justice is undermining any hope for a successful peace process and reinforcing an environment that fosters violence."

The Obama Administration is really on the spot now, what with Netanyahu's recent refusal to freeze settlements. If the U.S. helps shelve the report after completely caving in on the settlements, whatever credibility and goodwill Obama generated in his Cairo speech will go poof. And for the second time in two weeks, he'll have handed a big win to Hamas and a smack in the face to Abbas.

Originally posted to Ray Blake on Thu Oct 01, 2009 at 03:57 PM PDT.

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