Israel may set up official inquiry into Cast Lead

By Anshel Pfeffer, October 1, 2009

The Israeli government is considering whether to set up an official commission of enquiry into Operation Cast Lead in the wake of the United Nations Goldstone report.

The investigation, prepared by Judge Richard Goldstone for the United Nations Human Rights Council and presented two weeks ago, accused the IDF of committing war crimes during the Gaza operation in January.

Israel’s original position was that the internal investigations carried out by the IDF following the war were sufficient and that Israel did not need to respond to the “biased” and “unbalanced” report with further enquiries.

But the international reaction to the report and the fear that it may lead to criminal charges against Israeli officers and ministers, as Palestinian groups attempted this week in London, are causing Israeli leaders to rethink.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened his ministers and senior advisers on Wednesday to discuss the repercussions of the Goldstone report. Though no final decisions were reached, they discussed the option of forming an official commission of enquiry, to be chaired, most likely, by a Supreme Court judge.

The International Criminal Court at the Hague can press charges against suspects only in cases which have not been fully investigated by their own governments.

In recent days, a number of influential Israeli figures have been advocating a commission, including two leading legal experts, Professor Uriel Reichman, President of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Centre, and Professor Amnon Rubinstein, dean of the law school there and a former minister.

Professor Reichman said that “despite the Goldstone Report being unfair and bordering on incitement, it created question marks over our operation in Gaza”. Therefore, “if Israel will not investigate herself, she will be forced to by international pressure when Israeli public figures are put on trial abroad”.

The leader of the opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was deputy prime minister during the Gaza operation, said on Wednesday that “we should not have had to wait for Goldstone before deciding whether to launch an enquiry”, though she stressed that “a commission won’t stop a wave of charges against Israelis”.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak denied media reports that he had already approached former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak about the possibility of his heading a commission of enquiry. He insisted that he had only asked Israel’s most respected legal figure to help counter the effects of the Goldstone report and insisted that he “relies on the investigations carried out by the IDF and consistently opposes external investigations”.

Mr Netanyahu said on Wednesday that “if the Goldstone report is referred to the international court at The Hague, it will stop the peace process. The Israeli public will not be prepared to take any risks for peace if it is denied the right to defend itself.”

Last updated: 4:52pm, October 6 2009