So in the end it all hinged on semantics. As the 192-nation UN General Assembly met on Wednesday to debate the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war, the central issue for the UK government was whether the resolution under discussion was to be “welcomed”, “endorsed” or “noted”.
At the heart of Judge Goldstone’s findings for the UN Human Rights Council was the most serious of charges: crimes against humanity carried out by Hamas and the Israeli government in the war in Gaza earlier this year. But the brightest and the best at the FCO spent their considerable brainpower in New York arguing over a single word.
Good diplomats are sensitive to the nuances of language and how it can be deployed to serve best the national interest. It was absolutely imperative from the British government’s perspective that it was not seen to endorse a report which had failed fully to recognise Israel’s right to defend itself.
At the same time a rejection of the report was never an option while the British government believed that Israel had a case to answer on the safeguarding of civilians and the use of white phosphorous.
There is understandable anger in Israel at the perceived arrogance of UK demands for an immediate independent inquiry into the Gaza war when it took the Labour government here six years to set up a full inquiry into the Iraq War. Sometimes diplomacy is about what you don’t say as much as what you do.