Monday, May 20, 2024

Goldstone’s Retraction and Lessons from Munich

Judge Richard Goldstone has retracted the primary conclusion of his notorious report which accused the Israeli army of deliberately committing war crimes against civilians during the invasion of Gaza two years ago. Goldstone, a retired South African judge who became famous for investigating war crimes in Yugoslavia, followed the mandate of the anti-Semites who dominate the laughably mis-named UN Human Rights Council. He issued a report on the war on September 15, 2009, endorsing the Arab “blood libel.” He accused Israel of launching “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population” and suggested that Israeli soldiers who fought in Gaza be tried as criminals,. without considering the Israeli side of the story. Israel refused to cooperate in the Goldstone panel's investigation, rightly concluding that the outcome of the probe was pre-judged by the condemnation of Israel in the resolution creating the panel. Goldstone, a secular Jew who claims to be a supporter of Israel, still seeks to justify his decision to lead the probe by citing the fact that his report also condemned war crimes committed by Hamas, namely the deliberate bombardment of civilian population areas in Israel which precipitated the retaliation by the army. However, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly totally ignored that aspect of Goldstone's report. They used its accusations against the army to pass resolutions condemning only Israel's actions during the Gaza fighting.

In his retraction, which was published on the op-ed page of the Washington Post, Goldstone says that he has changed his mind because of subsequent investigations conducted by the Israeli army into allegations of improper conduct by individual Israeli soldiers during the Gaza invasion. This has shown him that Israel was serious when it said at the time of his probe that it would deal with any instances of wrongdoing itself. In contrast, Goldstone is highly critical of Hamas for failing to make any effort to investigate the accusations of war crimes, cited in his report, committed by its fighters during the Gaza invasion. Goldstone also condemns Hamas for continuing the illegal practice of permitting Israeli civilian population centers to be targeted by rockets and mortar shells fired from territory under its control.


Goldstone acknowledges that if he had known then what he knows now about what actually took place during the Gaza invasion, he would have issued a “different report.” Specifically, he admits that he is now convinced that while some civilians were killed during the course of the fighting, they “were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy,” by Israel, as his report contended. He also admits that the Israeli army’s initial estimate that many more combatants than civilians were killed during the fighting, which he doubted at the time, appears to be accurate, even according to Hamas sources. Goldstone also says that he is convinced that Israeli soldiers found guilty by the army of improper conduct on the battlefield in Gaza will be disciplined appropriately, whereas those of Hamas will not.




Even while admitting that his conclusions were wrong, Goldstone insists on blaming Israel for not participating in his original probe. He offers the lame excuse that he is not to blame for the fact that the UN used his report to judge Israel as the sole party to blame in the fighting, because his report was not intended to establish judicial guilt, but merely based “on the record before us” which Goldstone acknowledges came entirely from non-Israeli sources.


Goldstone still does not recognize that by lending his name to the UN inquisition, he allowed himself to be used as a dupe by Israel’s enemies for their own purposes. However, since the publication of the original report, he has come under withering criticism from his friends in the secular Zionist movement.


Israel’s President, Shimon Peres, charged that the accusations in the original Goldstone report were a “blood libel” against the Jewish people. He insists that Goldstone owes an apology, both as a human being and as a judge for the harm that his original report did to Israel’s image in the world.


Goldstone claims that he was trying to prove that as a Zionist, he could still be sincere and even-handed in his search for the truth as to what happened in Gaza when both Israel and its enemy were accused of wrongdoing. It is painfully obvious, however, that nobody else involved in the probe was as fair and open-minded as he claims he tried to be. That is why the UN and the media are now uninterested in paying any attention to his revised version of what took place during the Gaza war, or his realization that his initial accusation that Israel was guilty of war crimes there was completely wrong.




Those mythical war crimes have long since become an integral part of the Arab “big lie” campaign against Israel. They have also been accepted as unquestioned fact, along with Palestinian claims to East Yerushalayim and the entire West Bank, by the Israel-hating left wing media establishment. He had originally submitted his revised conclusions about what really happened during the Gaza war to the New York Times op-ed page, but the paper, known for its anti-isrel bias, refused to publish it, forcing Goldstone to offer it to the Washington Post.


Goldstone’s embarrassing admissions of error come far too late to do Israel much good on the diplomatic scene. His retraction prompted headlines in Israel, and calls from Israeli government leaders for an effort to get the UN to retract its one-sided condemnation of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. But the rest of the world has largely ignored his recent statement, and the media is unwilling to re-consider its overly harsh judgement of Israel in light of the new facts which prompted Goldstone to revise his earlier conclusions.




The broad international condemnation of Israel for lawfully acting in Gaza to defend its citizens against attacks by terrorists was a major diplomatic setback. It has aided the Arab effort to de-legitimize Israel as a recognized state. It has also encouraged the current Arab-Palestinian Authority push to seek recognition of a Palestinian state in the United Nations without first coming to a negotiated peace settlement with Israel.


According to an analysis published by the New York Times, there is a good chance that the General Assembly will not only recognize the new Palestinian state at its annual meeting in September, but also specify as its border all of the West Bank and east Yerushalayim.


While this would not be entirely due to the Goldstone report, it certainly has contributed to the atmosphere of unrelenting diplomatic hostility to Israel which would make UN recognition of the Palestinians without a peace agreement with Israel possible.


Others point out that such an action by the General Assembly would not carry the weight of international law. Settling disputed national boundaries exceeds the powers of the General Assembly under the UN Charter.




Another obstacle to such a diplomatic initiative is the fact that the Palestinians are currently living under divided rule, with the PA in control of the West Bank and Hamas in charge of Gaza. In addition, Abbas’ term as chairman of the PA expired more than a year ago, and new legislative and presidential elections are long past due. There are serious questions as to which Palestinian government should be recognized as legitimate.


Efforts by PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas to effect a reconciliation with Hamas are underway in order to enable a new set of Palestinian elections to be held in both the West Bank and Gaza before September. This would give added legitimacy to a Palestinian bid for UN recognition.


However, Hamas insists that before forming a new unity government with Abbas, he give up on reaching a negotiated peace agreement with Israel, and renounce the signed Oslo peace agreements. Recent history strongly suggests that any such agreement between Abbas and Hamas would not last very long.


Israel has warned Abbas that he must choose between peace with Hamas or peace with Israel, because he cannot have both. Israel has also hinted that a unity deal between Abbas and Hamas, ending any effort to restart peace negotiations, would lead to unspecified unilateral moves by Israel, such as the formal annexation of the larger Jewish communities in the West Bank.


The PA, in turn, has warned that once peace talks have been permanently abandoned, it would halt its security cooperation with the Israeli army on the West Bank, hinting at a return to intifada.




The US has warned the PA against making such a move. However the European Union and Russia seem more sympathetic to the Palestinian position.


On Monday, White House Middle East advisor Dennis Ross stated that the US remains flatly opposed to a unilateral declaration of statehood through the UN. Ross, who has made a diplomatic career out of trying to promote the Oslo peace process, told an audience of Jews at a conference of the Anti-Defamation League, that “we have consistently made it clear that the way to produce a Palestinian state is through negotiations, not through unilateral declarations, not through going to the UN. Our position on that has been consistent in opposition.”


Not surprisingly, Ross recommended a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations to reach agreement on the creation of a Palestinian state, and repeated Obama’s previous assurances that the US “commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable and ironclad.”


It was likely not a coincidence that Ross’ statement came on the same day that Obama announced his 2012 re-election campaign.


Such a statement would have been more convincing coming from a higher level administration official, such as Clinton, to a non-Jewish audience.


Contradicting that impression, on Monday, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council publicly criticized the announcement of a routine decision by a Yerushalayim municipal planning committee approving the construction of 942 new housing units in the southern neighborhood of Gilo. The White House official called Gilo a illegal settlement and said that, “Israel’s actions run counter to efforts to resume direct negotiations.” That was followed by similar condemnation by a UN official.




Israeli President Shimon came to Washington this week, to meet with President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. In his talks with Obama, Peres asked him to grant clemency to Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in a federal prison for spying for Israel, and to raise the issue of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who is still being held by Hezbollah in Gaza. When asked by reporters about Obama’s reaction, Peres said, “he heard me.”


Peres said that he also told Obama that, “there must be a defensive wall against Iran. Do not neglect the moral struggle, because Iran today reflects the corruption of the world’s moral values.”


After their meeting Tuesday, Obama released a statement saying that it is more urgent than ever” to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”




Five years ago, when Hamas won the PA legislative elections, the Quartet, including the US, the EU, Russia and the UN, insisted that they would not grant legitimacy to a Hamas-led government unless it accepted three conditions, acceptance of signed Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements as binding, renouncing violence and recognition of Israel. Hamas continues to reject all three conditions. It is not clear what the members of the Quartet, including the US, would do if Abbas were to formally abandon the peace process and the signed agreements, as demanded by Hamas, in order to form a unity government.




Any attempt by Abbas to cut another power sharing deal with Hamas, or to seek recognition from the UN without a negotiated agreement with Israel would likely provoke a renewal of violence, and a sharp crackdown by the Israeli army on the West Bank. While a return to life under fear of terrorist attacks and missile strikes in the West Bank and the heart of Israel would not be pleasant, hinei lo yanum velo yishan Shomer Yisroel. In recent weeks, we have already seen a disturbing escalation in terror attacks and missile strikes, in the West Bank, Yerushalayim and targeting those Jews living in the major cities surrounding Gaza. The Israeli army’s response to those attacks so far has been restrained. It is apparently trying to strike the right balance, applying enough force to provide deterrence, but not so much as to trigger an escalation. Israel does not want these attacks to become another intifada war of attrition with the terrorists.


The Israeli army has acted effectively to deal with such a threat before. If it must do so once again, those who will suffer the most are the West Bank Arabs whose quality of life has vastly improved over the past 4 years due to the steady relaxation of security measures in the West Bank. If they choose to halt that cooperation and reignite the intifada, Palestinian leaders would be forfeiting all the gains their people have achieved thanks to the cooperation with Israeli security forces.




Unfortunately, the strong level of support for the Palestinian cause in forums such as the UN has encouraged Abbas and other PA leaders to become ever more rigid in their demands on Israel, constantly imposing new conditions. At this point, PA leaders are unwilling to return to the negotiating table, and refuse to discuss any meaningful territorial concessions with Israel, including former Prime Minister Olmert’s last offer to Abbas more than two years ago of 1-to1 land swaps of territory inside the pre-‘67 borders in exchange for an equal amount of land occupied by the major Jewish communities on the West Bank.


Soon after Obama became president and publicly ordered Israel to impose a construction freeze on the West Bank, Netanyahu won a diplomatic victory by standing up to the pressure, and asserting his own formula for peacemaking with the Palestinians. Israel was able to make a strong case that Obama’s freeze demand violated a carefully worked out prior US-Israeli agreement on the same issue.


It can also be argued that Netanyahu’s subsequent gesture of imposing a voluntary 10-month construction freeze, meant as a good will gesture to the US, actually gave Abbas an excuse for preventing a renewal of peace talks. By partially meeting that Arab demand, he hindered the peace process rather than helped it along,




In the meantime, the Palestinians have dropped even the pretense of being interested in reaching a negotiated peace settlement with Israel. Abbas and the Arabs are preparing to abandon the framework of the Oslo peace accords entirely and demand that UN and the international community impose their territorial claims on Israel.


The situation is very much analogous to the dilemma faced by Czech President Edvard Benes in September, 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini agreed to Hitler’s demands that Czechoslovakia be carved up in response to German territorial demands.


Originally, Germany was supposed to occupy only the German-ethnic populated Sudetenland, leaving the rest of Czechoslovakia intact, and assuring “peace in our times” for the rest of Europe. These promises convinced France to pull out of its military alliance with Czechoslovakia. Britain then join with France in forcing Benes to accept the terms of the Munich agreement, partitioning Czechoslovakia without a fight.


The historic parallels between Hitler’s demands at Munich and today’s Arab insistence on a total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and East Yerushalayim are chilling, as is the apparent willingness of some European countries to abandon the requirement for the Palestinians to reach a negotiated settlement with Israel.


The Palestinians apparently believe that with US help, the international community will get Israel to accept an imposed Munich-style partition without a fight, as happened to the Czechs in 1938. When a similar suggestion was floated a decade ago, at a time when the Bush administration did not seem to be as friendly to Israel as it proved to be later, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon angrily responded that Israel would not go the way of Czechoslovakia, ruffling some feathers in the White House. Presumably, Binyomin Netanyahu today feels the same way.




The Munich treaty was a disaster on all counts. Within six months, Czechoslovakia no longer existed as an independent state, and within a year, Hitler’s invasion of Poland had plunged Europe into World War II. Ironically, military historians claim that even without its French and British allies, the then-formidable Czech army might have been able to withstand a German invasion. But abandoned by its allies, the Czech leader gave in. He allowed his country and its formidable military capabilities to be absorbed by Germany. This strengthened and emboldened Hitler to issue a similar ultimatum against Poland a year later, confident that both Britain and France would once again give in to his demands. Finally, they held firm, but by that time, Hitler had become so strong, due to previous acts of appeasement, culminating in Munich, that he came perilously close to achieving his ambitions.


Hopefully, the parallel between 1938 and today won’t go so far. The Palestinian case that imposing a settlement to their liking upon Israel would help solve the major problems of the Middle East has been undermined by the “Arab Spring” revolts which have created upheavals across the region since December.




For more than 60 years, the Arab leaders have been able to use Israel and the Palestinian cause as a diversion and excuse to ignore the occasional demands for democracy, progress and human rights by their people. But that is no longer the case.


Meanwhile, Israel has been reduced to no more than an interested spectator on the sidelines as a grass roots revolution has toppled the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt, sparked a civil war in Libya, as well as continuing bloodshed in the streets of Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and even Jordan.


Arab militaries today are pre-occupied with domestic politics and security rather than Israel, or even the growing nuclear threat from Iran. The militaries of the US and its allies are already fully committed to wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya, with the extent and duration of the Libyan involvement impossible to predict, at this point.




The US was able to win the Cold War, by driving the Soviet system into economic collapse through the strategy of deterrence known as “Mutual Assured Destruction,” or MAD. The US kept the Soviets at bay by keeping enough nuclear weapons to be sure of the ability to destroy the Soviets, even if the Russians struck first.


Israel has maintained a similar nuclear deterrence policy since the late 1960’s. The whole world knows that Israel has enough nuclear raw material and other bomb components on hand to assemble hundreds of nuclear weapons very quickly, should they ever be needed, as well as the delivery systems needed to get those weapons to their targets in Iran or any Arab country which threaten Israel’s existence.


This same principle can work with conventional weapons. It involves Israel persuading any potential enemy, such as Hamas in the South or Hezbollah in the North, that the costs of attacking Israel would far outweigh its benefits. On the other hand, concessions to enemy demands send a message of weakness, and a possible lack of will to defend the country if attacked.


That is the logic behind Israel adopting a belligerent attitude to Arab threats and demands for concessions. Israel needs to show a willingness to stand and fight for its rights. If Israel were to listen instead to the voices counseling submission to Arab demands, such as agreement to another settlement freeze, this would only whet the Arab appetite to press for more concessions, as we are seeing now.


Eventually, after granting the concessions, Israel would face much the same threat. But at that point, the concessions would have put Israel in a weaker military, strategic and diplomatic position to defend itself against that threat.




The same holds true in the field of diplomacy. After Goldstone issued his revised report on the Gaza War, Netanyahu instructed Israeli diplomats to go on the diplomatic offensive around the world to demand that the UN retract its accusations that Israeli troops committed war crimes in the Gaza War.


On one level, such an effort could be called a fool’s errand. It is clear that Israel’s many enemies at the UN are in no mood to hear the truth. They got the verdict they wanted from the report, that Israel was guilty of war crimes, and now they don’t want anyone to be confused by the fact of Israel’s innocence, as Goldstone now recognizes it to be.


But Israel must be willing to stand up for itself and declare its innocence in the court of world opinion, even if nobody wants to listen now, because some day the world may be willing to hear the truth again. In addition, Israeli military and political leaders who may be falsely accused of such war crimes in countries where such accusations are taken seriously may need a formal statement by Israel of its innocence in order to help defend themselves.




It would be nice to be able to say that in such a situation, Israel would be able to count, once again, on timely military help from the White House. The current US president starts major wars while setting deadlines for withdrawal, or issuing promises not to commit American boots on the ground. He seems embarrassingly eager to transfer the traditional US responsibility for leadership of the free world to any incompetent ally who can be stuck with the task.


It may be fair to assume that Israel could have to fight this battle essentially on its own. The best way for Israel to avoid this fight is by deterrence.


If the Israeli government can do this convincingly, the Palestinian recognition effort could collapse like a trial balloon, as it did in 1988 when Arafat made similar noises about Palestinian self-determination. Eventually, he realized that the confrontation with Israel over a unilateral declaration of statehood would be more likely to harm the Palestinian cause rather than help it. It is also suspected that most Arabs and Palestinians are really more interested in weakening Israel than actually having a state of their own. After all, if they really wanted a state, with most, but not all of their territorial ambitions realized, they could have had one, with Israel’s blessings, years ago.


A real danger to Israel is from the latter day “peace in our times” advocates from “J Street,” and the Peace Now leftists who are busy preaching defeatism. They warn that Munich-style appeasement is Israel’s only alternative to international isolation and, chas v’sholom, more criticism from the UN and the New York Times editorial page.


She’bchol dor vador, omdim awlaynu l’chalosaynu, veHakodosh Baruch Hu matzilaynu miyodom.



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