U.N. Panel Backs Controversial Gaza Report

The U.N. Human Rights Council endorsed Friday a report that accuses both Israelis and Palestinians of war crimes in last winter's Gaza conflict, but is more critical of Israel. The Goldstone Report, as it is known, was approved 25-to-6, with the U.S. among the six that voted no. The vote might further complicate U.S. efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

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The U.N. Human Rights Council has endorsed a report that accuses Israel and Hamas of war crimes in Gaza, but places greater blame on Israel. The U.S., a new member of the council, voted against the report, hoping the issue doesn't get in the way its efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: When the Obama administration decided to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, it said it would work from within to make sure the council does not spend so much of its time bashing Israel as it has done in the past. So, today's vote count at a special session in Geneva was not what the U.S. was hoping to hear.

Unidentified Man: Twenty five in favor, six against, 11 abstentions.

KELEMEN: With that vote, the council endorsed a report by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, which accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during the conflict in Gaza last winter. The Obama administration said the council went further than that, using the resolution to get into issues that should be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The U.S. diplomat at that meeting in Geneva, Douglas Griffiths, complained that the Human Rights Council was rushing this rather than considering a more balanced response, which the U.S. tried to promote.

DOUGLAS GRIFFITHS: We regret that the council chose precipitous action rather than judicious deliberation regarding a 575-page report that has far-reaching implications.

KELEMEN: The Israeli government said the resolution would encourage terrorist organizations and undermine global peace. Palestinian officials say it's time to translate the resolution into action to protect Palestinians. Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas, though, has been criticized at home for his handling of this issue because initially he withdrew the report from the Human Rights Council under pressure from the U.S. So, in the end, no one comes out looking good, according to Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group.

ROBERT MALLEY: At some level it has hurt everyone. Its hurt U.S.-standing in the Arab world because the U.S. has been seen as trying to stop this vote. It is for the credibility of our Palestinian ally and it has angered the Israelis and reduced their trust in the Palestinians. So it really is a loose, loose, loose and just one more obstacle on the path to resume talks.

KELEMEN: At the State Department today, spokesman Ian Kelly said the administration is trying to stay focused on the effort to get peace talks restarted.

IAN KELLY: That's one of the main reasons why we voted against this because we were afraid that it would further polarize the two sides that are (unintelligible) the situation.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration's Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are expected to brief the president soon on their efforts to revive peace talks. Robert Malley says they don't have much to say at the moment.

MALLEY: The administration is still trying to come up with a package that would include some kind of moratorium on filament construction on Israel's part, plus some kind of agreed terms of reference for the parties to resume talk. But they haven't got there yet, so there really is nothing much to report, other than all the debris that's been accumulated over the past two weeks.

KELEMEN: Malley says in the wake of the debate over the Goldstone report, U.S. negotiators are now dealing with an even weaker Palestinian leadership and an Israeli government that's feeling embattled.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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