By Daniel Schwammenthal
When the U.N. endorsed the report accusing Israel of war crimes, not a single EU country objected. After almost two years, Richard Goldstone finally retracted his war crimes accusations against Israel. "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document," the head of the U.N. Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Friday.
Mr. Goldstone has now confirmed that Israel did not intentionally target civilians, suggested that Israel's much lower estimates of Palestinian civilian casualties than those cited in his own report were probably correct and credited the Jewish state with conducting credible investigations into alleged wrongdoings by individual soldiers. While this about-face is welcome, the report's many flaws were obvious from the start to any fair-minded observer. It's hardly surprising that Israel's enemies lapped up the Goldstone Report.
But the responses of Israel's European friends were more disappointing. When the U.N. General Assembly voted on November 5, 2009 to endorse the report, many European Union countries failed to stand by their embattled partner. Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal, Malta, and Slovenia voted in favor of the U.N. resolution. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom abstained. The failure of the U.K. and France to oppose the report is particularly difficult to understand. Europe's two foremost military powers are themselves involved in asymmetrical conflicts against enemies that ignore the civilized world's rules of war.
The Goldstone Report could have set a dangerous precedent, undermining their armies' ability to face off enemies hiding among civilian populations. And yet, then-Foreign Secretary David Miliband of the previous Labour government seemed to accept the moral equivalence the Goldstone report tried to draw between Hamas terrorists and democratic Israel: "We take seriously all substantive allegations of breaches of International Humanitarian Law by both sides during the Gaza conflict," he said at the time.
Of the 27 EU member states, only the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia joined the United States and others in opposing the shoddy document. Somehow though, over the next few months, this European coalition withered away. When the U.N. General Assembly on Feb. 26 last year endorsed the report once more, not a single EU country objected anymore. The camp of Goldstone supporters now included Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. The rest abstained.
"We welcome the efforts by the Europeans to bring their positions closer to the United Nations position as shown by the positive trend in voting by most of the European States," the French Foreign Ministry cheered at the time. Europe may have shown greater unity, but at the cost of diminishing international law and justice for Israel. Now that Mr. Goldstone has retracted, the EU member states must do the same. There can be no other choice for them but to call on Mr. Goldstone to ask the U.N. Human Rights Council to withdraw the original report. Mr. Goldstone cannot simply settle this serious matter on the op-ed pages of a newspaper.
EU foreign ministers, meeting again later this month, should urge Mr. Goldstone to present his updated conclusions to the U.N. Human Rights Council, as well as to the General Assembly, and press for the approval of a new report that reflects Mr. Goldstone's new thinking. The European Parliament, which endorsed the report in a tight vote last year, must now also retract that decision. Given the U.N.'s automatic anti-Israeli majorities, we may never see an official reversal of the report's findings.
And even it were to happen, the damage to Israel's reputation can never be completely undone. This makes it all the more important that EU governments now speak out loudly and clearly against the Goldstone report's flawed conclusions.
Mr. Schwammenthal is director of the AJC Transatlantic Institute in Brussels.