Goldstone report hurting chances for peace talks

Goldstone report hurting chances for peace talks

JERUSALEM — One of the unintended consequences of the U.N.’s Goldstone report on the Gaza war is that it has made peace in the Middle East less likely, at least at first glance.
The report, which cited evidence of Israeli and Hamas war crimes and was endorsed last Friday by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, has revived a strain of Palestinian thinking that Israel can be defeated by delegitimizing it on the international stage. Palestinians who take this view have less incentive to negotiate with Israel.
(Richard Goldstone, the architect of the report, is a Jewish jurist from South Africa.)
The report also has encouraged Palestinian Authority officials, who still claim to be interested in peace talks, to brandish its findings in world forums. That has prompted Israelis to charge that they are poisoning the atmosphere — a charge Israel also leveled against the report, which Israeli officials denounced.
“You can’t badmouth your peace partner at every opportunity and talk peace at the same time,” members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle have been telling the media.
Among Palestinians, the Goldstone report also has exacerbated the rivalry between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas regime in Gaza, with both sides ratcheting up their anti-Israel rhetoric.
Moreover, the bad blood between them over the Palestinian Authority’s handling of the report — the P.A. asked the Human Rights Council to delay endorsing the report so as not to scuttle peace talks, then reversed course after Hamas accused it of treason against the Palestinian people — has led to the deferment of a planned Fatah-Hamas reconciliation its Egyptian brokers hoped would serve the peace process.
What’s worse, after a hiatus of several years, some in Fatah quarters are talking again of a return to armed struggle against Israel.
The Goldstone report, which focused on last winter’s war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, also has hurt prospects for an Israeli accommodation with Syria. With Israel the subject of international opprobrium, Syria has less incentive to engage.
The report also has cost the Israel-Syria negotiating track a key mediator.
Turkey, enjoying good relations with both sides, had brought Jerusalem and Damascus to within a hair’s breadth of serious peace talks last December. But in the wake of the Goldstone report, Turkey adopted a scathingly anti-Israel stance, leading Netanyahu to rule out Turkey as a future broker.
Indeed, the regional climate has taken a sharp turn for the worse against Israel, complicating any peace moves. If Israel is painted as a war criminal, how can Arab or Muslim states be expected to sit down with it?
Israelis say the Goldstone report is not only a broadside on Israel’s international and regional standing but that it constitutes a body blow to Israeli deterrence. The underlying message is that terrorists can attack Israel and then haul it before international tribunals when Israel hits back.
Israeli analysts argue that the nation’s deterrence is a key factor in maintaining regional stability. Undermining it brings war, not peace.
The Israeli government has drawn two early lessons from the Goldstone experience: That future retaliation against terrorism will have to be short and sharp, over in no more than a few days. (Netanyahu largely blames the duration of the Gaza fighting, 22 days, for the adverse international fallout.) Second, Netanyahu warns that if Israel only has limited rights of self-defense, it won’t take risks for peace.
None of this augurs well for the future.