When the Goldstone Report was published, the initial reaction of the Israeli government and the IDF was to push back hard. After all, last summer they had managed to silence "Breaking the Silence," the IDF veteran group that published testimonies from IDF soldiers in the Gaza Op. Had Israeli society reacted to the BtS testimonies by establishing a Commission of Inquiry then, as called for by distinguished Israeli writers, intellectuals, Haaretz, and Nahman Shay, there would have been little fuss in the world over the Goldstone report. On the contrary, the Goldstone report would have been significantly altered, since Goldstone's recommendation was for Israel and Hamas to set up Commission of Inquiries. But Israel, like Hamas, is incapable of engaging in any significant self-criticism and has been incapable for decades. The Winograd Commission was forced upon the Olmert government by an unruly public; the Or Commission was set up to heal Labor's relations with potential Palestinian Israeli supporters. Nothing at all came of the interminable discussions of the latter; the former simply embarrassed Olmert. The last serious Commission of Inquiry dealt with the first Lebanon War, especially Sabra and Shatila. Sharon was burned by that one, but only temporarily. No, the only commission that managed to set into motion a political sea change was the Agranat Commission after the Yom Kippur War, and the conclusions of that commission, initially, were quite tame.
So why would the Israeli government – a very rightwing government, whose "leftwing" fig leaf (Ehud Barak) was almost detained in London this week for his responsibility for Israeli war crimes, and which feels no pressure by the Israeli electorate -- set up a commission to investigate Gaza? The answer is simple: to whitewash, to head off international repercussions, to rap a few knuckles, to buy time – in short, to kill the Goldstone report. With the US representative on the UN Human Rights Council calling for a commission of inquiry, and with European countries being able to hold court proceedings for IDF officers, there is growing pressure for Israel to do something on its own.
That is why even Bibi is considering setting up a commission, according to Haaretz. Or maybe not; the story was written by Barak Ravid, who is notorious for publishing spin and rumors.
My hunch is that if Bibi goes with a Commission of Inquiry, it will be one with a limited mandate and appointed by the government, and not an independent, judicial commission. Yet a commission is not likely and a serious commission is impossible. Bibi, who generally crumples under pressure, will feel the greatest pressure from his right. And I believe that he is genuinely upset, shocked, and amazed, that anybody questions the morality and the adherence to the code of ethics of the IDF. So even though there will be international consequences, it makes more sense for him to continue to conduct an international campaign against the report
In the meantime, Judge Goldstone told Christiane Amanpour that Israel intentionally targeted civilian building and installations. Israel, of course, argued that those installations were used to house weapons. But according to Goldstone, there was no evidence of weapons. Of course, had Israel cooperated with the Goldstone Commission from the beginning, the final report may have been somewhat different. Or not, after all, from what I have seen, much of the Goldstone report was known in real time back in January – there were few surprises. Still, the tone may have been a bit different, and Israel's version of the story may have had some effect. But Israel boycotted Goldstone, and now it may have to open its own commission.
More likely, it won't. And for those who think that the only way Israel can come to its senses is through external intervention and pressure, that has to be good news. I, for one, am grateful that Israel is sticking close to the script. Israel is a systematic violator of human rights, but unlike many other systematic violators, it is intensely sensitive to its international reputation. That is why the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment campaign is so attractive. There is no other violator of human rights in the world that is more sensitive to world public opinion (and governmental opinion) than Israel.
And Judge Goldstone will not be silenced. I have now heard him speak several times. Listen to him speaking with Christiane Amanpour here He is an eloquent and persuasive spokesman against Israel's war crimes, and against the world's double standard of only punishing weak countries with no powerful friends, for human rights violations.
Thursday Update: I was right. Haaretz now reports that Bibi's strategy for dealing with the Goldstone Report is to argue that the report hurts the war on terror and the peace process.
Since there is no peace process, and the war on terror died with the Bush administration, that may prove to be a tough sell.