By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 2009
The House of Representatives on Tuesday is poised to pass a nonbinding resolution condemning a controversial U.N. report on alleged Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip that has become a major complication in Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's diplomacy in the Middle East this weekend.
Clinton will meet in Abu Dhabi on Saturday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has seen his popularity plummet since he initially agreed under pressure from the Obama administration to defer U.N. consideration of the report. He later shifted course, and now the U.N. General Assembly will consider it on Wednesday. But Israeli officials have warned that any effort by the United Nations to add further legitimacy to the report will undermine the administration's efforts to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians.
The resolution, co-sponsored by the two senior members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), charges that the report by South African jurist Richard Goldstone for the U.N. Human Rights Council is "irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy," in part because it was based on "a flawed and biased mandate," and that the militant group Hamas was able to "significantly shape the findings of the investigation." Lawmakers expect it to win easy approval under a fast-track procedure that allows for no amendments.
The White House has taken no position on the House resolution, which is supported by many major Jewish organizations. The administration has previously said that the report is flawed but raises "important issues and serious allegations," and it has urged Israel to investigate its conduct in the conflict more closely.
"AIPAC, in concert with every mainstream pro-Israel organization in the United States, supports this important resolution," said Josh Block, a spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "In echoing the administration's condemnation and calling for concrete action, Congress will be sending the strong message that the United States will not stand for turning the victim into the perpetrator."
However, a new Jewish organization, J Street, has taken a sharply different tack, saying it could not support the resolution as drafted. "The resolution will pass in its current form," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street. "Yet it puts members of Congress in an uncomfortable box because it is factually inaccurate and contains gross misrepresentations" about the Goldstone report.
J Street this week held its first major conference in Washington, which included a major speech by national security adviser James L. Jones.
Israeli leaders say that they launched the Gaza war in self-defense, after years of Hamas rocket and mortar fire into Israel, and that the Goldstone study played down that part of the conflict. The Goldstone report focused on civilian casualties and whether Israeli military practices -- from the use of white phosphorus munitions to the conduct of combat soldiers -- did enough to minimize them. The report also charges that Hamas and its rival Palestinian faction, Fatah, have carried out attacks, including torture and assassinations, against each other's members.
Goldstone, in a letter to Berman and Ros-Lehtinen, has complained of numerous inaccuracies in the resolution about his report. But Lynne Weil, a spokeswoman for Berman, said that the chairman believes Goldstone's letter contains "a number of points that are inaccurate" and that he will "issue a complete response" to Goldstone before the House vote.