WASHINGTON - Israel
on Friday submitted to the United Nations its first official response to the Goldstone Report,
which accused the Jewish state of committing war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
The response did not address the international demand to appoint an independent commission of inquiry into the Gaza operation.
Israel stressed that the document was not a direct response to the report, which Jerusalem refuses to acknowledge, but an answer to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's inquiry on Israel's conduct during the operation.
In the document, which was submitted by the Israeli delegation in the UN, Israel elaborated on its internal investigations and procedures conducted during and after the military campaign.
According to the response, the Israel Defense Forces launched 150 investigations following the operation, 36 of which resulted in criminal proceedings. Dozens of Palestinians and hundreds of Israeli soldiers and officers were questioned as part of the probes.
Israel stressed that it legal and investigation systems operate according to the prevalent system in other democratic countries.
In response to the UN chief's appeal, Israel explained that the military legal system is an independent one and that the judge advocate general is subject to the State Prosecutor's Office and not to the military command.
In the document, Israel compared between its handling of terrorism operated from within a population and other Western militaries forced to deal with similar situations.
The Jewish state stressed that most of the incident mentioned in the Goldstone Report were already probed by the IDF. The document included updated on the investigations and emphasized that Israel views legal proceedings and doing justice as highly important.
The response was prepared by a team of legal experts, headed by the attorney general, together with the judge advocate general. It was finalized on Thursday night and presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his senior ministers – including Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman – on Friday morning.
The document is a response to the UN secretary-general, who gave the involved parties in September three months to provide their responses to the Goldstone Report. Ban is expected to present his stand on the matter next Friday.
The prime minister and the ministers approved the response presented to them. An additional discussion is expected to be held next week, and Israel will decide whether to appoint an independent commission of inquiry in accordance with the international community's demand.
Ministers Ne'eman and Lieberman are in favor of appointing such a committee in order to minimize additional damage, including their fear that the matter would be handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Minister Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi object to such a committee. Netanyahu has yet to decide on the matter.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority also submitted its first response to the Goldstone Report to the UN. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative at the UN, told reporters he had presented to the organization's secretariat a letter from Palestinian President Salam Fayyad.
He said the letter was accompanied by documents, including a presidential order on the establishment of a commission of inquiry including five judges and external experts.
Mansour noted that the documents include "an initial report" prepared by the committee, but did not elaborate on its content. Asked about Hamas' response to the report, he clarified that the documents handed over to the UN were the Palestinian government's official response.
Roni Sofer contributed to this report