JERUSALEM – In a vote likely to complicate U.S. efforts to revive Middle East peace talks, the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday endorsed a report calling on Israel and Hamas to conduct credible probes of alleged war crimes by their forces or face further international inquiries and possible prosecutions.
The action in Geneva by the 47-nation council was a sharp setback for Israel, which had labored to discredit the month-old U.N. report.
The council’s vote could force Israel to defend itself for months or perhaps years – in diplomatic forums, if not criminal tribunals – as U.N. bodies grapple with highly charged fallout over last winter’s conflict in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
While the council embraced a report that condemned both sides, the resolution itself criticized only Israel and was adopted by a wide margin.
For the Obama administration, the decision represents a new obstacle for its goal of negotiations to establish a Palestinian state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had warned that an international stamp of approval for the war crimes allegations would prevent Israel from “taking risks” to reach a statehood accord. And the U.S.-backed Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, after first accepting that argument under U.S. pressure, reversed its stand and pushed for Friday’s vote.
With the United States and five European allies voicing the lone objections, the council, dominated by developing nations, fully endorsed the findings and recommendations of an expert panel led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone that probed the Gaza conflict.
Twenty-five nations including Russia and China voted for the resolution promoted by Arab members, and 16 nations abstained or did not vote.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States voted against the measure out of concern “that it will exacerbate polarization and divisiveness” and undermine special U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s work to restart peace talks broken off last December.
“What’s distressing us,” Kelly said Friday, “is that we’re losing focus on this ultimate goal, which is a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the council’s decision “provides encouragement for terrorist organizations worldwide” by condemning one state’s efforts to defend itself against a militant group.