GENEVA, (AP) – Former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone said Wednesday he will go ahead with his U.N. investigation into possible war crimes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over Gaza even though Israel has withheld its approval.
Goldstone said the U.N. investigators would enter Gaza through Egypt if necessary, but they had wanted to visit Israel first to assess what happened there.
“I’m disappointed, and the members of the mission are disappointed, that we’ve had no positive response from the Israeli government,” he said. “It would have been our wish to start there, to visit southern Israel, Sderot, to go into Gaza through the front door, to go to the West Bank, which is also included in our mission.”
Israel objected to the mission ordered by the U.N. Human Rights Council because the original instructions were only to check what Israelis did to Palestinians. But Goldstone, a Jew with close ties to Israel, only accepted the assignment if he could see what happened on both sides.
“There is no change in our position,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Wednesday in Jerusalem. “We think that the mandate is intrinsically flawed and defective and therefore this commission will never be able to do a proper job, whatever good intentions its head may have.”
Asked if the U.N. team members would be allowed to enter Israeli territory, he said that remained to be seen.
“Wait,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”
Goldstone said he approached the Israeli ambassador in Geneva, Aharon Leshno Yaar, several times and even directly appealed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“But we’ve really received no official response. There’ve been media reports of noncooperation but I regard those as unofficial,” Goldstone said at a news conference in Geneva. “It would be good to get an official response and I would hope a positive response.”
Goldstone, who spoke to reporters after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the war crimes team was still in the planning stage.
Ban’s spokeswoman said he declined to join in the news conference Wednesday because he wanted to underscore the independent character of the investigation.
Goldstone said the secretary-general was absolutely committed to the mission and “couldn’t have been more warm in that support.”
He said the team has an Aug. 4 deadline to submit its report, and he decided to make a change in such U.N. investigations by holding public hearings for several days.
“If we can have them in the region, so much the better,” he said. “But if necessary we will have them here in Geneva. We can use video conferencing facilities and we can also fly witnesses in.”
Goldstone played a prominent role in the campaign against apartheid in his native South Africa and rose to global prominence in 1994 when he became U.N. chief prosecutor for war crimes, heading investigations into genocide in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.