GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations put off taking action on Friday on a U.N. report that accuses both Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes in Gaza, after U.S. pressure aimed at getting the peace process back on track.
The move is an early concrete result of the Obama administration’s engagement in the Human Rights Council, which Washington joined in June.
The Council had been due to vote on Friday on a resolution that would have condemned Israel’s failure to cooperate with a U.N. war crimes investigation led by Richard Goldstone, and forwarded his report to the Security Council.
The investigation found that both the Israeli armed forces and Hamas militants committed war crimes in the December-January war in Gaza, but it was more critical of Israel.
A Palestinian rights group says 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, were killed in the war. Israel has said 709 Palestinian combatants were killed along with 295 civilians and 162 people whose status it was unable to clarify.
Israel lost 10 soldiers and 3 civilians in the offensive.
Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, said that a postponement gave both parties time to carry out credible investigations into the “serious allegations” of war crimes committed during the conflict.
“There is a larger peace process going on. I believe that addressing the human rights issue actually can help advance the peace process,” Posner told Reuters in an interview in Geneva.
“It is incumbent first and foremost on the parties, the Palestinians and Israel, to develop credible review mechanisms and accountability mechanisms,” he said.
Goldstone recommended that the Security Council refer the matter to the International Criminal Court if the two sides fail to conduct credible domestic investigations within six months.
A Palestinian official said the United States, European Union and Russia had requested backing for a postponement from the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, rivals to the Islamic militant group Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip.
Posner said the Authority had agreed.
Asked whether the move was aimed at shielding Israel, he said: “I think it is in everybody’s best interests.”
He said the United States would continue to monitor the Rights Council, noting that Washington had long been critical of its “double standards and disproportionate focus on Israel.”
Pakistan, speaking for Arab, Islamic, and African sponsors of the resolution, formally asked the forum to defer action on the text until the next regular session in March.
Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum accused Abbas of trying to rescue Israel from seeing its leaders brought before international courts.
“We insist that leaders of the occupation must be brought before international courts as war criminals and anyone who sought to prevent that from happening would be seen as partner in the crime,” he said.
Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah noted the report was still on the Council’s agenda: “It was only postponed.”
Formal negotiations on Palestinian statehood have been suspended since the Gaza conflict.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that the United Nations would deal a “fatal blow” to prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace if it endorsed the report.
Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Kevin Liffey