In a move likely to worsen EU ties with Israel, the European Parliament urged its 27-member states Wednesday to monitor the Israeli and Palestinian probes into alleged war crimes in Gaza.
The parliament also called on Israel to immediately open border crossings with the Gaza Strip, saying the blockade was worsening the humanitarian crisis there.
The resolution backed the findings of a UN-appointed expert panel chaired by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, which concluded that both sides committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity throughout the IDF operation that began in December 2008 and ended in January 2009.
The parliamentary move, which would give the EU an unprecedented role in evaluating the progress of Israel’s war crimes probe, was sharply criticized by Israel.
The European Jewish Congress (EJC) expressed disappointment that the European Parliament had passed the resolution.
Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, led the lobbying efforts in the European Parliament and told the parliament group leaders and MEPs that the endorsement of the Goldstone Report would be a blow for the peace process which is only now resuming, through American proximity talks.
“We made it abundantly clear to those MEP’s which we contacted that this resolution was against the overall objectives of Europe’s role in the Middle East, and we are disappointed to hear that the resolution will not pass,” Kantor said.
“The first line of the resolution emphasized the importance of achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, but the resolution will have achieved the exact opposite. Furthermore, it could damage the possibility of the European Union taking an active part in achieving that goal.”
“We find this resolution flawed and counterproductive,” said Yoel Mester, spokesman for Israeli mission to EU. “While other players are striving to find to support the peace process and to start the proximity talks between Israel and Palestinians, it is regrettable that the European Parliament choses to concentrate on a highly controversial issue.”
In December, the EU accused Israel of trying to divide the bloc to stop it from passing a resolution calling for Jerusalem to be the shared capital of Israel and for a future Palestinian state. The measure was adopted despite Israel’s opposition.
The European Union also has criticized Israel over its suspected role in the slaying of a Hamas terror chief Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai and the killers’ alleged use of forged EU passports.
Israel, meanwhile, has been annoyed by a demand from the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to be allowed to visit the Gaza Strip, which remains under Hamas control.
The European Parliament measure, passed by 335-287, said Ashton should “monitor actively the implementation of recommendations included in the Goldstone Report.”
“For the first time, a resolution voted in the European Parliament acknowledges Israeli’s violations of international humanitarian law,” parliament member Kyriacos Triantaphyllides said.
In January, the UN General Assembly gave the two sides five more months to finalize their own investigations into war crimes allegations during the conflict, in which 13 Israelis and almost 1,400 Palestinians were killed.
On Monday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it would allow Ashton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon into Gaza.
In a related development Wednesday, Ashton condemned Israel’s plan to expand a Jewish neighborhood in disputed east Jerusalem, saying it should reverse the decision and “refrain from unilateral decisions and actions that may jeopardize the final status negotiations.”
“The EU reiterates that settlements are illegal under international law,” Ashton said in a statement. “They undermine current efforts for restarting peace negotiations … and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.”