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Israel admission on white phosphorus doesn't settle larger debate

In its response to the Goldstone report, Israel revealed that two senior military officers have been reprimanded for using white phosphorus in Gaza. But that doesn't settle the larger debate over launching an independent commission.

A piece of alleged white phosphorus burned at a UN Relief and Works Agency primary school in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on Jan. 24, 2009. The use of the chemical, which causes severe burns, is not banned under international law, but international human rights groups argued that its use in populated areas should be considered criminal.

Olivier Laban-Mattei/AFP/FILE

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The revelation by Israel that two senior military officers have been reprimanded for using white phosphorus in last year’s Gaza war has been met with both criticism and measured applause; Haaretz columnist Amos Harel welcomed it under the headline, “At Last, A Real Response.”

But Israel’s 46-page response to one of the most controversial allegations in the UN-sponsored Goldstone report did not settle a more fundamental debate: whether Israel should launch an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the numerous allegations of war crimes in the controversial United Nations report spearheaded by South African jurist Richard Goldstone.

With Israeli officials facing widespread international criticism, and even some arrest warrants in Britain in recent months, the country has faced strong global pressure to defend its conduct in the three-week Gaza offensive waged to stop Hamas rocket attacks.

Israel’s report, prepared by the Foreign Ministry, supported the case Israeli officials have been making for the better part of a year: that it does not need an independent commission of inquiry to investigate, because the proper legal bodies for doing so already exist.

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