South African jurist Richard Goldstone said Tuesday that he did not plan to seek nullification of his highly critical U.N. report on Israel's 2008-2009 offensive in the Gaza Strip and asserted that claims to the contrary by Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai were false.
The 2009 Goldstone report initially concluded that both Israel and Hamas had committed potential war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during three weeks of fighting. The findings that Israeli forces had intentionally fired at Palestinian civilians triggered outrage in Israel and a personal campaign against Goldstone, who is Jewish.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Goldstone said that Yishai had called him on Monday to thank him for an op-ed piece published Friday in The Washington Post in which the judge wrote that new information had come to light that made him rethink his central conclusions.
Goldstone said, however, that he never discussed the report with Yishai in the telephone conversation. Israeli leaders have called for the report to be retracted since it was issued in 2009.
"There was absolutely no discussion about the Goldstone report on the call," the jurist said in a telephone interview from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
Yishai spokesman Roi Lachmanovitch said Wednesday that the minister "didn't speak with the required clarity."
Lachmanovitch said Yishai had told Goldstone that if he had toured southern Isreal and seen the suffering there, "then this report would not have been written."
Goldstone said he thanked Yishai for calling and "stated that my concern was to work for truth, justice and human rights."
Goldstone did confirm that Yishai had invited him to visit Israel and that he had accepted but would be unable to travel to the Jewish state until July.
"I ended the conversation by expressing my love for Israel," Goldstone said, adding that Yishai spoke in Hebrew which was translated for the judge.
In the Post article, Goldstone lauded Israel for conducting dozens of investigations into alleged wrongdoing. In particular, he sighted evidence that a deadly strike that killed more than 20 members of a Palestinian family resulted from faulty intelligence and was not an intentional attack.
Nevertheless, Goldstone said, he did not intend to seek the report's nullification.
"As appears from the Washington Post article, information subsequent to publication of the report did meet with the view that one correction should be made with regard to intentionality on the part of Israel," the judge said. "Further information as a result of domestic investigations could lead to further reconsideration, but as presently advised I have no reason to believe any part of the report needs to be reconsidered at this time."
Yishai told Israel's Army Radio station that he phoned Goldstone to express his appreciation for Goldstone's "courageous" reconsideration of his charges, and to invite him to tour Israel's southern communities that have sustained years of Palestinian rocket fire.
Yishai said Goldstone "as a Jew understands well the story of the Jewish people's suffering ... and it is very important for him to come and see this."
The minister added that Goldstone promised him he would take additional steps to retract his U.N. report.
Also speaking on Army Radio, Danny Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. who also participated in the phone call, quoted Goldstone as saying he was ready to take steps to change the status of the report, but first wanted to "wait for the dust to settle" following his op-ed article in the Post.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council has said it will continue to treat the report as a legitimate working document. Spokesman Cedric Sapey told the AP on Monday that Goldstone would have to submit a formal request for the report to be withdrawn.
Last month, a majority of the council's 47 members voted to pass the report up to the General Assembly, recommending the powerful U.N. Security Council be asked to submit it to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.
Such a move is unlikely to pass the Security Council, where Israel's strongest ally, the United States, has veto power. But the mere suggestion of bringing war crimes charges has infuriated Israel.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner had welcomed Goldstone's article that said he subsequently determined Israel had not intentionally attacked civilians.
"We've made clear from when the Goldstone Report was initially presented and maintained ever since that we didn't see any evidence that the Israeli government had intentionally targeted civilians or otherwise engaged in any war crimes; and now that we see that Justice Goldstone has reached the same conclusion," Toner said Monday.
"I can say that we remain concerned and we'll continue working to an end to the what we believe is an anti-Israel bias in the Human Rights Council," Toner said.
Israel attacked the Gaza Strip in December 2008 in response to years of persistent rocket fire from militants in Gaza at southern Israel.
Some 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and 13 Israelis were killed during the campaign.
Israel has blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian toll, saying the militant group staged attacks from heavily populated residential areas, as well as mosques and schools.
Associated Press writer Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem contributed to this report.