x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Abbas provokes outrage as Gaza war-crimes report gets shelved

Under pressure from the Obama administration, the Palestinian Authority has agreed to suspend its efforts to have the Goldstone report on Gaza war crimes submitted to the UN Security Council thereby offering the Israeli government a hard fought reprieve. A decision to defer a vote on the report in the UN Human Rights Council has been attributed to the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. He has ordered an investigation into how the decision was made.

Under pressure from the Obama administration, the Palestinian Authority has agreed to suspend its efforts to have the Goldstone report on Gaza war crimes submitted to the UN Security Council thereby offering the Israeli government a hard fought reprieve. "The position of the United States since the Goldstone report was released in early September has been that the Human Rights Council alone should deal with it," The New York Times reported last Thursday. "But in a compromise, the body is expected to pass a resolution Friday presented by the bloc of Arab and Muslim states that any action will be delayed until the next meeting in March. "The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, warned the Palestinians and international powers earlier Thursday that any action to advance the report would be a denial of Israel's 'right to self-defense' and would kill any chance of peace talks." On September 23, JTA reported from Washington: "A top White House official told Jewish organisational leaders in an off-the-record phone call Wednesday that the US strategy was to 'quickly' bring the report - commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council and carried out by former South African Judge Richard Goldstone - to its 'natural conclusion' within the Human Rights Council and not to allow it to go further, Jewish participants in the call told JTA. "Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, called JTA later to say the official 'misspoke' and that administration policy on the Goldstone report remains as articulated last week by Susan Rice, the UN ambassador. "Rice described the UNHRC mandate as 'unbalanced, one sided and basically unacceptable. We have very serious concerns about many of the recommendations in the report. We will expect and believe that the appropriate venue for this report to be considered is the Human Rights Council and that is our strong view.' " The National reported on Sunday: "The UN's Human Rights Council had been due on Friday to vote on whether to endorse the Goldstone report's recommendations. But it emerged on Thursday that a number of members of the council, including the US, the EU and Russia, wanted the vote deferred. Imad Zuheiri, the Palestinian deputy ambassador to the UN, said the PA agreed to a deferral because it wanted to build broader international support for the report. "That decision, however, has seen the Palestinian leadership come in for severe criticism from human rights groups and political factions. "Yesterday, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) denounced the decision as 'irresponsible' and in a statement said the move would only encourage Israel to 'continue its oppression of the Palestinian people'. "Taher al Nuno, a Hamas spokesman, had on Friday called the PA's decision to support the deferral a 'betrayal of the blood of those killed' during the conflict." The PLO's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ibrahim Khreisha, had said on the day of the postponement that "we have enough votes" to move forward. The Maan News Agency reported: "A few days earlier, Khreisha also told the UN rights body, 'This report should not be another report to just document and archive.' " 'My people will not forgive the international community if it lets these criminals go unpunished,' the ambassador added, demonstrably unaware at the time that it was indeed his own people who would ultimately stop his hand." Palestinian sources told Haaretz that Mr Abbas made the decision to delay the vote immediately after meeting with the US consul general last Thursday, without the knowledge of the PLO leadership or the government of the acting prime minister Salam Fayyad, and without any consultation. The Associated Press reported: "Engulfed by domestic outrage, ... Abbas rushed Sunday to limit the fallout from his decision to suspend efforts to have Israeli officials prosecuted for war crimes over last winter's military offensive in Gaza. "The decision set off a wave of condemnation, not just from his Islamic militant Hamas rivals, but also Palestinian human rights groups, intellectuals and commentators. Leading members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and even Abbas' own Fatah movement quickly distanced themselves, saying they had been taken by surprise. "In an attempt to deflect the anger, Abbas announced Sunday he would have a low-level committee look into the decision-making process. It was not clear whether Abbas himself would come under scrutiny." In Foreign Policy, Marc Lynch wrote: "There seems to be little question that Abbas's decision to go along with American pressure will have a significant impact on the popularity and legitimacy of the PA. He is already backpedaling in the face of the intense public backlash, announcing the formation of a committee to look into the 'circumstances surrounding the issue' (gee, wonder what he'll find when he investigates his own decision?), but it's probably too late. Whatever gains made by Fatah after its Bethlehem conference and by Fayyad with the announcement of his agenda for a Palestinian state are likely to be washed away in this deluge. The credibility of the Hamas narrative about the PA's collaboration with Israel and unrepresentative nature will be strongly enhanced. And it will not help Salam Fayyad establish authority that he has been fingered by some sources as the person directly responsible for the decision. "Why was the PA leadership put in this untenable situation? The Obama team has consistently identified building Palestinian Authority legitimacy and capacity as a key part of its strategy. Did nobody consider the impact that such an important symbolic issue as the perceived suppression of the Goldstone report would have on this supposedly crucial dimension of the strategy? "At the wider Arab level, the American stance on the Goldstone report has galvanised doubts about the credibility of Obama's outreach to the Muslim world and claims to genuine change. The sceptics who demanded deeds to match words are having a field day. As much as the inability to prevail in the battle over the settlements hurt Obama's credibility with the Arab world, at least he got some credit for trying, for prioritising the issue and paying some costs to keep at it. But the Goldstone report decision looks to most of the Arab public as a straightforward capitulation to Israel and abdication of any claims to the moral high ground. It will further undermine the Cairo promises, which look ever more distant."

pwoodward@thenational.ae