x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Anger over delay of Gaza report

Palestinian Authority has been criticised for agreeing to the deferral of UN Human Rights Council's response to judge's findings on war crimes.

RAMALLAH // Palestinian human rights groups and political factions yesterday strongly criticised the role of the Palestinian Authority in the decision by the UN's Human Rights Council to defer until March its response to a UN report on Israel's war on Gaza earlier this year. That report, headed by a South African judge, Richard Goldstone, had accused both the Israeli military and Hamas militants of committing war crimes during the three-week long conflict and of possible crimes against humanity. More than 1,400 Palestinians, the majority civilians, and 13 Israelis, 10 of whom were soldiers, were killed in the offensive. 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. No less severe was the criticism from Palestinian human rights groups. At a press conference in Gaza City yesterday, 14 such groups collectively derided the PA's role in the deferral as a "triumph of politics over human rights" and an "insult to all victims". "We have worked very hard on the members of the Human Rights Council over the past weeks to adopt the Goldstone report," said Hamdi Shaqqura of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. "It was never foreseen that the failure [to reach a decision] would come from the Palestinian leadership itself." Mr Shaqqura said he understood that the PA had reached its position after pressure from the US and Israel. Nevertheless, he rejected the PA's position and the justification offered for a delay by American officials as "completely unacceptable". Washington had originally criticised the Goldstone report as "flawed" and had urged members of the UN Human Rights Council to defer a vote in the interest of the peace process. The Israeli government had threatened to squash any hopes of a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians should the Goldstone report be endorsed by the international community. However, Mr Shaqqura said negotiations should not come at the expense of human rights. "For decades, Palestinians have been asked to set aside human rights for the sake of peace. But there cannot be peace without respect for human rights and international law." Even officials from Salam Fayyad's government expressed their regret at the decision to defer endorsement of the Goldstone report. Eager to play down suggestions in some quarters that the pressure to agree to a deferral had also come from Mr Fayyad, Ghassan Khatib, head of the government's media office, said the decision was "very disappointing". "I hope it's not the end, I hope the report will remain alive and be voted upon in due course. The government remains committed to the recommendations of the Goldstone report and continues to urge the UN to adopt it." Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for the office of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, on Friday attempted to deflect criticism by saying that the president's office had not endorsed a deferral. That, however, contradicted not only Mr Zuheiri's comments but also that of US officials who told news agencies that PA agreement had been sought and received. The decision to agree to a deferral was the third time in recent weeks that the PA leadership has been forced to bow to US pressure and constitutes a further erosion of the credibility of the Palestinian leadership, said George Giacaman, a Palestinian affairs analyst. "The PA has in effect agreed to give Israel a further six months to try to lobby against the Goldstone report. The PA was under enormous US pressure and to have withstood that pressure could have come at the cost of its survival. However, survival comes a huge price." Mr Giacaman said the "huge failure" of the UN to endorse the Goldstone report was much larger than simply the Palestinian context. "This was a major test case with global implications. What was at stake is whether international treaties including the Fourth Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law will be respected and abided by in times of conflict. The outcome was a huge disappointment." okarmi@thenational.ae