Embarrassed and denounced
In monumental fashion, recent events in Geneva have roundly earned Fatah and Abbas's Palestinian Authority the contempt of ordinary Palestinians, reports Khaled Amayreh from Ramallah
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is facing an extremely embarrassing situation following its decision earlier this week to endorse deferring the ratification of the Goldstone Report at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.
The report, compiled by South African judge Richard Goldstone, accused Israel of committing, knowingly and deliberately, war crimes and crimes against humanity during its winter onslaught on the Gaza Strip in which more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, most of whom were innocent civilians, including more than 300 children, with thousands others injured or badly incinerated by phosphoric bombs. Thousands of homes, mosques and public buildings were destroyed in the 22-day blitz.
The adoption of the report by the UNHRC would likely have led to calls for its referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague and could eventually have led to the prosecution of suspected Israeli war criminals. However, the inexplicable PA decision to support freezing discussion of the report until March has effectively enabled Israel to evade culpability by burying and neutralising the report, at least for the time being.
In occupied Palestine, and much of the Arab world, the scandalous PA misstep has drawn universal condemnation from the political right to the left, with PA officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, finding themselves at loss as to how to shield themselves from an avalanche of vitriolic condemnations and accusations ranging from commission of treason to weakness, incompetence and powerlessness in the face of Israel and the United States.
In fact, no other act by the PA/PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) since the signing of the Oslo Accords more than 16 years ago has met such a unanimous revulsion, which explains the perplexed and confused reactions of PA officials and spokespersons. Moreover, most of the criticism came from secular groups, including organisations associated with the PLO itself, which would refute the claim that the widespread indignation was part of the public relations showdown between Fatah and the Islamist camp.
Even Fatah, Abbas's own party, which is the political backbone of both the PLO and PA, had to "go with the flow," at least publicly, by criticising the "irresponsible feat" in Geneva. Fatah is worried that the Geneva fiasco may cause it to lose popularity ahead of Palestinian elections that could take place in the second half of 2010.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, eager to limit the damage, has ordered a probe into what happened. However, very few Palestinians take the measure seriously since it is widely believed that it was Abbas himself who asked the Palestinian ambassador to the UN to recommend freezing the Goldstone Report until March.
Hamas used strong epithets to denounce the PA decision to defer discussion of the Goldstone Report. Hamas leaders in Gaza and Damascus slammed the decision as representing "total subservience and submission" to the Zionist will. Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, blamed Abbas for the debacle, asserting that it was Abbas who took the decision. "The decision to abandon the Goldstone Report came from the top of the authority in Ramallah," he said.
Harsher words came from Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. "The Palestinian people would like to know if the Ramallah leadership is a defender of the Palestinian people and their just cause or a lawyer for Israel. We wouldn't be exaggerating if we said that this irresponsible behaviour borders on treason," he said.
Hamas had lately toned down its propaganda war against Fatah, apparently in order to help create the atmosphere conducive to prospective reconciliation between the two groups. However, it seems that Hamas has found the latest public relations disaster incurred by Abbas too precious to be let pass quietly -- especially since the PA misstep is widely viewed as a huge betrayal for war victims and the entire people of the Gaza Strip.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a PLO faction, also strongly denounced the deferral of the Goldstone Report as "irresponsible, defeatist" and representing a "huge affront to our people's struggle for justice". "This suspicious behaviour," the group continued, "is a prescription for corroding a major tool of our struggle against the Israeli occupation." A statement by the PFLP dismissed as "mendacious and silly" PA justifications for "this irresponsible act" which only serves the goals and interests of Israel.
Even stronger words came from the Islamic Jihad, which strongly condemned PA "connivance with our enemy". "The PA behaviour in Geneva brings shame and dishonour to the Ramallah leadership and underscores the extent to which that leadership is conspiring with the Zionist regime against the interests of our people." According to Mohamed Al-Hindi, a prominent Islamic Jihad leader in the Gaza Strip, "it is disgraceful that while the Palestinian people are celebrating the release of its honourable female prisoners from Israeli dungeons, the PA is conspiring with Israel to cover up its crimes against our people in Gaza."
The NGO sector also strongly denounced the Palestinian "retreat" in Geneva. In a widely circulated appeal entitled, "Justice delayed is justice denied," 16 Palestinian civic and human rights organisations argued that PA consent to defer the ratification of the Goldstone Report to March effectively "denied the Palestinian people the right to an effective judicial remedy and equal protection of the law. It also represents the triumph of politics over human rights. It is an insult to all victims and a rejection of their rights."
The same statement argued that the right to justice for victims of the Israeli war on Gaza shouldn't be subject to political manoeuvring. "These rights are universal, they are not subject to political considerations. In the nine months since Operation Cast Lead, no effective judicial investigation has been conducted into the conflict."
It is still somewhat unclear why the PA embraced such an unpopular decision. Some unnamed PA officials have disclosed that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bullied Abbas to defer discussion of the Goldstone Report, arguing that ratification of the report at the UNHRC would embarrass Israel and seriously undermine American efforts to restart the stalled peace process. The same sources intimated that the Obama administration had threatened to suspend its role as broker of Middle East peace efforts and freeze financial aid to the PA government if the latter didn't heed the American "advice".
Israel, also reportedly threatened the PA that it would refuse to license a new Palestinian mobile phone company, partially owned by one of Abbas's sons, if the PA pushed for the adoption of the Goldstone Report in Geneva. However, the most likely reason for the PA decision may have to do with an Israeli threat to release records of conversations between Israeli and PA officials showing the latter pleading with the former to pursue the war on Gaza to the end in order to crush Hamas.
The PA has remained reticent over these specific accusations, which only enforces speculation about the public rumours.
What is clear is that the latest scandal, or "Goldstone-gate" as some Palestinian journalists are beginning to refer to events in Geneva, is likely to seriously undermine PA standing with the Palestinian public. Weakened popularity, coupled with obvious US failure to force Israel to freeze Jewish-only settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, along with mounting tension around Al-Aqsa Mosque, could form an incendiary trigger that might eventually explode in a new wave of violence -- a third Intifada.