Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 October 2009
Issue No. 969
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Ayman El-Amir

Getting away with murder

Doubtless Israel is pulling out the stops in efforts to block the Goldstone Report from reaching the Security Council, writes Ayman El-Amir*

Israel is incensed by the decision of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to refer to the UN Security Council the report of the Goldstone Commission that investigated war crimes committed during the Israeli onslaught on Gaza last December and January. While the report pointed a finger at the government of Hamas in Gaza for firing rockets against Israeli settlements in southern Israel, it reserved volumes of charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for the former Israeli government of Ehud Olmert, singling out its top leaders for their individual responsibility. Fuming over the UNHRC's decision, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed to launch an aggressive diplomatic campaign against the decision and its pursuant consequences.

Israeli leaders do not launch anything in moderation. Having long enjoyed the charade status promoted by its Western supporters and lobbyist groups as the beacon of democracy, justice and human rights in the dark sea of the Arab Middle East, Israel is bracing for a counterattack. The war crimes and crimes against humanity charges are so unnerving that they threaten to lay bare the true nature of Israel to long-brainwashed world public opinion. The Goldstone Report concluded that Israel used disproportionate force, deliberately targeted civilians, used Palestinians as human shields and destroyed civilian infrastructure during its Operation Cast Lead war against the Gaza Strip. It recommended that the Security Council require both Israel and Hamas to show within six months that they are carrying out independent and impartial investigations into alleged abuses. Should they fail to do so, the matter should be referred to prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Israel has never been in the habit of launching independent investigation into the actions of its murderous armed forces. The Netanyahu government immediately warned its key allies, particularly the United States, that it would scuttle the stalled Middle East peace process if the Goldstone Report should take its course. This was confirmed by the Israeli representative to the UN in Geneva, who characterised the UNHRC's decision as a setback for efforts to revive peace talks. Hanging on to wishful peace process thinking that has made no progress, the Obama administration promised that the matter would not come before the Security Council. State Department Spokesman Ian Kelley told reporters immediately after the UNHRC voted 25-6 that, "the endorsement of the report does not necessarily mean it will be reviewed by the United Nations Security Council."

The UNHRC decision put all principal parties of the peace process on the spot. For the US, it can block consideration of the report by the Security Council in more ways than one through the council's rules of procedure. It can lobby against including the Goldstone Report on the work programme of the Security Council. If it gets there, which would initially be a significant condemnation of Israel, the US would try to lobby the 15-member council to deny any draft resolution based on the report the nine votes, or two-thirds majority, it would need to pass. Should the two-third majority seem available to support a draft resolution, the US would then use its no vote -- its veto power -- to foil it. The three Western permanent members of the Security Council -- France, the UK and the US -- usually act in unison, like a pack of wolves. The US and the UK would join together in casting a veto while France would abstain, to maintain its credentials with the Arabs. The US and the UK would either cite the usual pretext that the draft resolution was "unbalanced", or use the argument that a peace process is in progress and that the adoption of the resolution would discourage Israeli cooperation and wreck that process. Israel will mobilise all its lobby troops in the US to pressure the Obama administration to thwart any draft resolution against its interests as previous US administrations have consistently done. The charges are quite serious and any endorsement by the UN Security Council would be a turning point for Israel in the eyes of the global community.

Depending on the strategy of the Obama administration with regards to the Middle East peace process, the situation could be used as a bargaining chip to pressure Israel. The US has failed its first test of wills with the Netanyahu government: it could not persuade Israel to freeze settlement construction and give the discredited Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, a face-saving mask to continue the meandering peace process. It has helped Israeli intransigence by twisting the arm of Abbas to participate in a tripartite meeting in New York with Obama and Netanyahu to give the impression that despite Israeli stalling and continued settlement building the peace process was still alive and well. Israel has so far dictated the conditions and the Obama administration is only wringing its hands in frustration. It can do more to show Israel that it is serious about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem before the end of the Obama first term in office. It can send a strong signal by allowing the scheduling for debate by the Security Council of the UNHRC's recommendations. It can go one step further by indicating to Israel that unless it makes some serious concessions regarding the peace process the US might find it difficult not to abstain when the draft resolution comes to a vote, thus allowing it possibly to pass. Whatever strategy the Obama administration develops it has always to keep a wary eye on Israeli reaction and the backlash of the American Israel lobby. However, Obama, like any other US president, wants to serve a second term and has to weigh carefully how much damage Israel and its lobby can cost him if he should try to apply pressure. Obama has little experience, and Israel is not a peace-loving country but one that wants to annex Arab land and force a political settlement based on its military superiority.

For those Arabs who are not collaborators with the Israeli agenda the situation offers an opportunity to show the world that since its creation Israel has been led by war criminals. Hamas and other Palestinian resistance movements can live with an accusation that they lobbed a few primitive and misdirected rockets into Israeli occupied territories. After all, they are classified as "terrorist" organisations, not a state with international ties, UN membership and legal obligations. Libya could be the linchpin. As president of the current session of the UN General Assembly and a non- permanent member of the Security Council it could seek the support of African, South American, sympathetic European countries, and China and Russia to table the UNHRC decision for consideration by the Security Council. Failing this, Arab countries, which are currently sitting on the fence, should call for a special session of the General Assembly to act on the decision.

For lame duck president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, who has lost the confidence of the Palestinian people by initially asking, under US and some Arab pressure, for a postponement of UNHRC consideration of the Goldstone Report, showing some integrity may not be a bad idea. His term expired last January and he is unlikely to be re-elected this coming January, no matter what fraud and intimidation tactics he may borrow from his Arab sponsors. Instead of building a police state-like Palestinian Authority in the service of Israel, he can show some mettle with regards to bogged-down peace negotiations by insisting on the no-more- settlements condition for the resumption of negotiations. His betrayal of Palestinian aspirations at a critical moment in the Palestinian national struggle has left him and his Fatah henchmen weaker and much discredited to the favour of Hamas. He has made the signing of the Egyptian-sponsored Fatah-Hamas reconciliation accord a remote possibility. Only firm US action vis-à-vis the Goldstone Report, and a firmer position by Abbas on peace negotiations, can rebuild confidence with Hamas and breathe new life into the peace process.

* The writer is former Al-Ahram correspondent in Washington DC. He also served as director of United Nations Radio and Television in New York.

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