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

Salama A Salama

Power struggle

By Salama A Salama

Eager to play down the conclusions of the Goldstone Commission, the Americans have been pressuring Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, and some Arab countries to postpone voting on the Goldstone Report that accuses Israel, and to a lesser extent Hamas, of committing war crimes. Washington's excuse was that the report would strain relations between Netanyahu and Abbas and hinder negotiations.

As if negotiations were even feasible. To my knowledge, there are no negotiations, overt or covert, going on right now. Recently, Abbas was summoned in a hurry to New York for talks with Netanyahu. And to the disappointment of everyone involved, Netanyahu stuck to his guns and refused to halt the building of settlements. Mind you, a halt of settlement activities was the only request Abbas ever made for resuming negotiations. Now even this simple request has been turned down.

Even Obama was shocked. He had thought that Israel would be ready to freeze settlements if the Palestinians stopped making a fuss about the Goldstone Report. But that wasn't to be.

Some Palestinians have been critical of the Goldstone Report on the grounds that it brings war crimes charges against both Israel and Hamas. That's one of the reasons that led Hamas to walk out on a possible reconciliation deal with Fatah. Actually, the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas is now worse than it was before the Goldstone Report was released.

Now that the Human Rights Council has endorsed the Goldstone Report, there are ways of taking the report to the UN or even an international tribunal. And yet the Americans don't want this to happen. Over the past eight months, US Envoy George Mitchell has made repeated shuttle visits to the region without any tangible results. Apparently, the Obama administration, which came to the White House full of vision and hope, has run out of steam. And of all the promises Obama made at Cairo University but a few months ago, few appear to have survived.

Israel, mind you, has pre- empted US action by disclosing that Washington promised it would veto any decision by the UN Security Council regarding the Goldstone Report.

The Arabs may be thrilled that some Israeli leaders may yet come under court action or face trial outside Israel. But that is beside the point. We all know that Arab countries have forfeited their rights to try Israel's war criminals. Take, for example, the case of Ben-Elissar, the Israeli housing minister who is known to have killed 65 Egyptian POWs. He has been allowed to visit Egypt in the company of Netanyahu. He even met the Egyptian president.

If we really want to put this report to good use we have to take it to an international tribunal. At least, we have to ask for a special session of the UN General Assembly to discuss it. We know that Israel will do everything it can to discredit the report. And we know that the US could still put pressure on Israel by letting the UN Security Council look into the report and pass whatever measures it deems appropriate.

Israel's brutality is known to all. But we mustn't let Israel's brutality distract us from the pathetic state of affairs on the Palestinian scene. As Egyptian officials recently said, Hamas is dragging its feet on the reconciliation deal with Fatah. Some say that Hamas is acting thus because Iran is telling it to do so, or because some Arab countries are advising it to do so. The truth, however, is that Hamas senses that Abbas has been weakened by the whole drama of the Goldstone Report. Therefore, Hamas is biding its

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