Just when it seemed that the Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leader Mahmoud Abbas could not sink any lower in their complicity with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the murderous blockade of Gaza, Ramallah has dealt a further stunning blow to the Palestinian people.
The Abbas delegation to the United Nations in Geneva (officially representing the moribund Palestine Liberation Organization) abandoned a resolution requesting the Human Rights Council to forward Judge Richard Goldstone’s report on war crimes in Gaza to the UN Security Council for further action. Although the PA acted under US pressure, there are strong indications that the commercial interests of Palestinian and Gulf businessmen closely linked to Abbas also played a part.
The 575-page Goldstone report documents evidence of shocking Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity during last winter’s assault on the Gaza Strip which killed 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority noncombatants and hundreds of them children. The report also accuses the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas of war crimes for firing rockets into Israel that killed three civilians.
Goldstone’s report was hailed by Palestinians and supporters of the rule of law worldwide as a watershed; it called for suspects to be held accountable before international courts if Israel failed to prosecute them. Israel has no history, ever, of holding its political and military leaders judicially accountable for war crimes against the Palestinians.
Israel was rightly terrified of the report, mobilizing all its diplomatic and political resources to discredit it. In recent days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that if the report were acted on, it would "strike a severe blow to the war against terrorism," and "strike a fatal blow to the peace process, because Israel will no longer be able to take additional steps and take risks for peace if its right to self-defense is denied."
Unsurprisingly, an early ally in the Israeli campaign for impunity was the Obama Administration, whose UN ambassador, Susan Rice, expressed "very serious concerns" about the report and trashed Goldstone’s mandate as "unbalanced, one-sided and basically unacceptable." (Rice was acting true to her word; in April she told the newspaper Politico that one of the main reasons the Obama Administration decided to join the UN Human Rights Council was to fight what she called "the anti-Israel crap.")
Goldstone, whose daughter has publicly described her father as a Zionist who loves Israel, is a former judge of the South African Supreme Court, and a highly respected international jurist. He was the chief prosecutor at UN war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
That the Goldstone report was a severe blow to Israel’s ability to commit future war crimes with impunity is not in doubt; this week bolstered by the report, lawyers in the UK asked a court to issue an arrest warrant for visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. That action did not succeed, but Israel’s government has taken extraordinary measures in recent months to try to shield its officials from prosecution, fearing that successful arrests are just a matter of time. Along with the growing international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions, the fear of ending up in The Hague seems to be the only thing that causes the Israeli government and society to reconsider their destructive path.
One would think, then, that the self-described representatives of the Palestinian people would not casually throw away this weapon. And yet, according to Abbas ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi, the Ramallah PA shelved its effort at the request of the Americans because "We don’t want to create an obstacle for them."
Khraishi’s excuse that the resolution is merely being deferred until the spring does not pass muster. Unless action is taken now, the Goldstone report will be buried by then and evidence of Israel’s crimes — necessary for prosecutions — may be harder to collect.
This latest surrender comes less than two weeks after Abbas appeared at a summit in New York with US President Barack Obama and Netanyahu despite Obama abandoning his demand that Israel halt construction of Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Also under US pressure, the PA abandoned its pledge not to resume negotiations unless settlement-building stopped, and agreed to take part in US-mediated "peace talks" with Israel in Washington this week. Israel, meanwhile, announced plans for the largest ever West Bank settlement since 1967.
What makes this even more galling, is the real possibility that the PA is helping Israel wash its hands of the blood it spilled in Gaza for something as base as the financial gain of businessmen closely linked to Abbas.
The Independent (UK) reported on 1 October:
"Shalom Kital, an aide to defense minister Ehud Barak, said today that Israel will not release a share of the radio spectrum that has long been sought by the Palestinian Authority to enable the launch of a second mobile telecommunications company unless the PA drops its efforts to put Israeli soldiers and officers in the dock over the Israeli operation." ("Palestinians cry ‘blackmail’ over Israel phone service threat," The Independent, 1 October).
Kital added that it was a "condition" that the PA specifically drop its efforts to advance the Goldstone report. The phone company, Wataniya, was described last April by Reuters as an "Abbas-backed company" which is a joint venture between Qatari and Kuwaiti investors and the Palestinian Investment Fund with which one of Abbas’ sons is closely involved. Moreover, Reuters revealed that the start-up company apparently had no shortage of capital due to the Gulf investors receiving millions of dollars of "US aid in the form of loan guarantees meant for Palestinian farmers and other small to mid-sized businesses" (See "US aid goes to Abbas-backed Palestinian phone venture," Reuters, 24 April 2009).
Just a day before the Abbas delegation pulled its resolution in Geneva, Nabil Shaath, the PA "foreign minister" denounced the Israeli threat over Wataniya as "blackmail" and vowed that the Palestinians would never back down.
The PA’s betrayal of the Palestinian people over the Goldstone report, as well as its continued "security coordination" with Israel to suppress resistance and political activity in the West Bank, should banish all doubt that it is an active arm of the Israeli occupation doing tangible and escalating harm to the Palestinian people and their just cause.
Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.