Palestinian civil society has strongly and almost unanimously condemned the Palestinian Authority’s latest decision to delay adoption by the UN Human Rights Council of the report prepared by the UN Fact-Finding Mission, headed by justice Richard Goldstone, into the recent Israeli war of aggression against the Palestinian people in the occupied Gaza Strip. A common demand in almost all Palestinian statements issued in this respect was for the UN to adopt the report and act without undue delay on its recommendations in order to bring an end to Israel’s criminal impunity and to hold it accountable before international law for its war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Gaza and, indeed, all over the occupied Palestinian territory.
Succumbing to US pressures and unabashed Israeli blackmail, the president of the PA himself reportedly was himself responsible for the decision to defer discussion at the Council of the Goldstone report, dashing the hopes of Palestinians everywhere as well as of international human rights organizations and solidarity movements that Israel will finally face a long overdue process of legal accountability and that its victims will have a measure of justice. This decision by the PA, which in effect delays adoption of the report at least until March 2010, giving Israel a golden opportunity to bury it with US, European, Arab and now Palestinian complicity, constitutes the most blatant case yet of PA betrayal of Palestinian rights and surrender to Israeli dictates.
This is not the first time, though, that the PA has acted under orders from Washington and threats from Tel Aviv against the express interests of the Palestinian people. The historic advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in July 2004 that found Israel’s Wall and colonies built on occupied Palestinian territory illegal had presented a rare diplomatic, political and legal opportunity that could have been used to isolate Israel as apartheid South Africa was after a similar ICJ decision in 1971 against its occupation of Namibia. Alas, the PA squandered it and systematically — quite suspiciously, actually — failed to even call on world governments to comply with their obligations stated in the advisory opinion.
The whole clause on Israel and Palestinian rights that was to be discussed at the recent UN Durban Review Conference in Geneva was dropped after the Palestinian representative gave his green light. Efforts by non-aligned nations and the former UN General Assembly president, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, to push for a UN resolution condemning Israel’s war crimes in Gaza and establishing an international tribunal were thwarted mainly by the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, causing several prominent diplomats and international law experts to wonder which side the official Palestinian representative was on.
The Mercosur-Israel Free Trade Agreement was almost ratified by Brazil this last September after the Palestinian ambassador there expressed approval, only urging Brazil to exclude Israeli settlement products from the Agreement. With prompt action by Palestinian and Brazilian civil society organizations and eventually by the PLO’s Executive Committee, this ratification was averted and the Brazilian parliamentary committee in charge of this file recommended that the government refrain from approving the FTA until Israel complies with international law.
In all these cases and many similar ones, the instructions to the Palestinian representatives came from Ramallah, where the PA government has illegally appropriated the PLO powers to lead Palestinian diplomacy and set foreign policy, conceding Palestinian rights and acting against the Palestinian national interests, without worrying about accountability to any elected representatives of the Palestinian people.
This latest forthright collusion of the PA in Israel’s campaign to whitewash its crimes and undermine the application of international law to punish these crimes came a few days after the far-right Israeli government publicly blackmailed the PA, demanding that it withdraw its support for adopting the Goldstone report in return for "permitting" a second mobile communications provider to operate in the occupied Palestinian territory. It therefore undermines the great efforts by human rights organizations and many activists to bring justice to the Palestinian victims of Israel’s latest massacre in Gaza: the more than 1400 killed (predominantly civilians); the thousands injured; the 1.5 million who are still suffering from the wanton destruction of infrastructure, educational and health institutions, factories, farm lands, power plants, and other critical facilities, and from the long criminal Israeli siege against them.
It is nothing short of a betrayal of Palestinian civil society’s effective Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, with all its recent, remarkable growth and achievements in mainstream western societies and among leading unions.
It is also betrayal of the global solidarity movement that has worked tirelessly and creatively, mainly within the framework of the fast spreading BDS campaign, to end Israel’s impunity and to uphold universal human rights.
It is crucial to remember that the PA does not have any legal or democratic mandate to speak on behalf of the people of Palestine or to represent the Palestinians at the UN or any of its agencies and institutions. The current PA government has never won the necessary constitutional approval of the democratically elected Palestinian Legislative Council. Even if it had such a mandate, at best it would only represent the Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, excluding the great majority of the people of Palestine, particularly the refugees.
Only the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO, can theoretically claim to represent the entirety of the Palestinian people: inside historic Palestine and in exile. For such a claim to be substantiated and universally accepted by Palestinians everywhere, though, the PLO would need to be revived from the grassroots upwards, in a transparent, democratic and inclusive process that involves Palestinians everywhere and encompasses all the political parties that are outside the PLO structures today. In parallel with this democratic reclamation or popular take-back of the PLO by the people and their representative unions and institutions, the PA must be responsibly and gradually dismantled, with its current powers, particularly the representation seats at the UN and other regional and international institutions, returned to where they belong, to the real representative of all the people of Palestine, the revived and democratized PLO. This dissolution of the PA, however, must at all times avoid creating a legal and political vacuum, as history shows that hegemonic powers are often the most likely to fill such a vacuum to the detriment of the oppressed.
The fact is the PA has been gradually and irreversibly transformed since its establishment 15 years ago from a mere — often powerless, obsequious and coerced — sub-contractor of the Israeli occupation regime, relieving it of its most cumbersome civil duties, like the provision of services and tax collection, and, most crucially, very effectively helping it safeguard the security of its occupation army and colonial settlers, into a willing collaborator that constitutes Israel’s most important strategic weapon in countering its growing isolation and loss of legitimacy on the world stage as a colonial and apartheid state. Israel’s hundreds of nuclear weapons and its fourth largest army in the world proved impotent or at least irrelevant before the growing BDS movement, particularly after Israel’s acts of genocide in Gaza. The almost unlimited diplomatic, political, economic and scientific support Israel receives from the US and European governments and its unparalleled impunity have also failed to protect it from the gloomy fate of apartheid South Africa.
Even before Israel’s war on Gaza, many unions around the world had joined the BDS campaign, from Canada to South Africa, and from the UK and Norway to Brazil. After Gaza, though, the four years of preparing the ground and spreading BDS, the international shock at the sight of Israel’s white phosphorus showers of death visited upon the children of Gaza cowered in UN shelters, and the universal feeling that the international order has failed to hold Israel to account or to even end its slaughter of civilians, not to mention its ongoing ethnic cleansing campaign in the occupied West Bank, particularly in East Jerusalem, BDS leaped into a new, advanced phase. It finally reached the mainstream.
In February, weeks after the end of Israel’s bloodbath in Gaza, the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) made history when it refused to offload an Israeli ship in Durban. In April, the Scottish Trade Union Congress followed the lead of the South African trade union federation, COSATU, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in adopting BDS against Israel to bring about its compliance with international law. In May, the University and College Union (UCU), representing some 120,000 British academics, reiterated its annual support for the logic of boycott against Israel, calling for organizing an inter-union BDS conference later this year to discuss effective strategies for implementing the boycott.
Most recently, this last September, the Norwegian government’s pension fund, the third largest in the world, divested from an Israeli military contractor supplying equipment to the illegal Wall in violation of the ICJ ruling. Shortly after that, a Spanish ministry excluded an Israeli academic team representing a college illegally built on occupied Palestinian land from participating in an academic competition. Also in September, the British Trades Union Congress, representing over 6.5 million workers, adopted the boycott, ushering in a new chapter in the spread of BDS that reminds observers of the beginning of the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa. According to concrete, persistent and mounting indicators, Palestinians are witnessing the arrival of their "South Africa moment."
Amidst all this comes the Goldstone report, quite surprisingly — given the judge’s strong connections with Israel and Zionism — providing the straw that may well break the camel’s back: irrefutable evidence, meticulously researched and documented, of Israel’s deliberate commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Despite its clear shortcoming, this report presented Israel with the daunting and not entirely improbable prospect of standing trial at an international tribunal, a development that would effectively end Israel’s impunity and open the possibility of finally applying international justice to its crimes and persistent violations of international law. In this dire context for Israel, only one strategic weapon in its arsenal could be used to fend off the foretold crushing legal and political defeat: the PA. And it did use it indeed at the right time, in a fatal way, almost killing the Goldstone report.
Ultimately, the failure of the UN Human Rights Council to adopt the Goldstone report is another proof, if any is needed, that Palestinians cannot hope at the current historical moment to obtain justice from the US-controlled so-called "international community." Only through intensified, sustainable and context-sensitive civil society campaigns of boycott and divestment can there be any hope that Israel will one day be compelled to end its lawlessness and criminal disregard of human rights and recognize the inalienable Palestinian right to self determination. This right, as expressed by the great majority of the Palestinian people, comprises ending the occupation, ending the legalized and institutionalized system of racial discrimination, or apartheid, and recognizing the fundamental, UN-sanctioned right of the Palestine refugees to return to their homes of origin, like all other refugees around the world, including Jewish refugees of World War II.
We simply cannot afford to give up on the UN, though. Human rights organizations and international civil society must continue to help the Palestinian struggle to pressure the UN, at least its General Assembly, to adopt and act upon the recommendations of the Goldstone report at all levels. If the UN fails to do so it will send an unambiguous message to Israel that its impunity remains intact and that the international community will stand by apathetically the next time it commits even more egregious crimes against the indigenous people of Palestine. This would gravely undermine the rule of law and promote in its stead the law of the jungle, where no one will be protected from total chaos and boundless carnage.
Omar Barghouti is a founding member of the BDS movement (www.BDSmovement.net)