Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Has Mahmoud Abbas Lost All Credibility among Palestinians?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Has Mahmoud Abbas Lost All Credibility among Palestinians?

Article excerpt

The now-reversed decision by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) to defer until March 2010 a vote on the Goldstone report by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) constituted "a huge betrayal" of the Palestinian people, critics in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and abroad charged.

The 575-page report (see November 2009 Washington Report, p. 13) presented strong evidence that Israel engaged in multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity during its 22-day assault on Gaza last December and January. Dubbed "Operation Cast Lead," the attack employed ground troops, F-16 warplanes, white phosphorus, missiles, tanks and helicopter gunships, destroying key elements of Gaza's infrastructure, killing more than 1,400 men, women and children, and injuring more than 5,000 Gazans.

Although the Palestinians have no army, navy or air force, the report cited evidence that militia fighters in Gaza, which is under the leadership of the Hamas government, likewise engaged in human rights violations and war crimes. The indiscriminate firing of homemade rockets into Israel damaged several buildings and killed three civilians, the report found. Ten Israeli soldiers also died during the assault, four as the result of friendly fire.

International law experts in the Netherlands expected that "the report by UNHRC would likely pave the way for the prosecution of the state of Israel and several of its leaders for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC)." Palestinians hoped they would finally get some measure of justice after more than six decades of oppression and occupation.

The report's primary recommendation was that both Israel and Hamas conduct internal investigations of the report's findings. Asserting that the report was biased-despite the fact that its author is a Jewish Zionist-Israel rejected Goldstone's recommendation. Under intense pressure from the U.S. and Israel, the PA opted to support deferring the UNHRC vote on the damning report. Thus, on Oct. 2, in a decision endorsed by several Arab states, the 49-member council postponed until March 2010 a vote to refer the report to the Security Council.

Two weeks later, following the uproar over the postponement, the UNHRC held an exceptional session on Oct. 15 at which it adopted a resolution condemning Israel and referring Goldstone's report to the U.N. General Assembly. Of the UNHRC's 49 members, 25 voted for the resolution and 6 against, with 11 member states abstaining, according to U.N. sources.

Following his government's decision, PA Economics Minister Bassam Khoury, an independent Christian appointee, resigned in protest, and 16 Palestinian human rights groups, as well as several international-including Israeli-ones denounced the decision. The Palestinian groups registered their displeasure in a joint statement, insisting the decision to postpone "represents the triumph of politics over human rights. It is an insult to all victims and a rejection of their rights."

The decision to delay the vote and investigation not only was seen as a betrayal of the people of Gaza, but opened a wide fissure within Arab ranks. Following the announcement of the decision, protests erupted throughout Gaza and the West Bank, many led by families who had lost their loved ones in the Israeli attack.

Abbas' capitulation to U.S. and Israeli pressure appeared counter-productive given his waning support within Palestine and, indeed, his own Fatah party. …

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