U.S. State Dept: we did not pressure the Palestinians on Goldstone report

The U.S. did not “pressure” the Palestinian leadership to withdraw a resolution that was to have been submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week offering support for the conclusions contained in the Goldstone report on last winter’s war on Gaza. At least, this is what the US. State Department spokesperson, Ian Kelly, told reporters — in response to their questions — at the regular daily briefing in Washington on 5 October:

QUESTION: Can I ask about the Goldstone report? On Friday, the Palestinian Authority agreed in Geneva to go ahead and put – defer a vote for it to go to the Human – UN Human Rights Council. What role specifically did the United States play in pressuring the Palestinian Authority to make that decision?

MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t know if I would accept your characterization of pressuring. I think that we recognized that we had serious concerns with the recommendations and some of the allegations. We felt very strongly that while these investigations should be investigated and addressed, that we thought on the one hand that Israel had the kind of institutions that could address these allegations. And of course, we urged Israel to address these very serious allegations. But I think we had a broader concern that we didn’t want the report to distract us from our ultimate goal, which was to address the root causes of the tragic events of last January, and that’s the lack of a regional and lasting peace between the two parties – between the Israelis and the Palestinians. So we were concerned that we stay focused on that ultimate goal. And we are not saying that the allegations in the report – we’re not saying that they should be ignored. We simply do not want the report itself to become any kind of impediment to this ultimate goal. We appreciate the seriousness with which the Palestinians approach this very, very difficult issue, and we respect this decision to defer discussion of the report to a later date for the reasons that I just stated – that we want to make sure that we stay focused on the ultimate goal here.

QUESTION: You say you respect the Palestinians’ decision?

MR. KELLY: Yes.

QUESTION: Is that what was sort of discussed in the meeting between Abu Mazen and the U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem? That’s what’s being reported, that he strictly, specifically said that a message from Secretary Clinton is that he is to defer that report going to the UN Human Rights Council so that the Middle East peace process does not veer off track.

MR. KELLY: Well, in all honesty, I’m not aware of that meeting, and so I can’t comment on it. I’m not sure that we would comment on a meeting – on a confidential, diplomatic exchange between one of our diplomats and a representative of the Palestinian Authority. I’m just saying that we have been very frank about where we think the focus should be, and that should be on resolving this longstanding conflict.

QUESTION: Do you agree with Prime – with Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that this report, if it had gone to the Human Rights Council, would have dealt a fatal blow to the peace process? Do you agree with that assertion?

MR. KELLY: Well, I – that’s an assertion by the – by Mr. Netanyahu. Our – as I say, our priorities were that this process goes forward so we’re able to address the underlying causes. We are focused on that, and that is the most – that is our priority right now in dealing with the issues related to the Middle East.

QUESTION: You’re saying that there was no U.S. pressure on the Palestinians? That is a bit disingenuous, I think … Did you not – did you not discuss with the Palestinians the fact that you didn’t think that it was a good idea for it to go – for them to go ahead with this resolution?

MR. KELLY: I think we have said it publicly that we do not want —

QUESTION: Did you tell the Palestinians that?

MR. KELLY: — to have impediments on —

QUESTION: Exactly. Did you tell the Palestinians that?

MR. KELLY: Well, we’ve said it publicly.

QUESTION: Did you tell —

MR. KELLY: I’m saying it right now.

QUESTION: Yeah, but did you tell the Palestinians that?

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m not going to get into the details of our diplomatic conversations.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you’re talking – you’re saying it publicly right now that you didn’t – so it stands to reason that you told the Palestinians what you thought.

MR. KELLY: Not going to get into the details of a diplomatic conversation.

QUESTION: I don’t – I’m not aware of what my colleague asked about this meeting of the consul general and Abbas. But it’s my understanding this came up during the UN – at the UN with the Palestinians. Is that not correct?

MR. KELLY: Well, again, I’m not going to get into —

QUESTION: I mean in New York, not out in —

MR. KELLY: I think that this was something that was in the interests of all sides, and I don’t accept the characterization that we necessarily put pressure on anybody to – I think what we wanted to do was highlight that it was in the interests of all parties involved to set the sort of context that we’re looking for to start the negotiations.

QUESTION: Well, but leaving aside whether you pressured them or not, you did discuss it with them, didn’t you? I mean, you discussed it with the Israelis. It came up during the meeting with Secretary Clinton and the Secretary General —

MR. KELLY: Well, I’m certain we discussed it with them in Geneva as well. But I’m not going to get into the substance of the discussions.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Senator Mitchell’s trip to the Middle East this week?

MR. KELLY: I don’t have anything to announce, but we will very soon. It’s going to happen this week, so I would imagine that today or tomorrow we’ll be able to announce something. But I have nothing right now.

QUESTION: So you’re waiting for him to actually leave tomorrow before you announce it?

MR. KELLY: I hope it’s before he leaves.

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Five days ago, we reported here that a clearly nervous and less-experienced-with-the-media Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs in the State Department, Dr. Esther Brimmer, confirmed the U.S. diplomatic intervention in the Human Rights Council deliberations.

Dr. Brimmer told journalists that “We discussed with [Human Rights] council members – and in particular, we discussed with council members and the state of Israel, as well as the Palestinian Authority – how to approach the Goldstone report … We appreciate the decision to defer consideration of the Goldstone report, and we’ll continue to focus on working with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to re-launch permanent status negotiations as soon as possible. We also encourage domestic investigations of credible allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law”

It seems that the Palestinian leadership clearly thought, last week, that it was in its interest to defer consideration of the Goldstone report until next March, 2010. According to reports in the Arabic-language media, this was also indicated by the Secretary-General of the Islamic Conference Organization (OIC), Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who was in Washington meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton, just as the moves to put off the Goldstone report was made by representitives of the Islamic Conference group in Geneva (headed there by Pakistan’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council).

This embarrassing, but revealing, exchange between journalists and Assistant Secretary of State Dr. Esther Brimmer in Washington last Friday, 2 October seems to indicate that the OIC was not very perturbed by the change in strategy in accordance with the Palestinian leadership’s request in the UN Human Rights Council:

QUESTION: I’m sorry, can I go back to my – the last question I had on the – which was, did the Goldstone resolution come up in the meeting with the OIC Secretary General?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I think all members were – all members and people watching the Human Rights Council were pleased to see that there was a constructive approach to the Human Rights Council, and I think all observers watching the events in Geneva were satisfied to see that.

QUESTION: Did you hear the question correctly?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I did hear the question.

QUESTION: Did the subject of the Goldstone resolution – report and resolution come up in the meeting this morning between Secretary Clinton and the head of the – and the Secretary General of the OIC?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I think both of them were happy to see the progress made in Geneva.

QUESTION: So that’s a yes?

QUESTION: So it —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: My understanding is that they were both happy to see the progress made in Geneva, as were, I think, many observers who watched the situation in Geneva.

QUESTION: Well, okay. That’s fine. Was it discussed in the meeting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I think they looked at a whole range of issues where they said the cooperation between the United States and the OIC —

QUESTION: Well, I’m not saying that they didn’t look at anything else. I’m just asking if they – did they talk about the Goldstone report?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: My understanding was that they were satisfied to see what – the progress in Geneva. That was my understanding of the discussion.

QUESTION: Well, that’s fine, but did they talk about it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I can tell you what my understanding is of where the —

QUESTION: Well, I mean —

MR. CROWLEY: Let me help out a little bit. The Secretary General did bring it up during the meeting and did just underscore it was from the OIC standpoint, as well as from Secretary Clinton’s standpoint, a favorable step to take”.

At another point in the briefing, Dr. Brimmer said this — evading the question of U.S. “pressure”, and suggesting that everything occured according to a Palestinian decision:

QUESTION: On the Goldstone referral, how much pressure did the U.S. put on the Palestinians to defer this? And what do you hope to get from the deferral? Are you looking for Israel maybe to put a select number of people on trial? And it’s going to be six – a six-month delay. You expect – you really expect Hamas to do anything on their side in that six months?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Well, I’d say we appreciate the seriousness with which the parties addressed this issue, and the way they addressed it, really, during the session of the Human Rights Council. We’ve always said that the issue should be discussed in a constructive and non-divisive manner, and we’re grateful that that’s the approach that was taken by the parties to the report at this point. And the parties will now continue to look at it and prepare for the next session in March.

QUESTION: Quickly I got one more on Goldstone. This has just occurred to me. And that is, it’s my understanding that the United States had actually prepared an alternate draft for the Palestinians if they would withdraw their original resolution. Is that correct? Did – if it is correct, did the Israelis tell you that that also would not be acceptable to them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: We were prepared to, in case – first, in case the resolution – the Palestinian resolution came to the floor. We also did talk closely both to the Palestinians and to the Israelis about our main concerns of the report, what we would think a positive resolution – what it might look like. But clearly, it was the Palestinian resolution that was actually brought to the floor, so that’s what actually moved ahead”.

This briefing can be read in full here.

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In other words, even if the strategy might not have been the Palestinian leadership’s own idea, they were at the very least happy with it.

The Palestinian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, indicated at the time that the Goldstone report would have allowed six months, anyway, for Israel (and Hamas) to launch their own independent investigations into the Fact-Finding Mission’s recommendations on the Gaza war. That, he said, will take us, more or less, to March 2010.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said, in similar words at the beginning of this week, that it’s not such a big deal to wait until March 2010. Be patient, he said, even after the storm had already broken out back in Ramallah.

Meanwhile, as the Jerusalem Post reported today, “the head of the special commission of inquiry that was formed by Abbas [on Sunday] to study the circumstances that led to his controversial decision said on Tuesday that he still hasn’t received an official notice from the PA regarding his mission. Hana Amireh, member of the PLO Executive Committee, said he would decide whether to accept the appointment after hearing from Abbas about the commission’s mandate“. This can be found here.

So, the investigative committee named by Abbas hasn’t even started to work

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Today, nearly one week after news that the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva had been instructed to withdraw support from the draft resolution in support of the Goldstone resolution that he had been pushing, it has just been reported that Yasser Abed Rabbo, who is Secretary of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said on Wednesday that “we have the courage to admit there was a mistake”. This was reported on Israel’s YNet news website here and in the Jerusalem Post today, here.

Is Abed Rabbo trying to set an example for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? He is not, in any case, the first to say this.

Nasser Al-Qudwa, former Palestinian Foreign Minister when his uncle, Yasser Arafat, was alive has been saying since the weekend that this decision was a mistake — and that it should be rectified.

Haaretz reported that “The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to meet Wednesday [n.b. – in a closed-door session] to discuss Libya’s request for an emergency session on a report that accused Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas of committing war crimes during Israel’s offensive in Gaza … Libya holds two key positions in the UN which make it easier for the country to initiate a session on the report – it is a member of the Security Council, and one of its representatives is currently serving as the president of the General Assembly … If the Security Council session on the Goldstone report ends without a resolution or [with] an American veto, Libya could convene the General Assembly, whose vote cannot be vetoed. [n.b. – it’s still not so easy. There needs to be a majority of members in the UNGA who will agree to this] … A senior Western diplomat told Haaretz that in principle, Libya could convene a General Assembly session on the Goldstone report, but that he thought that ‘Libya will hesitate to take such an initiative as long as the Palestinian Authority is not interested in such a UN session. Libya will appear ridiculous if the involved party doesn’t want a session, and it calls for one’.” The Haaretz report is here

YNet added that “The PA is expected to send Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki to the UN in order to support the Libyan request that the Security Council consider the report”.

Haaretz noted that “Another arena where the Goldstone report could come up for vote in the UN’s fourth committee, which deals with political issues and holds sessions within the framework of the General Assembly”. This is not so easy, either. There is an agenda agreed for the Fourth Committee when it started its work in September, and to propose an addition might be difficult and complicated. One argument against a move of this sort is that the Third Committee will — eventually — receive the report of the Goldstone commission as part of the annual report of the UN Human Rights Council through the UN’s Economic and Social Council, which will meet next summer…

Another Haaretz report stated that “If Israel does not soften its positions on the peace process, the Palestinian Authority will resume pushing to get the Goldstone report moved to the Security Council, and thence to the International Criminal Court, an associate of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Haaretz Tuesday”. It is extraordinary how out of touch these “advisers” and “senior associates” are — the Palestinians should know from long experience that they cannot just get what they want by snapping their fingers.

As this Haaretz story notes, “The PA initially proposed that the HRC pass the report onto the Security Council, which has the power to ask the International Criminal Court to open a criminal case, but then withdrew its motion under pressure from the United States, which feared that such a move would derail Washington’s drive to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Abbas’ decision to comply with U.S. pressure and withdraw the motion sparked a storm of criticism against him from within the PA, as well as from Gaza and even Israeli Arabs, and since then, he has been busy with damage control. Abbas’ associate said that not only the U.S., but also Britain and China vehemently opposed the PA’s original motion. And since all three have veto power in the Security Council, referral to the Security Council would have accomplished nothing except to antagonize three major powers, he explained. Several Arab states also urged Abbas to withdraw the motion, after they too, came under pressure from Washington, he said“. What does this “senior associate” think will happen if the Palestinians try the same maneuver now?

Meanwhile, Israelis and Palestinians have been accusing each other of using this issue to deflect attention from what is going on in East Jerusalem, which is also very serious and dangerous.

Haaretz said in that report that “The growing criticism of Abbas’ decision is apparently what prompted him to publicly demand Tuesday that Arab states fight what he termed an Israeli takeover of Jerusalem, even though privately the PA is worried by the possibility of a conflagration in the city: It was an effort to divert attention from the Goldstone issue”. This Haaretz report is published here Palestinians say they suspect that Israeli officials are stoking tensions in East Jerusalem ias a tactic to distract attention and thus help avoid pressure from the American administration (!) for Israeli concessions.

The Goldstone report decision, however, has done something of another order of magnitude entirely: it has brought the political legitimacy of this Palestinian leadership into question. Aside from the usual Palestinian hesitation, driven by fragmentation, exhaustion, rivalries, and the need to calculate how this situation can evolve in such a way that might stop various and respective rivals from achieving their goals, there is also something much more going on here. It as if there is a collective holding of breath.

There is no evident legitimate replacement for the current leadership. And, everyone in Ramallah seems to be afraid that if the current leadership falls, there will be a free-for-all in the struggle to grab what is left, or what can be taken. Acquired privileges, rare and valuable in the midst of the vast torment of a people under a long-term belligerent military occupation, are at stake. It is like 1789. Think Mme. Desfarges…

For these reasons, every effort will be made within traditional Palestinian patterns of political and social concession to avoid the total collapse that can be seen in the abyss that has now opened up before everyone’s eyes.

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