There is no legal determination on Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, only opinions + debate

Here are some excerpts, which I’m recording here as notes for the record, from a discussion about the Israeli seizure of the Flotillas headed to Gaza and Israel’s continuing naval blockade of Gaza, in comments made on a post on Mondoweiss, written by Steve Fake and published on 19 July, entitled “Destination? Gaza!: The Freedom Flotilla II meets the Israeli military:, which is posted here.

What I found interesting was the exchange about legality.

Hostage wrote on July 20, 2011 at 7:26 am:

The official commentary on Article 59 of the Geneva Conventions describes many of the customary prohibitions that Israel is deliberately violating regarding supplies of essential items and relief consignments to a civilian population. The convention provides that free passage of relief consignments is mandatory:
The principle of free passage, as set forth in this clause, means that relief consignments for the population of an occupied territory must be allowed to pass through the blockade; they cannot under any circumstances be declared war contraband or be seized as such by those enforcing the blockade. The obligation to authorize the free passage of relief consignments is accompanied by the obligation to guarantee their protection. It will not be enough merely to lift the blockade and refrain from attacking or confiscating the goods. More than that will be required: all the States concerned must respect the consignments and protect them when they are exposed to danger through military operations“.

The official commentary also stipulates that the safeguards for verification and supervision,
which were prescribed in the interests of the Powers granting free passage, must in no case be misused in order to make the rule [i.e. free passage] itself inoperative or unduly delay the forwarding of relief“.

France and Turkey were the parties to the landmark S.S. Lotus case in which the PCIJ ruled that “the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law upon a State is that – failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary – it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another State.” The US abstained from the vote on UN SC 1860. I doubt that Bibi is eager to take on a permanent member of the Security Council in an international court over the the legality of Israel’s blockade or which state owns Gaza’s territorial waters 😉

Continue reading There is no legal determination on Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, only opinions + debate

UNHCR to convene Thursday afternoon in Geneva on Goldstone Report

The Palestinian leadership has managed to get support from enough of the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva to agree to re-convene on Thursday afternoon to re-consider the Goldstone report, mandated by the HRC, to look into last winter’s war in Gaza.

The meeting is expected to go into Friday as well.

The Palestinian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi reportedly said on Tuesday that he succeeded in getting 18 of the 47 members to sign the request to convene the HRC in Extraordinary Session, because it is not meeting in regular session now.

[The 18 HRC members who signed the request are: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Senegal.]

Getting the meeting was the easy part. The hard part is: what’s next?

Continue reading UNHCR to convene Thursday afternoon in Geneva on Goldstone Report

Abbas finally addresses his people – and things get worse

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) made a live televised speech at 8pm on Sunday evening — his first since the storm of protests about the Palestinian decision to withhold support, in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva some ten days ago, for the report issued by the Fact-Finding Mission into last winter’s Gaza war, headed by South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone.

It didn’t help.

Leadership has been badly lacking in the crisis that has developed since that decision, which has still not been fully explained even after tonight’s speech.

Abu Mazen instead repeated that he had established an investigative committee (a week ago today) — and he made the surprising suggestion that the mandate of this committee is to judge whether or not the decision taken in Geneva — to delay consideration of the Goldstone report’s findings for almost six-months (until March 2010) — was right, or not. Abbas said he wanted to be interviewed by the committee, and he said that if his investigative committee says it was a wrong decision, Abbas said, we will accept it — and, he added, “We are courageous enough to admit that we were wrong”.

Continue reading Abbas finally addresses his people – and things get worse

Political crisis continues in Ramallah

Due to having to deal with an internet connectivity problem I’ve had for the past month, I was not in Manara Square (circle) in Ramallah early this afternoon when demonstrators arrived protesting the circumstances surrounding a  Palestinian decision not to support the Goldstone report on last winter’s IDF war in Gaza , but I was told by the CEO of a wireless internet provider who has an office with a full view of the scene that he saw “about 100 of them” carrying yellow (yellow! the color of Fatah) signs.  He said that “they shouted that they were not satisfied and wanted answers about what happened.   The security forces behaved well, and nobody was beaten.

This shows how big this crisis is, and how everyone is conscious that everything could fall apart very fast now — and that people are now working very hard to try to contain things by working together.

Worst Palestinian political crisis in years

There is chaos in Ramallah, as Palestinian politicians fumble for explanations of why — and even how — the Palestinian Ambassador in Geneva was authorized to withdraw support for a resolution he had been pushing to have the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva endorse the findings of the Goldstone Fact-Finding Mission that looked into last winter’s Gaza war.

Instead, members of the Islamic Conference and other countries in Africa and Asia tabled a motion — and this is what passed and was adopted instead — calling for the Human Rights Council to discuss the report again in March 2010.

“We just don’t know what happened”, said one official with the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit in Ramallah.

“Nobody seems to know”, he said.

PLO Executive Committee meeting - Maan photo published on Electronic Intifada

On Sunday, Palestinian President Mahoud Abbas ordered — after consulting with the PLO Executive Committee and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — an INVESTIGATION into how. exactly, the decision to withdraw support for resolution endorsing the Goldstone happened.

Then, Abbas travelled to Yemen.

Ma’an News Agency reported that “The secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, [Yasser] Abed Rabbo said in a statement that ‘after deliberating between President Abbas and members of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, President Abbas issued a decree to form a committee to find the reasons behind postponement of the debate on Goldstone’s report at the UN Human Rights Council” the statement added.

The three-member investigative committee is headed by PLO Executive Committee member Hanna Amireh, and includes Azmi Shuaibi, and  Rami Al-Hamdallah.  They are supposed to submit their report to the PLO EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (and not to the public) in two weeks, according to the statement issued in Abed Rabbo’s name.

But, if the Palestinian president doesn’t know how such a momentous decision was made — an astonishing admission in itself —  then isn’t a little more urgency required?

Many Palestinian officials in Ramallah were not answering their phone on Sunday afternoon.  So far, no  official has made any explanation to the public — not even saying that “We don’t know what happened”.

UPDATE: CORRECTION ON TUESDAY 6 OCTOBER – APPARENTLY THE FATAH CENTRAL COMMITTEE DID NOT MEET, ALTHOUGH SOME OF THE MEMBERS HAVE MADE STATEMENTS: One knowledgeable Palestinian source said that the Central Committee had condemned the withdrawal of support for the resolution endorsing the conclusions contained in the Goldstone report. The Agence France Presse (APF) quoted recently-elected Central Committee member Mohammed Dahlan, here, as saying “he was against delaying the vote to endorse the report. ‘Fatah fully supports the Goldstone report. We don’t know the exact reasons for delaying (the vote)’, he told AFP on Saturday”.

Nasser al-Qudwa, former Palestinian Ambassador to the UN in New York, who subsequently served under his uncle, Yasser Arafat, as PA Foreign Minister, is another one of the newly-elected members of the Fatah Central Committee. He said “We issued an official statement on Friday that was clearly supportive of the report and its recommendations, and expressing great regreat at what happened. We also called for the Goldstone report to be upheld in different arenas”. He said on the phone on Sunday that he had told various Palestinian and Arab media that “what happened was wrong, and should be rectified”, and he said that some “follow-up ideas” were being considered.

Among the ideas he mentioned were: calling on the UN Secretary-General to present the Goldstone Report to the UN Security Council directly [we have already predicted, in our previous post, that this will not happen], or possibly calling for an extraordinary session of the Human Rights Council. But for the U.S., who has already complained that too much of the Council’s attention has been focused on Israel already, this will be a very objectionable . And, I wonder which members of the Human Rights Council would be willing to go along with another Palestinian move, just after this fiasco?

The Palestinian Ambassador in Geneva, Ibrahim Kraishi, apparently received instructions in writing — “an official paper from Ramallah”, the knowledgeable Palestinian source said — but it has not yet been made clear who sent it. “These are the worst days ever for the Palestinian Authority,” this source added. “Say anything you like, I can only agree with you … This is very painful”.

The Palestinian Ambassador in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, is still there, and has not been recalled, this official said.

As we reported yesterday, here, he is the only Palestinian official whose fingerprints can be found on this move.

A demonstration has been called for Monday at noon in downtown Ramallah.  One big question is how the Palestinian security forces will behave.   In the past, they have been brutally repressive of any anti-regime demonstrations.

One likely fall guy, or scapegoat, appears at the moment to be Riyad Al-Maliki, who is the Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister.  Reuters reported that “Abbas’s foreign minister, Riyad al-Malki, said the Authority agreed with postponing until March a vote that could lead to the Security Council referring Israel and Hamas to the International Criminal Court. Israel has denounced the report as biased”.  This report is posted here.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is also taking a share of the blame.

But, a few very well-connected Palestinian officials are pinning the blame squarely on the Palestinian Ambassador in Geneva. And YNet is reporting that “According to another PA official … the fact that Israel’s envoy to the UN in Geneva made the agreement public ‘complicated matters’ for the Authority and made it appear as though it were cooperating with Israel ‘at the expense of those who were killed in Gaza’.” This YNet story is published here .

So, by this reasoning if he had dissembled and lied and been vague, the Palestinian Ambassdor in Geneva would have done a good job?

However, Amira Hass reported in Haaretz on Sunday that “Palestinian sources told Haaretz that Abbas made the decision to delay the vote immediately after meeting with the U.S. Consul General last Thursday, without the knowledge of the PLO leadership or the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and without any consultation … The Palestinian sources said they believed that the consul general had passed on an unequivocal request from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ensure that the document remain on the table at the Human Rights Council … Abbas on Saturday made his first direct comments about media speculation on the issue, saying that his initial position had been misrepresented and that this was not a case of him withdrawing his support for the Goldstone report”. Amira Hass also reported that this situation has “shocked the Palestinian public”. Her article can be read in full here.

AFP reinforced this line, reporting that a senior member of the PLO said, under condition of anonymity that “Abu Mazen (Abbas) was himself responsible for this decision … He was under pressure from many states, especially the United States and Britain”.

UPDATE: Abbas himself said in an interview shown on Monday on Al-Arabiyya TV and Al-Jazeera TV that it wasn’t such a big deal, that people should be patient, and that March 2010 is just around the corner.

Palestinian Economy Minister Basem Khoury resigned on Saturday in protest of the decision to withdraw support from the Goldstone report. Khoury had recently taken heavy flak for meeting Israeli Minister for “Regional” Cooperation, and had promised not to do it again in the current circumstances. Now, he has resigned.

Planning Minister Ali Jarbawi said “someone made a mistake” and that he would seek an explanation at a Cabinet meeting on Monday, according to the Associated Press (AP). The AP report added that “Abbas’ critics are unlikely to go after Abbas personally and are more likely to seek the dismissal of advisers seen as encouraging him to take the decision. Abbas aides have defended the decision, saying the Palestinians needed more time to win international support for the Goldstone report”. This AP report is posted here. This AP report also cast doubt on the reported motives for the resignation of the economy minister: “It was unclear whether the resignation was to protest Abbas’ decision, and Khoury declined comment”.

Palestinian Minister of Social Affairs Majida Al-Masri said Saturday that the official Palestinian stance on the UN-backed Goldstone report harmed Palestinian national interests and embarrassed supporters of the Palestinian people, according to a report by Ma’an News Agency which added that “The first member of the caretaker government to speak out against the Palestine Liberation Organization move, Al-Masri … called the stance of the Palestinian ambassador to the UN ‘contradictory to Palestinian national consensus’, and a move that ‘angered friends and allies of the Palestinian people’.  Al-Masr is, a member of the politburo of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).  Ma’an noted that ” DFLP leaders also accused the PLO, of which Hamas is not a member, of making a decision that ‘deepened Palestinian rivalry and posed questions about the motives for such a stance and the decision makers who gave directives’.”   Ma’an’s report can be read in full here.

In another report, Ma’an noted that “A spokesperson for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) slammed the role of the Palestinian Authority … and described the PA decision as ‘irresponsible’ and one that deeply harms the Palestinian struggle … In his statement, the PFLP spokesperson said the PA request to delay the Goldstone report was putting to waste what could have been a major tool in the Palestinian struggle, and in fact encourages Israel and Israeli forces to continue to practice oppression against the Palestinian people. ‘There are no justifications for these actions’, a statement said.”   This Ma’an report added that “When probed for a rationale PA sources said they wanted ‘unanimity’ in the Human Rights Council on the report, and noted discussion on the matter would have a negative influence on the peace negotiations.   This Ma’an report is posted here.

The only explanation that has given for the decision to withdraw support from the vote is “American pressure”.

The U.S, Administration seems not to have correctly calculated the Palestinian public reaction, and its revulsion against this move. The Palestinian Authority is in danger of losing legitimacy.

Families in Gaza who lost relatives, and who also lost their homes and sources of livelihood were devastated by the decision. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh joined them at a press conference in Gaza City to denounce what had happened. Haniyeh reportedly called the decision to withdraw Palestinian support for the Goldstone report “reckless and irresponsible”.

Palestinian Academic Salman Salman said at the end of a three-day conference on “the fading prospects for a state” at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis, outside Jerusalem, on Saturday that “It was stunning to see what happened yesterday on TV, the withdrawal of the resolution … It never happened before. Why? Because it might make Israel angry? If so, what kind of peace do we think we will have?”

One respected Palestinian journalist said on the phone on Sunday that he was angry — and that everybody he knows is angry. “I think it’s a catastrophe”, he added.

Another Palestinian journalist who works with the Palestinian Media Center said angrily on the phone that “the PA leadership knows very well what is behind the decision”. Although Palestinian Ambassadors are supposed to be appointed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) — the body that concluded the Oslo peace agreements with Israel. and that was recognized by Israel. As a result of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority (PA) was established as an interim authority in the occupied Palestinian territory. According to the Oslo Accords it is not supposed to conduct foreign policy. But, this journalist noted, it is now a “mixture”, and the PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki is appointing ambassadors with the full knowledge of Israel, he noted, without any apparent problem,

Last week, as we reported here Haaretz reported that the Israeli Defense Minister had made it clear that Israel would not agree to release telecommunications frequencies to the Palestinian Authority unless the Palestinians dropped attempts to get the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate last winter’s 22-day IDF Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. If Israel does not release the frequencies by October 15, the Wataniya mobile phone company set up between Palestinian and Kuwaiti, then Qatari, investors, will hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for substantial financial penalties due to the delay.

On October 1, Jerusalem-based Ben Lynfield had an excellent report in The Independent saying that “Israel is threatening to kill off a crucial West Bank economic project unless the Palestinian Authority withdraws a request to the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged Israeli crimes during last winter’s Gaza war. Shalom Kital, an aide to defence 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. ‘It’s a condition. We are saying to the Palestinians that “if you want a normal life and are trying to embark on a new way, you must stop your incitement”, Mr. Kital said. “”We are helping the Palestinian economy but one thing we ask them is to stop with these embarrassing charges”. As long as the Wataniya Mobile company is unable to begin its operations, communications costs are likely to remain inordinately high for Palestinian businesses and individuals. But thwarting the company benefits four unauthorized Israeli operators who make sizeable profits in the Palestinian market using infrastructure they have set up in the illegal Israeli settlements across the West Bank … The Israeli stance on the frequencies marks a flouting of the efforts of the international community’s Middle East envoy, Tony Blair, who last month urged that the’is very aware’ there will be no release unless the Palestinians drop their request to the ICC”. Ben Lynfield’s report in The Independent can be read in full here.

The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah reported on 2 October, citing in part Ben Lynfield’s story in The Independent, that “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 Electronic Intifada story is here.

However, it is not likely that even the financial penalties that MAY be chalked up by delays in the Wataniya deal are enough to have justified the very substantial political costs that the Palestinian Authority may pay after having withdrawn its support for a UN Human Rights council resolution endorsing the Goldstone report.

There may be quid pro quo that were offered that have not yet publicly been revealed.

But so far, the only change is that Israeli sources are reporting that they expect negotiations with the Palestinians to resume this week during, or right after, a forthcoming visit by U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell. But, it was not the Israelis who broke off the talks, but the Palestinians, and during the very IDF military operation against Gaza that the Goldstone report is all about. This would, then, be yet another Palestinian concession…

Meanwhile, the political crisis that is developing now is threatening the very legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership. The U.S. and any others involved in putting this pressure on the Palestinians may have badly miscalculated.

Is there a Quid Pro Quo – or was it a cave-in?

The Palestinian decision to “withdraw” support for a resolution they were pushing in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva remains unexplained — at least, to the Palestinian people — on Friday night.

The draft resolution would have called for support of the report submitted by South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, who was appointed to head the Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission on last winter’s Gaza. The resolution would also have referral the Goldstone report to the UN General Assembly for action. Instead, another resolution was adopted to postpone consideration of the report’s findings.

The news was leaked by Israeli media on Thursday evening. On Friday afternoon in Geneva it become official: the Human Rights Council members agreed to “postpone” consideration of the report’s conclusions until next March, 2010.

Even though Friday is the normal Palestinian weekend day off, there was no effort to explain to the Palestinian people why their leadership “withdraw” backing for an immediate vote by the UN Human Rights Council.

Instead, there was confusion and disarray.

Continue reading Is there a Quid Pro Quo – or was it a cave-in?

Report: Palestinians bow to pressure on Goldstone Report

A surprising report in Haaretz on Thursday night: Israel is now off the hook at the United Nations, because ” The Palestinian Authority on Thursday decided to drop its draft resolution condemning Israel’s conduct during the Gaza Strip offensive, in effect deferring its adoption of the Goldstone’s Commission report accusing both sides of war crimes. The PA had originally planned to present to the Human Rights Council for a vote in Geneva on Friday. The decision not to pursue the resolution means that any similar effort will have to wait until at least March, a political source in Jerusalem said. The source added that the decision appears to be based on pressure from the Obama administration, exerted by way of U.S. representatives in Geneva, as well as through contacts between Washington and Ramallah. The Obama administration has told the Palestinians that a renewal of the peace process must come before any diplomatic initiatives based on the Goldstone report, or any other initiatives that could stifle efforts to renew Israel-PA negotiations. This Haaretz report can be read in full here .

(Maybe PA officials also had their own reasons to drop their support for the Goldstone report — maybe somebody in Ramallah finally actually read the report, and discovered that the Goldstone mission also concluded that there have been violations of human rights, by all sides, all over the occupied Palestinian territory.)

Continue reading Report: Palestinians bow to pressure on Goldstone Report

Netanyahu discusses establishing Israeli commission of inquiry on Gaza war

The Jerusalem Post reported that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was expected to meet with his top ministers on Wednesday evening, for the second time in one day, to discuss establishing a commission of inquiry to investigate IDF actions during Operation Cast Lead”.

However, this is not being painted as a any kind of concession to those who have been calling on Israel to establish its own independent investigation.

The JPost stated that “The commission would aim to curb a recent wave of calls to prosecute Israeli leaders and top IDF officials for alleged war crimes, after the release of the Goldstone Report, Army Radio reported. According to Israel Radio, senior Israeli officials said that as the Goldstone report is full of lies and distortions, Israel should probe how Richard Goldstone and the other members of the commission reached their conclusions”.

Continue reading Netanyahu discusses establishing Israeli commission of inquiry on Gaza war

Goldstone defends his report on Gaza war before UN Human Rights Council — says Israel is still avoiding dealing with the substance of the report

South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, today defended before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva his fact-finding mission’s nearly 600-page long report on the 22-day Israeli military offensive in Gaza (27 December to 18 January).

He said he regretted that regret that “the response to date of the Government of Israel avoids dealing with the substance of the report”, which was published in an advance form on 15 September. Instead, he noted, the report “has been rejected in vehement terms by the Government of Israel. The call for transparent investigations has been rejected. The Government of Israel wishes to restrict its investigations to secret inquiries by the Military investigating itself. That would clearly not satisfy the legitimate expectations of the many victims of the Israeli military operations”.

The webcast of the meeting can be seen here .

In his statement to the Human Rights Council today, Justice Goldstone said that “The Mission decided that in order to understand the effect of the Israeli military operations on the infrastructure and economy of Gaza, and especially its food supplies, it was necessary to have regard to the effects of the blockade that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip for some years and has been tightened since Hamas became the controlling authority of Gaza. The Mission found that the attack on the only remaining flour producing factory, the destruction of a large part of the Gaza egg production, the bulldozing of huge tracts of agricultural land, and the bombing of some two hundred industrial facilities, could not on any basis be justified on military grounds. Those attacks had nothing whatever to do with the firing of rockets and mortars at Israel … The Mission looked closely and sets out in the Report statements made by Israeli political and military leaders in which they stated in clear terms that they would hit at the ‘Hamas infrastructure’. If ‘infrastructure’ were to be understood in that way and become a justifiable military objective, it would completely subvert the whole purpose of IHL [International Humanitarial Law] built up over the last 100 years and more. It would make civilians and civilian buildings justifiable targets. These attacks amounted to reprisals and collective punishment and constitute war crimes”.

Continue reading Goldstone defends his report on Gaza war before UN Human Rights Council — says Israel is still avoiding dealing with the substance of the report

Israel reportedly links telecommunications frequencies to PA request to ICC on Gaza war

Palestinian journalists have confirmed with sources in Ramallah a report that first appeared in Haaretz today, which said that Israeli officials are linking the release of telecommunications frequencies for a new Palestinian mobile phone operator to the withdrawal of the Palestinian Authority’s request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to investigate information published in the 15 September Goldstone report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council.

The Human Rights Council will discuss the Goldstone report in Geneva on Tuesday.

According to the Haaretz report, Israeli officials are furious at the Palestinian Authority (PA), and have accused it of being unfair, for asking the International Criminal Court to investigate information published in the Goldstone report.

Continue reading Israel reportedly links telecommunications frequencies to PA request to ICC on Gaza war