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”.

In any case, Abbas has also ordered a reversal of the decision — some knowledgeable officials say it was made by him — to delay consideration of the Goldstone report in the Human Rights Council. On Monday, Palestinian envoys will continue their polling of the HR Council’s 47 members to see if it will be possible to reconvene to discuss the Goldstone report. Abbas confirmed to his people that in response to a firestorm of criticism, he had now instructed the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva to ask for the convening of a special session of the UN Human Rights Council to reconsider the Goldstone report.

He suggested that the decision to postpone consideration of the Goldstone report was prompted by concern about not having enough votes — and not by American pressure due to strong Israeli objections. Yet, all reports at the time indicated that there was sufficient support in the Council ten days ago. Now, it is another story — and there are reports that the Palestinians may not even get agreement to convene the special session they are seeking.

The strategy is almost inexplicable, and suggests a serious lack of understanding about how the international organizations work, and the dynamics of diplomacy.

While Abbas said that “I don’t care about the mumblings against me”, the Maan News Agency quoted Abbas as saying: “Our people have the right to criticize [their leaders], and the elected president should take all responsibility … I respect and appreciate the views of those who are angry, including the PLO factions, parties, and ordinary people, because their motivation was to bring [war] criminals to justice.”

There is just one exception, and that is Hamas. Just as reports emerged about the imminent arrival of the Egyptian proposal for reconciliation between Hamas and the Fatah party lead by Abbas, he chose to attack Hamas’ reaction to the fiasco in the Human Rights Council.

And, Hamas responded. At a conference on the Golan Heights in Damascus, Hamas’ leader Khaled Mashaal lambasted the situation, and called for better leadership within Fatah and within the overarching Palestine Liberation Organization (that Hamas has been negotiating to join).

“A true leadership would face the people and say, yes, we took the wrong decision. But today, it continues its lies”, Meshaal said. “This is not a leadership we can have confidence in”.

The Goldstone report is the straw that broke the camel’s back, Meshaal said. What happened was “our mistake, it was a Palestinian decision”, he added. He said Hamas believes that those involved in the fiasco concerning the decision about the Goldstone report should be put on trial, and new decision-makers should take their place. “Nobody believes the current leaders”.

He said that Hamas believes there is a conspiracy between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). “I don’t accuse them”, Meshaal said, “it was Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman who said that the PA had urged Israel to continue its military offensive in Gaza to oust the Hamas leadership.

Before the crisis over the Goldstone report, Meshaal said, much had been achieved in the national reconciliation efforts conducted with the help of Egypt and other Arab states. “Syria was pushing us to accept” as well, he indicated, “but the decision that was taken [by the Palestinians] in Geneva really sabotaged all these efforts”.

Most Fatah officials, however, dismiss this as mere posturing, and they say they believe that Hamas is very happy to have an excuse not to sign the reconciliation document prepared by Egypt.

Meshaal called for a return to principles, which he said must be determined by looking at what he called the roots of the whole Palestinian problem: “(1) The Israeli occupation of Palestine is not legal, and (2) resistance is our strategic right”.

Meshaal also said, at the beginning of his speech in Damascus, that “We Arabs say our only choice is peace … but the Israeli answer was NOTHING … We accepted territory on the basis of the 1967 borders, and full normalization with the Zionist state, but the Americans gave us a smile, and committed to the full defense of Israel … Obama spoke in a different language, but on the ground there is nothing. And what did Israel do? NOTHING”.

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