Where is Abu Mazen?

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, was due to return to Ramallah by now — the latest advisory said he would be back by Thursday night. There is still no sign of him yet.

U.S. Special Envoy on the Middle East George Mitchell is back in the region again to try to re-start Palestinian-Israeli talks that were broken off during last winter’s Israeli large-scale military operation in Gaza. Mitchell held talks with Israeli government ministers on Thursday, while the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stayed on in Rome to speak with the Pope. The U.S. State Department has announced that Mitchell will be meeting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Friday — and with the Palestinian President. But where?

And then, on Saturday, Mitchell is scheduled to meet Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Rumors circulated in Ramallah that Abbas is going to make a televised address to his people in the next day or so. Since the decision last week at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to delay — until March 2010 — consideration of the report into last winter’s Gaza war issued by a Fact-Finding Mission headed by South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone, Abbas has given no clear explanation to his increasingly angry people of how and why the decision was made.

A demonstration called by members of Fatah organizations was supposed to take place in Ramallah today — not about the Goldstone report, but rather to show support for the Palestinian position in East Jerusalem. However, many — including the demonstration’s organizers — decided not to attend, because Palestinian security forces reportedly insisted that, in order to obtain permission for the demonstration, the marchers should agree to wear business-like civilian attire, and carry posters with pictures of the Palestinian president.

UPDATE: THE JERUSALEM POST REPORTED SATURDAY — somewhat misleadingly — that “the PA has begun organizing demonstrations in support of Abbas in different parts of the West Bank. Organizers said the demonstrations, which began in Ramallah on Thursday, were in protest of the fierce campaign of incitement against Abbas over his decision to abandon Judge Richard Goldstone’s report on Operation Cast Lead”. Then, the JPost report did a 180 degree turn, and added, “PA civil servants and schoolchildren have been ordered to take to the streets and demonstrate in favor of Abbas, eyewitnesses told The Jerusalem Post. They said senior PA officials had threatened that anyone who refused to participate would be dismissed from his or her job”. This report also says that “About 40 Palestinian organizations have launched a campaign aimed at pressuring Abbas to resign. The organizations began collecting signatures on Thursday in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for a petition that strongly condemns Abbas’s decision and calls for his immediate resignation”. This report can be read in full here.

I haven’t found any other report corroborating that signature-collection campaign, at least not yet…

Some dozens of East Jerusalem Palestinians, and Palestinian citizens of Israel, have been camped out for over a week inside Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Haram ash-Sharif plateau in the Old City, because they feared an imminent attempt to seize control of part of the holy site by Jewish religious-nationalist forces who believe that the Second and possibly also the First Jewish Temples were situated there. Al-Jazeera Television is showing regular live shots of some dozens of Palestinian Muslims sleeping and/or praying inside Al-Aqsa.

While a high-ranking UN official visited the Al-Aqsa mosque compound to urge calm, U.S. envoy Mitchell was in Israel today, meeting various officials including State President Shimon Peres, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Alexander Lieberman, who said earlier in the day that it was unrealistic to think that a peace deal was within reach. He said that the Palestinians should just accept a “long-term intermediate agreement [that would create stability] … that leaves the tough issues for a much later stage”. Lieberman said in an interview on Israel Radio: “I will tell [Mitchell] clearly, there are many conflicts in the world that haven’t reached a comprehensive solution and people learned to live with it … But together with this, people made the most dramatic decision. To give up using force. To give up terror. And to stop inciting against one another”. This is posted here.

Meanwhile, a newly-elected member of the Fatah Central Committee, former Preventive Security Chief in the West Bank Jibril Rajoub (now very successfully serving as head of the Palestinian Football Union and the Palestinian Olympic Committee), told journalists at the Ministry of Information in Ramallah today that “The Fatah movement is awaiting the results of the investigation committee formed by President Abbas on the issue of Goldstone’s report … If we find it was an intentional mistake to thwart this report, we will deal with that in a harsh way.” In any case, Rajoub said that the controversy “does not justify continuing this farce and incitement, which benefits no one.” He was referring to statements coming from Hamas officials in recent days– though, Rajoub conceded, “It’s not possible for one Palestinian to avoid talking about the consequences of the Goldstone report”. Rajoub’s remarks were reported by Ma’an News Agency, here

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister in two governments after Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, but deposed by a very angry Mahmoud Abbas after the rout of Fatah Preventive Security forces in Gaza in mid-June 2007, reportedly said today that “I heard that Goldstone himself cried when he found out the report had been withdrawn for a vote at the UN Human Rights Council”. This is posted in another story on Ma’an here.

In consultations during a closed-door session yesterday in New York, the UN Security Council decided not to take up Libya’s suggestion to have an immediate debate on the report of the Goldstone Fact-Finding Mission into last winter’s Gaza war. The UN Human Rights Council decided, at Palestinian suggestion, to defer dealing with the report until March 2010.