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.
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.