Palestine ABBAS UNBELIEVABLE ABSURDITY
israel to investigate itself... under pressure of Obama.
Can you believe it?
Palestinian President Abbas Faces Uproar for Aiding US-Israeli Derailment of UN Report on Gaza Assault
Palestinian outrage continues over the Palestinian Authority?s decision to back the postponement of a Human Rights Council vote on the Goldstone investigation into Israel?s assault on Gaza. The move reportedly came after heavy American and Israeli pressure.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The Security Council has rejected Libya?s request to hold an emergency session on South African Judge Richard Goldstone?s recently released report on Israel?s three-week war on Gaza last winter. Instead, the Council has agreed to advance a regular meeting to address the issues it raises.
The 575-page report by the United Nations fact-finding mission accuses Israel of war crimes and deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza. It also accuses Hamas of indiscriminate rocket fire. The report urges that the UN Security Council refer allegations to the International Criminal Court if either side fails to investigate and prosecute suspects. Some 1,400 Palestinians and thirteen Israelis were killed during the war on Gaza.
Meanwhile, outrage among Palestinians continues to rise over Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas?s decision to withdraw support for further action in regard to the Goldstone investigation. Last week, Abbas backed the postponement of a vote by the Human Rights Council to send the report to the Security Council for possible action. The decision reportedly came after heavy American and Israeli pressure.
This is Gaza resident Najma Abbas.
NAJMA ABBAS: [translated] We have rights, and we demand to have them, despite those who disagree. The European countries agreed and were willing to sign on. How is it possible that our own flesh and blood refused?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch criticized the Obama administration?s actions regarding the Goldstone report.
BILL VAN ESVELD: Due to American pressure, strong pressure from Washington, the Palestinians have withdrawn their request that the UN act on the Goldstone report. What the US has effectively done is sent a strong signal that Israel doesn?t need to investigate itself, because that was the recommendation of the Goldstone report.
JUAN GONZALEZ: After six days of protests, a senior Abbas adviser told the Voice of Palestine radio Wednesday that, quote, ?What happened is a mistake, but (it) can be repaired.?
Well, for more on the report and the Palestinian Authority?s decision, I?m joined now here in the firehouse studio by Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi. He is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and the author of several books, including Sowing Crisis: American Dominance and the Cold War in the Middle East and The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
RASHID KHALIDI: Thank you, Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the reaction over the past week in the Palestinian?in the Occupied Territories, as well as in the Middle East in general? Have you seen anything like this in the past in regard to the Palestinian Authority leadership?
RASHID KHALIDI: I actually haven?t. This is unprecedented. You have a wide range of calls, not only condemning what Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, did in instructing his representatives in Geneva to call for postponement of consideration of the Goldstone report, but we?re now hearing calls for the President?s resignation. These are not just coming from Hamas or the usual quarters. They seem to be coming from a very broad range of civil society groups, even members of the President?s own political party, Fatah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the prospects of that happening?I mean, obviously, in Gaza there have been posters up now?
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
JUAN GONZALEZ: ?in the streets in recent days calling Mahmoud Abbas a traitor. But the prospects of any change in leadership, from your perspective?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I think he?s definitely been weakened by this. There?s no question that Israel and the United States twisted their pliable client, if you want to call him that, much more than they had any reason to, in terms of what the traffic would bear, what his popularity and his legitimacy, which were very, very limited to begin with, would sustain. And the backlash has really been quite ferocious. I can?t remember seeing anything like this. I think he?s ly wounded.
Whether it will lead to a change or not, I don?t know. This comes at a time when there are efforts to bring about another reconciliation meeting between Fatah and Hamas, and it?s hard to say how this might play into it. There are a number of Arab countries that seem to be pushing hard in that direction. His being weakened in this circumstance may have an effect on that.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the report itself was rejected by Israel and was criticized by US officials. But what specifically did it recommend?
RASHID KHALIDI: It simply recommended that both the Palestinian Authority and Israel investigate the allegations that the Goldstone committee looked at: allegations of war crimes, allegations, in some cases, of crimes against humanity, by Israel, primarily, but also by Hamas. So it simply called for these two sides to investigate and then for the Human Rights Council in Geneva to refer the results of that, if needed, to the Security Council.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now the Palestinian Authority?at least in the last day or so, a couple of spokespeople have said that ?this was a mistake, we?re reconsidering it.? But what do you expect will happen at the Security Council now?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, I don?t expect very much to happen in the Security Council, frankly. It?s now been postponed to a regular meeting of the Security Council, which was scheduled to discuss the Middle East and which has, I guess, been moved up ?til next week?to next week, so it will be brought before the council presumably next week. I don?t see the United States changing its position of 360-degree support for Israel.
The problem here is that they are losing their ally in Ramallah, and they?re acceding to having it even considered yesterday by the council. And considering moving up the meeting, I think, is a recognition of the fact that they?ve already done themselves some harm in Washington.
The interesting things are happening in Palestine now, I think. I think that the idea that a Palestinian leader would prevent an international body from even considering a report, which condemns both Hamas, but primarily Israel, is horrific to most Palestinians and most people in the Arab world. The satellite TV stations are focusing on this to a very high degree, and the outrage is really quite palpable, and from one end of the spectrum to the other.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, this all comes as the US envoy George Mitchell is preparing for?will be arriving in the Middle East again?
RASHID KHALIDI: Yet again.
JUAN GONZALEZ: ?yet again?
RASHID KHALIDI: Yet again.
JUAN GONZALEZ: ?to attempt another round of negotiations for a peace settlement. Your sense of how this will affect the ability of the Palestinian Authority to have any leverage in those discussions?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, the Israelis have delivered yet another slap in the face to Senator Mitchell and to the Obama administration. This has been their habit for decades. Every time an American envoy comes, a new settlement is opened or some outrageous statement is made.
The Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has basically said, ?There?s not going to be a deal. There won?t be peace with the Palestinians. We just have to manage this conflict,? and something along those lines, in effect saying there?s no point.
So I think that you have an Israeli government that seems to be hardening its position, and in particular with the actions that the government is taking in Jerusalem, where there?s a very high level of tension over subterranean excavations by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, which is increasingly being infiltrated by extremist settler groups, where there have been home demolitions and expulsions of people from their homes and expansion of new settlements. The Israelis are, in effect, staking a very tough position out, ahead of any talks that Mitchell might be able to start.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And how do you expect Mitchell to function in light of the fact that the?at least Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have made it clear?
LEZ: ?precondition of real negotiations is a halt to the settlement expansions?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, they?ve announced a number of measures involving new tenders for housing and settlements, new building in Jerusalem, which the Netanyahu government says is excluded from any ban even if there were to be one, such that the question now will be, who is going to back down? Will Mahmoud Abbas, who?s, as I think everybody agrees, been significantly weakened by his own mistakes in this Goldstone matter?is he going to be able to back down further on this issue and say, ?Sure, we?ll talk with you about dividing the pie, while you continue to eat it up?? He?s in a much, much, much more difficult position. Will the Obama administration continue to back down in the face of Israeli intransigence? I don?t know.
JUAN GONZALEZ: There have also been some reports in the Arab press of some?pointing to a possible corruption situation with Mahmoud Abbas?s son and a cell phone company that?
RASHID KHALIDI: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk about that?
RASHID KHALIDI: Sure. One element of the blackmail, which reportedly has been exercised by the Israelis on the Palestinian Authority in order to persuade them not to go forward with consideration of the Goldstone report in Geneva, was a denial of the granting of a license to a second Palestinian cell phone company in the Occupied Territories.
The situation now is that there?s one Palestinian company, not allowed to build cell phone towers in over 60 percent of the West Bank, and a scad, four or five, I think, or six Israeli companies, which build, all over the West Bank, cell phone towers. And so, you basically can?t get decent reception. What the Palestinian Authority had been asking for was to have the right to build in occupied Palestine another set of cell phone towers, so that, A, there could be competition, and B, there could be better coverage.
Now, the corruption angle has to do with the apparent fact that Mahmoud Abbas?s son is involved with that second company. The bigger issue, of course, is the Israelis denying this extension of cell bandwidth and denial of permission to build, and thereby strangling the Palestinian economy. Cell phones are really crucial, given the fragmentation of territory caused by the way the occupation functions in the West Bank.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Rashid Khalidi, professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, I want to thank you for being with us.
RASHID KHALIDI: Thanks, Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And we?ll be continuing to cover this story in the future.
MIDEAST: Finally Taking Off Their Gloves
Analysis by Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler
JERUSALEM, Oct 7 (IPS) - Amazingly, just when all four parties - the U.S., its allies in the Arab world, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel - seemed to have hit rock bottom in terms of the prospects of moving the region away from conflict and towards peace, all of a sudden everything seems to be pointing in the exact opposition direction.
Gloom is proving a catalyst for action - at least hoped-for action.
It's all the more amazing, because it comes at a time when all sides are taking off their gloves - both to punch their own positions hard, but also, as boxers do before a bout when they embrace one another - embrace the latest U.S. led peace-effort.
The new situation crystallised when the United Nations Human Rights Council decided to delay the vote on the findings of the damning Goldstone Report about Israel's war in Gaza. And this, in line with a request by the Palestinian Authority, under pressure from the U.S., and with full support of its Arab peace partners.
The punches are more or less as follows.
The United States: True, the U.S. has reduced its demand on Israel with respect to settlements building - from a "freeze" to "restraint". But President Barack Obama continues to make clear he's fully engaged and determined to get the parties back to the negotiating table.
The most striking evidence of that commitment is the decisive way in which Washington has handled the Goldstone Report.
The U.S. Administration feared that the report charging Israel with war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity would create an imposing obstacle in the way of any new negotiations between Israel and the PA.
The report has hardened positions on both sides.
Israel: Ample proof was a palpable threat from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He declared that if the findings were adopted by the Human Rights Council, that would be tantamount to inflicting a "fatal blow to peace".
The Palestinian Authority: President Mahmoud Abbas had already been under stringent criticism for having agreed to participate in the tripartite New York meeting with Obama and Netanyahu.
His critics said this made the Palestinian cause weak since Netanyahu, in their view, got away with evading the settlement freeze.
Now, Abbas's Authority is being pummelled for capitulating to the U.S. insistence that he instruct his delegation in Geneva to delay the vote on the Goldstone Report, effectively shelving any further discussion on Israel's "war crimes" for six months.
Increasingly under fire from within his own constituency, on Sunday, Abbas ordered an internal investigation into why his government had agreed to take the lead to delay the vote, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.
At a time when the rival Palestinian governments - that of the PA in the West Bank, and that of Hamas in Gaza - have announced that they've agreed to sign a reconciliation charter in Cairo on Oct. 26, the controversial Abbas decision has added ammunition to the Hamas argument that the PA abandoned their own people in Gaza during the war.
Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh said Abbas's decision "cannot be seen as a conciliatory act," and reflected an attitude that "would perpetuate internal turmoil."
Other Hamas leaders at a special legislative session held in Gaza City accused Abbas of committing "national treason".
And, another top Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, said that Abbas could no longer be considered a Palestinian, and demanded that he be stripped of his citizenship.
The Arab World: In the broader Arab world, dismay was reflected in what the London-based Arabic paper Al-Quds Al-Arabi had to say: the shelving of the Report with PA acquiescence was a betrayal, as if the PA was lining up with Israel which had wantonly killed so many Palestinian civilians.
This mood compounded the steadfast resistance which the U.S. Arab allies had shown to Washington's call on them to initiate confidence-building measures towards Israel as a quid pro quo for a settlement freeze.
Then came the dramatic Goldstone Report, and the yet more dramatic turnabout to put it off.
Embraces have replaced punches.
The US: For Washington, the postponement is all about making sure that the chance to restart peace talks is not squandered.
But, if, in the U.S. view, the timing of the report was wholly wrong, that does not mean that the Goldstone Report will not be used, alongside U.S. strictures on settlements building, as a Sword of Damocles held over Israel should it play only hard ball in the negotiations during the coming six months.
The Arab world: That is precisely the reason why Arab allies of the U.S. and other Muslim states agreed to accept the PA lead and go along with the deferral of the report.
The Arab states seemed actually quite relieved by the U.S. gambit.
The Palestinian Authority: Buffeted from all sides, the Abbas Authority looks to have caved in on all fronts. In fact, it could be perceived as having demonstrated unusual determination and courage. Following the hearts of frustrated Arab public opinion would have been an easy alternative.
Instead, by accepting Washington's call for a six-month delay, the PA long- term strategic interests could well be served. It promotes the possibility of keeping the U.S. very much on the Palestinian side in terms of what will be the eventual outcome of the negotiations with Israel.
Israel: By threatening peace if the Goldstone report were to be on the table, Netanyahu may again be preparing to parade a victory, just as he did on the settlements issue.
But, in stark contrast to Palestinian-U.S. relations, that may prove short-term satisfaction.
The Israeli leader has demonstrated that he is not particularly predisposed to relinquish any occupied territory.
But, Netanyahu may soon come to discover that as on the question of the settlements, on the core peace issues (including Jerusalem's future), there will have to be substantial talks - sooner, rather than later - if he wants the moral questions aroused by the Report not to haunt Israel permanently.
The controversial six-month freezing of the report in fact brings together all the strands of a potential breakthrough to a settlement or - alternatively - major crises on several fronts:
- The moral Sword of Damocles hangs over Israel;
- Six-month is also the period agreed between the PA and Hamas for new elections in the middle of 2010;
- Within the same time, Obama will have expected substantial peace talks to have begun;
- Most critically, the coming half-year will be a containing period, not only with regard to Israel and the Palestinians, but also with respect to Iran. It will give Obama enough leeway to handle more effectively the talks on curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The gloves are indeed off.
Comprehensive peace was the goal, Barack Obama declared solemnly, when he struck the opening bell for a new peace move in his landmark speech in Cairo back in June.
Comprehensive is indeed the name of the U.S. Middle East game with Obama as referee. (END/2009)