Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas tried on Sunday to defend his controversial decision to support deferring a vote on the damning Gaza war report at the UN Human Rights Council.
Abbas said the Palestinian delegation at the Geneva-based council backed the October 2 postponement of a vote on the so-called Goldstone report which was highly critical of Israel in order to gather maximum support for the measure.
‘Since we felt that we would not be able to gather enough support, we asked for the postponement of the draft resolution until the upcoming session of the Human Rights Council in March,’ he said.
Abbas said following the outrage over the deferral, which sparked criticism from Palestinian civil society groups and across the Arab world, he was directing Palestinian representatives at the UN to work toward bringing the Goldstone report for an early vote at the Human Rights Council.
He said the ‘storm of criticism’ at the decision, by Hamas, was aimed at postponing a long-delayed Palestinian reconciliation deal that Egypt had announced for October 25-26 in Cairo.
‘We are totally aware of this campaign by Hamas aimed at serving their interests, which is to postpone the signature of the reconciliation agreement,’ Abbas said.
‘They want to consolidate their rule and their regime in Gaza.’
But Mishaal, in a speech in Damascus shortly after Abbas’s address, said the atmosphere was not right for a deal between the rival factions.
‘The Goldstone report was the final straw . . . We can not accept any more mistakes,’ Mishaal said in a speech in Damascus, shortly after Abbas’s address.
‘This is not a leadership which deserves our trust.’
The decision to ask for a delay was a ‘scandal,’ he said. ‘The timing is now not right’ for a reconciliation deal.
‘The attitude of the Palestinian leadership on the Goldstone report has blocked the continuation of the inter-Palestinian dialogue,’ he said, although efforts were continuing with Egypt on a new timetable.
‘Fatah deserves a better leadership’ than one which had lied to the Palestinian people over the delay, said Mishaal.
Hamas has led the torrent of criticism of Abbas, charging he ‘betrayed’ the some 1,400 Palestinian victims (mainly civilians) of the December-January war and has asked Egypt to postpone the signing of the reconciliation deal because of the decision.
In Gaza City, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said Abbas’s speech ‘does not improve the national dialogue atmosphere’.
Meanwhile, US Middle East envoy George Mitchell met Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday for an hour in occupied Jerusalem, officials said, after separate meetings on Friday with the premier and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Netanyahu’s office said at the end of the meeting, which was also joined by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, that two senior aides to Netanyahu would travel this week to Washington for more talks.
Mitchell, who did not speak after the meeting, had earlier told reporters in Cairo that ‘everyone who truly believes in peace has to take responsibility to take actions to achieve that goal’.
Mitchell held talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman late on Saturday and with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit on Sunday before returning to occupied Jerusalem for talks with Netanyahu.
The Palestinians have backed US calls that Israel freeze all settlement activity before peace talks are resumed, but Netanyahu has refused to do so.
Palestinian President Abbas said late on Sunday that he had no intention of backing down.
‘Yesterday we told the US envoy George Mitchell that we are determined to achieve peace,’ Abbas said in a televised address.
‘However we believe that achieving peace requires ensuring the prerequisites as defined by the international community . . . in order to resume the peace process and negotiations . . . first and foremost stopping all settlement activity in Jerusalem and the rest of Palestinian territory.’
Israeli President Shimon Peres on Monday urged Israel’s hawkish government to relaunch peace negotiations with the Palestinians or risk further international criticism and isolation.
Netanyahu faces two choices, Peres told the opening winter session of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset: ‘To be alone, isolated, and solely responsible for all the (occupied) territories while facing hostility from Palestinians and Arab states, as well as increasing criticism from many other countries.
‘This risks a de facto single state with two nations.
‘Or we can continue to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority until we find an acceptable solution,’ he said.
‘I say to the government and Knesset, here and now, don’t slow down the negotiations – look for every break, try every option in order to put an end to more than 100 years of quarrel and bloodshed.
‘Enough with the process, the time has come to reach final conclusions. We cannot miss this opportunity,’ he said.
‘If we move forwards with peace and make peace with the Palestinians, and if we start negotiations with Syria and Lebanon, we will remove the main pretext for the Iranian madness – against us and against the other residents of this region.’
Netanyahu was due to address the Knesset session immediately after Peres.
Netanyahu said that Israel would not allow its officials and soldiers to be tried for war crimes over the Gaza war and threatened that adopting the damning UN report on the Israeli offensive endangered the stalled peace process by Tel Aviv.
‘Our first mission is to head off this attack,’ Netanyahu told the opening of the winter session of parliament, the Knesset.
‘This warped document . . . written by this warped committee undermines Israel’s right to self defence.
‘This report encourages terror and endangers the peace,’ he said, repeating comments he made at the annual UN General Assembly.
‘I want to make it clear – Israel will not take any chances for peace if it can’t defend itself,’ he said.
Netanyahu also said that Israel will not allow a situation in which its political leadership during the war and military officials would face trial over the conflict that killed 1,400 Palestinians – mainly civilians and a third of them children – and 13 Israelis.
‘We will not agree to a situation where (ex-premier) Ehud Olmert, (defence minister) Ehud Barak and (ex-foreign minister and now opposition leader) Tzipi Livni, who sent our soldiers to defend our cities and citizens, will sit on the defendants’ bench in The Hague,’ he said of the International Criminal Court.
‘We will not agree to a situation where IDF commanders and soldiers are branded war criminals after they defended the citizens of Israel with bravery and honour from a cruel enemy,’ Netanyahu said.
The UN report, released by an independent international fact-finding mission headed by former international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone last month, accused Israel of committing war crimes during the war that erupted last December 27.
The UN Security Council began holding its regular monthly debate on the Middle East yesterday, Wednesday, with the session widely expected to discuss the findings of the Goldstone report.