The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) decision not to press a vote on a UN report on the Gaza war has angered many Palestinians and weakened president Mahmud Abbas, observers say.
The PNA agreed to delay a vote on the damning report at the UN Human Rights Council last Friday, after reportedly coming under pressure to do so by the United States and Israel, who threatened not to take further steps in peace talks.
But the decision to support delaying consideration of the report, which accused Israel of war crimes, has unleashed a tide of anger that will ramp up pressure on Abbas ahead of any talks, observers say.
‘The problem is that he is losing his standing in front of his own people. He will be under extreme pressure now to produce tangible results in the negotiations,’ Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, said.
The report by the former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone detailed alleged war crimes committed by both Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters during the three-week Israeli military offensive launched on December 27.
The report reserved its harshest criticism for Israel.
Goldstone recommended that the Human Rights Council submit the report to the prosecutor at the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
But last Friday the Geneva-based Council decided to defer a vote until March.
The decision came after the Palestinian delegation reportedly dropped its support for an immediate vote.
The decision has caused a groundswell of criticism, with the democratically elected Hamas movement, several Palestinian human rights groups and even some members of Abbas’ own Fatah party slamming it as a ‘betrayal’ of the war’s victims.
‘The Palestinian Authority misunderstood the reaction of the people,’ Kuttab observed.
Referring to the West Bank government of Palestinian President Abbas, Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya said: ‘The decision taken by Ramallah to withdraw the Goldstone report was reckless and irresponsible.’
He added that the decision ‘trades in the blood of the children of Gaza.’
‘How can the two parties (Fatah and Hamas) sit at one table and sign an agreement in this situation?
‘This has placed a heavy obstacle in the way of Palestinian unity,’ he warned.
Last week, Hamas scored a major political victory by trading a video clip of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for 20 Palestinian women prisoners.
Hamas has also been buoyed by the wave of anger unleashed by a series of clashes over the past week at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied Jerusalem, a major Israeli-Palestinian fault line.
Hamas leaders have repeatedly linked the clashes and the delay of the Goldstone report, claiming that Abbas, by capitulating to US and Israeli pressure, has cleared the way for further Israeli ‘crimes.’
The Goldstone report criticised Israeli forces for ‘targeting and terrorising civilians’ during the assault on Gaza.
The PNA made its decision not to press the UN, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Abbas to encourage him to withdraw support for the report.
The vote would have forwarded the Goldstone report to the UN Security Council, which in turn could have referred Israel to the International Criminal Court.
The PNA has been widely criticised by the families of the victims of the Gaza assault.
On Saturday, 16 Palestinian human rights groups slammed the delay, saying in a joint statement that it ‘denies the Palestinian people’s right to an effective judicial remedy and the equal protection of the law.
‘It represents the triumph of politics over human rights.
‘It is an insult to all victims and a rejection of their rights,’ the groups said.
Palestinian economy minister Bassem Khuri resigned on Saturday in protest at the PNA’s decision.
‘It is totally unjustified. It is frustrating and disappointing.
‘There was a majority in the Council of Human Rights that would have approved this report,’ said Mustafa Barghouti, independent Palestinian lawmaker.
He added: ‘This report would have finally taken away the feeling of impunity of Israel in front of international law and would have held the Israeli establishment accountable for the war crimes that took place in Gaza.’
Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch criticised the Obama administration’s actions.
He said: ‘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.’
Palestinian President Abbas has faced accusations of giving into US and Israeli pressure since he met Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in New York last month without securing a sought-after freeze in illegal Jewish settlement construction.
‘The Goldstone report is the second major blow to Abu Mazen (Abbas). The first was his meeting with Netanyahu,’ the political writer Hani al-Masri said.
Now, analysts say, Abbas will be under even more pressure to get results if and when he enters direct negotiations with the Israelis.
‘The credibility of the Palestinian president, as it relates to the negotiations, among the people and even within the Fatah movement, has today become very shaky,’ political analyst Samih Shabib said.
‘Unless the Palestinian side can accomplish something on the ground, pursuing the path of negotiations will have a negative impact.’
Abbas’ weakened political position could make it even more difficult for him to negotiate over the core issues of the decades-old conflict, including borders, occupied Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.
‘If the Palestinian leadership cannot deal with an international report that talks about war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza because of the pressure exerted on it, then what is going to happen when it tries to talk about final status issues?’ said Iyad al-Barghuti of the Ramallah Centre for Human Rights.
Israel had threatened not to take steps towards peace if the Goldstone Gaza report passes to the UN Security Council.
‘The adoption of what is called the Goldstone report would deal a fatal blow to the peace process,’ Netanyahu said.
‘Israel will not be able to take further steps and further risks towards peace if the report is adopted,’ Netanyahu added.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned that the PNA’s support for the report could hamper future negotiations on the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
‘They were the ones that instigated the report and that are calling for measures.
‘We would expect them to cease this altogether, not just because there is no basis for it but also because this is the most unfriendly act if we want to deal together on the most difficult issues,’ Ayalon told reporters.
‘Any action taken on this report would have a detrimental effect on the peace process, if not deal it a fatal blow. The Palestinians cannot try to talk peace and attack us at the same time,’ he said.
Some 1,400 Palestinians – mainly civilians, including hundreds of children – were killed by Israel during the war, which came to an end on January 18 when both sides declared unilateral ceasefires.