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Dahlan works damage control as UN outrage spreads

Oct. 4, 2009 11:54 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 5, 2009 8:11 P.M.)
Ramallah – Ma'an – Muhammad Dahlan, a senior Fatah official, told Ma'an on Saturday that the Palestine Liberation Organization would investigate why debate of South African justice Richard Goldstone's report was postponed at the UN on Friday.

"We've called for a commission of inquiry into what motivated the deferral request, to find out what happened," he said during an interview in Ramallah, vowing to uncover what led the PLO's envoy to Geneva to drop the endorsement.

Dahlan's remarks came just hours before Mahmoud Abbas formally announced an inquest into what was widely believed to be the president's own decision, made following some reportedly swift but effective wrangling from the Palestinian Authority's US allies.

As outrage spread throughout Palestine, and particularly his native Gaza, Dahlan sought to distance himself and Fatah from the wildly unpopular move, which has forced the UN Human Rights Council to delay action on the report until next March.

"Fatah has a dynamic vision," he said, reiterating strong support for Goldstone, and adding that its Central Committee had convened an entire session devoted to studying and unanimously endorsing the report's findings, before it made "a clear statement in this regard."

Ma'an's records on the most recent official meeting, held on Friday, include no mention of Goldstone, nor does any similar report published since his bombshell investigation was released in September. But on Saturday, several members met to write up a news release that said Fatah had "adopted the report and all its contents."

"The committee expresses its deep regret for the damage caused by the postponement," the statement added.

Meanwhile, Dahlan urged Palestinians not to rush to judgment, since it was apparently unclear who was calling the shots in the first place.

"You have to distinguish between Fatah, the PLO and the PA," he insisted, "as each body has its own platform, so in any case one body could agree [to postpone the report] while another wouldn't, especially considering these latest developments."

Dahlan added, "We've looked into what happened, but we don't yet have enough information about the [UN's procedural] mechanics that led to the ambassador's decision, so we're waiting for the president to return before we convene the [PLO] Executive Committee."

Shortly after he attended the UN General Assembly in New York, Abbas was in Cuba before ultimately landing in Yemen on Sunday.

'Fatah backs Goldstone unequivocally'

"We don't ignore or disregard political or diplomatic issues," Dahlan said. "Goldstone's report is a major national concern, as it relatively redresses the rights of the Palestinian people," and "condemns the [Israeli] occupation's crimes."

He said Fatah stood united behind the findings, applauded that there was finally a clear message from "our friends" in the international community, and promised that the mainstay Palestinian movement would do its utmost to publicize them.

Dahlan said his arch-rivals in Hamas, who do not belong to the PLO or, since 2007, the PA, were more deserving of blame for the Geneva disaster than the West Bank government's dominant faction.

The Fatah movement "values Goldstone's position," Dahlan said of the UN report, which he called "a tribute to his character and professionalism, that denounced Israel and exposed the occupation's true face."

He said it was rather Hamas that had "attacked Goldstone and described him in a number of terrible ways."

The Islamic movement, in fact, hesitantly endorsed the report and vowed to seriously investigate charges that it was responsible for the deaths of three Israeli civilians, whom Goldstone alleged were directly targeted by Gaza-based fighters.

'Don't shoot the messenger'

In any event, the Fatah strongman urged Palestinians to refrain from blaming the PLO's mission to Geneva, which he explained was simply following orders from Ramallah.

"It's important to hear what Ambassador [Ibrahim] Khreisha has to say, because the issue is about government policy, not the envoy," Dahlan said of the PLO ambassador, who declared on the day of the postponement that "we have enough votes" to move forward.

A few days earlier, Khreisha also told the UN rights body, "This report should not be another report to just document and archive."

"My people will not forgive the international community if it lets these criminals go unpunished," the ambassador added, demonstrably unaware at the time that it was indeed his own people who would ultimately stop his hand.
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