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Abbas reverses course on Goldstone report

Oct. 11, 2009 8:39 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 13, 2009 10:18 A.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma’an – President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday evening that he has instructed his envoy to the United Nations in Geneva to seek a new debate in the Human Rights Council on the Goldstone report on alleged war crimes in Gaza.

During a televised speech, Abbas confirmed reports from Friday that his government had completely reversed course on the 575-page report.

“I instructed the ambassador to call for another exceptional meeting of the Human Rights Council to vote on the report, seeking to punish all who committed the most grotesque crimes against women and children in Gaza,” Abbas said.

The speech was the president’s first formal address since it was revealed that his government delayed a vote in the Human Rights Council on Judge Richard Goldstone’s report on violations allegedly committed during Israel’s winter war on Gaza, which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead.

The deferral of the vote sparked outrage at Abbas and jeopardized Egypt’s efforts to reunite Abbas’ Fatah faction with its rival, Hamas.

"We welcomed the fact finding mission headed by Judge Goldstone,” Abbas said. “We were the first to welcome its recommendations and worked on drafting a resolution in this respect to be submitted to the Human Rights Council through friendly and Arab states.”

“We had made huge efforts and held intensive contacts to approve the draft but it was met with rejection. It was not clearly supported by many countries,” he said.

“We categorically refused amendments to the draft that were presented by the United States, the European Union, and other countries, because these amendments would have nullified the contents of the report,” he added. “We rejected fierce pressure to withdraw the issue from the Human Rights Council.”

“Our people have the right to criticize [their leaders], and the elected president should take all responsibility” he said of the recent controversy. “I respect and appreciate the views of those who are angry, including the PLO factions, parties, and ordinary people, because their motivation was to bring [war] criminals to justice.”

The president also reacted harshly to Hamas’ rhetoric on the deferral of the Goldstone report. “Their [Hamas’] aim is to shirk the requirements of the reconciliation and to deepen the division and destroy the national project. This is compatible with Israeli plans to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The president also made reference to a commission of inquiry he appointed into the decision to delay the report. “If committee finds that there was a mistake, we will have the courage to take responsibility and say that we made a mistake.”

Jerusalem and the peace process

The majority of Abbas’ speech, however, focused not on the Goldstone controversy, but on Israeli policies in Jerusalem, and US efforts to revive the Palestine-Israel peace process.

Abbas added that “Jerusalem is the gateway and the key to peace.” He said Palestinians will continue to proclaim their attachment to “every inch” of East Jerusalem.

“Any agreement that does not include ending occupation of [East Jerusalem] is a failure … changing its features would incite tension and war in the region and throughout the world.”

“We are facing an escalation of Israel’s actions in Jerusalem, including home demolition, land confiscation, and settlement construction, carried out on a daily basis, aimed at implementing a program of ethnic cleansing, all the while targeting the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Abbas said.

He also said the Palestinian Authority (PA) continues to insist on a total settlement freeze as a condition for renewed peace talks. In addition, he said he would reject any proposal to create a Palestinian state with temporary borders.

Abbas also said he welcomed US President Barack Obama’s approach to the peace process. He said Obama promised to uphold “the perquisites of the international community” during the leaders’ three-way meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York last month.

“These requirements, including a total halt to settlement, set a clear reference for peace, ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. [They] were the ones we affirmed during our meeting with [US Envoy George] Mitchell.”

“Over the past two weeks, our position of not resuming negotiations while Israel continues to expand settlements, has been understood by the international community, which realizes that the peace process will be a failure if it does not go according to the conditions set out by the international community.”

Unity

Abbas also spoke optimistically about Egypt’s efforts to reunite Fatah and Hamas: “We responded to the Egyptian proposal and send all positive signals [in order to] overcome the obstacles despite of all of the acts that are carried out in Gaza.”

He also said that elections would ultimately resolve the ongoing Hamas-Fatah crisis.
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