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Abbas takes blame for Goldstone delay, commission says

Jan. 9, 2010 6:29 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 11, 2010 4:50 P.M.)
Ramallah – Ma’an – President Mahmoud Abbas gave the directive to change the Palestinian stance on the Goldstone report at the UN Human Rights Commission following a September meeting with US and Arab officials, a report revealed Friday.

The report, aired on Al-Watan TV, was the result of months of research and interviews conducted by a commission charged with the investigation of Palestinian leaders conduct around the mishandling of the Goldstone report at the first UN Human Rights Council meeting on the document in September and October.

“We listened to testimonies of President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Presidential aide Nimir Hammad, chief PLO Negotiator Saeb Erekat, Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki, PLO leader Yasser Abed Rabbo, Fatah member Hussein Ash-Sheikh, and Palestinian representative to the UN Ibrahim Khraisha,” Palestinian Lawmaker Dr Azmi Shu’aybi, a member of the investigation commission said in the broadcast.

Despite extensive interviews, the commission failed to pinpoint the reasons and mechanisms behind the postponement of the Goldstone report. Though Abbas said he was the one who made decision, his subordinates did not pinpoint him as the issuer of the directive, and throughout the report the commission highlighted poor communication between members.

Timeline of the decision

According to Shu’aybi, Khraisha made an initial assessment of the Goldstone report and passed his findings on to Palestinian Foreign Minister Al-Maliki. Following his discussions with PLO leaders and government officials, Khraisha went ahead and sought international support for the report, in an attempt to see it adopted by the UNHRC when it was set to be presented on 3 October.

The commission also found, however, that a letter written by Khraisha on 16 September seeking directives from Al-Maliki on the Goldstone report motion went unanswered for 17 days. The commission said the Foreign Ministry was to blame for the lack of communication to the UN representative. It was not until 3 October, the day the report was to be discussed at the UN, that the request was answered, according to the report.

As a result, between 16 and 28 September 2009, the commission found, the Palestinian stance on the Goldstone report was steady in Geneva, and an increasing amount of support for the document was earned, according to Shu’aybi quoting Khreisha.

Arab, American intervention

On 28 September, Abbas visited Washington where he attended UN General Assembly meetings as well as side meetings with the Arab Quartet (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Arab League), where he was reportedly made aware of larger issues with the international standing of the report.

According to the commission, during those meetings Abbas was told he should deal with the report very carefully, particularly because the way the report dealt with Palestinian resistance groups.

The Goldstone report said war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been committed by both the Israeli army and Palestinian militant groups. The report recommended inquiries and possibly the prosecution of those responsible for the alleged war crimes. If Palestine adopted the report, it would be responsible for the prosecution of some militant leaders.

According to Shu’aybi, it was also at this time that Abbas learned about what he called an American plan to “wage a campaign against the Palestinian delegation in Geneva,” as part of its mandate to protect the Israeli position.

US demands delay

Before 1 October 2001, the Palestinian position around the report was still to lobby for its adoption by UNHCR.

According to the commission, however, it was on 1 October that the American Ambassador in Ramallah spoke with Fayyad and asked him to delay the UNHCR vote on the Goldstone report. Fayyad testified to the commission that he refused the request, and asked Al-Maliki to contact Khraisha and make sure everything in Geneva was going as planned. Fayyad said he received word from his aide Nimir Hammad that the vote on the report would go ahead.

On the evening of Thursday 1 October 2009, Fayyad telephoned Al-Maliki to double check the information, Shu’aybi explained, saying media reports in the Israeli arena had reported figures at the UN asking for a delay. Fayyad told the commission that he was reassured by Al-Maliki that Khraisha had the situation under control and the report was going forward as planned.

The next day, the report said, Khraisha met with the Arab, African, Islamic, and representatives of the Non-Aligned Movement and told them he had been asked by the Palestinian leadership to delay the discussion of the Goldstone report.

Responding to this meeting, the report said, Pakistan’s representative to the UN asked for the delay until the next meeting of the UNHRC in March 2010.

According to the findings of the commission, the decision to request a delay was taken after Khraisha received directives from Abbas through his aide Nimir Hammad.

The source of Hammad’s directive appears to have originated from a trilateral phone call between the aide, Saeb Erekat, who was in Washington, and Khraisha in Geneva.

Abbas takes the blame

However, during the three hours of testimony Abbas gave to the commission, the President said it was he himself who requested the delay and he was ready to take responsibility.

In its conclusions, the commission found that despite American pressure to delay the report, Abbas also said that it was not that pressure that lead him to make the decision.

Shu’aybi noted that as he admitted he was at fault, “the president seemed very upset about how the delay was taken advantage of.”

His testimony for the commission contradicts an earlier television interview Abbas gave with Egyptian host Amr Adib, who pressed him on the issue. He showed Abbas a recording of the Ambassador of Pakistan formally requesting a delay on a vote, and asked the president to explain why the PA allowed the motion to go forward.

"I told the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council that if all parties wanted to delay the vote, than he should agree," Abbas said on live television.

He said the tape clearly showed that it was not the ambassador for the PA who requested the delay.

Despite the investigations of the commission, it remained unclear whether Abbas told Hamamd, Erekat or Khraisha about the directive, and none of the officials said that Abbas had given the order.

Political fallout

While a clear answer was not found for the process behind the decision to drop the Goldstone report at the UNHRC on 3 October, the commission found near unanimous and stunned agreement over the magnitude of the fallout over the act.

According to Shu’aybi, none of the Palestinian officials involved properly estimated the reaction of Palestinians to the postponement. The only thing on the minds of the leaders influencing the decision, the commission found, were the final days in Geneva and Ramallah when the United States began applying pressure on the issue.

The commission noted that Abbas decision to delay the vote on Goldstone was wrong, and the president was to be held responsible for the repercussions of that decision. The commission also foisted blame on the foreign ministry, for failing to communicate with the UN representative.

The full report of the commission was set to be published, on the order of Abbas, but the report on Al-Watan TV said the issue of a published report has yet to be okayed by the PLO Executive Committee, which Abbas said would review the issue.

The Commission

The commission was appointed in the wake of Palestinian anger and Hamas protests against the Palestinian decision to delay the UNHRC vote on the Goldstone report. The members were appointed by Abbas’ caretaker government.

Members include:

PLO’s Executive Committee Member Dr Hanna Amira,

President of An-Najah National University in Nablus Dr Rami Hamdallah,

Palestinian lawmaker from Ramallah Dr Azmi Shu’aybi (Fida party)

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