Palestine: UN war crimes report centre of new battle

October 17, 2009

The report of the United Nations' fact-finding mission to Gaza, led by former South African jurist Richard Goldstone, was released in September. It detailed atrocious human rights abuses by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) during Israel's December-January war on the Palestinian territory.

The Goldstone report has become the centre of a new battle in the region, with Israel and the US-backed Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank seeking to undermine it.

Furious protests by Palestinians, many of who consider Fatah as Israeli collaborators, forced Fatah into an embarrassing backdown.

The report accused both sides of human rights abuses in the bloody war, in which more than 1400 Palestinian civilians were slaughtered. However, it saved its most savage indictments for the crimes of occupying army, the IDF.

The report described the IDF's actions as, "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability".

It recommended that, if independent investigations are not undertaken by Israel and the Hamas-led Palestinian government of Gaza within six months, the allegations be referred to the UN Security Council for possible prosecution at the International Criminal Court.

However, Israel sought to use an October 12 explosion in the southern Lebanese town of Tyre to divert attention from their own crimes. The explosion allegedly took place at the home of Hezbollah members.

Israel is likely to claim Hezbollah has broken the ceasefire signed after it defeated Israel in its 2006 war on Lebanon.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party originally supported a delay in the delivery of the report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. But Fatah reversed its decision in the face of growing united opposition among Palestinians, with huge rallies across the Occupied Palestinian Territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

Hamas won the PA elections in 2006, but in a 2007 US-backed coup Fatah took control in the West Bank, while the Hamas-led government held on in Gaza.

The October 1 British Independent said Israel was threatening to "kill off" a key telecommunications project in the West Bank by the Qatari-based company Wataniya Mobile unless the PA's request to the International Criminal Court to investigate the war on Gaza was cancelled.

Shalom Kital, an aide to Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak, told the Independent, "It's a condition. We are saying to the Palestinians that 'if you want a normal life and are trying to embark on a new way, you must stop your incitement'.

"We are helping the Palestinian economy but one thing we ask them is to stop with these embarrassing charges."

Palestinians from across the political spectrum united to condemn Fatah's initial moves to undermine the Goldstone report. The rejection was so extreme that PA Prime Minister \Salam Fayyad said on October 14 that his government's handling of the Goldstone report had "caused major weakness for the Palestinian Authority".

On October 7, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Richard Falk told Al Jazeera: "This was a moment finally when the international community endorsed the allegations of war crimes and it would have been an opportunity to vindicate the struggle of the Palestinian people for their rights under international law.

"For the Palestinian representatives in the UN themselves to seem to undermine this report is an astonishing development."

Fatah and its US backers miscalculated the willingness of the Palestinian people to accept such an extreme betrayal. Palestinians are angry at the way the US has used Fatah, which has proven willing to collaborate with the Israeli occupation, to isolate Fatah's rival Hamas, which seeks to resist Israeli oppression.

The US and other Western powers still refuse to recognise, or deal with, the Hamas-led government in Gaza.

Many Palestinians, however, want unity between the various factions to better resist Israeli oppression. Grassroots campaigners across the West Bank and Gaza have spoken out against Abbas and called for principled reconciliation between the Palestinian factions.

On October 13, US State Department official Philip Crowley responded bluntly to calls for a unity PA government involving Fatah and Hamas. He said: "If you have a unity government that operates ... on the basis of the principles that we've laid out, then we will be supportive of it.

"We'll be happy to work with whoever is in a Palestinian government that supports these principles."

In other words, the only Palestinian government the US is willing to deal with is one that does what the US wants.

Reconciliation talks between the Palestinian factions, hosted by Egypt, continue. An October 14 Ma'an report said Fatah had signed an reconciliation agreement that day, but Hamas had yet to commit to the deal.

Hamas PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, deposed in the West Bank in the 2007 coup, said on October 6: "How can the two parties [Fatah and Hamas] sit at one table and sign an agreement in this situation?"

Haniyeh said Fatah's undermining of the Goldstone report "has placed a heavy obstacle in the way of Palestinian unity".

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