There is a famous Arabic expression, ‘La Yokarrem Nafsaho la Yokarram’, which means "he who doesn’t respect himself shall not be respected.”
Apparently, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t believe in this. At least, he didn’t until now.
The decision to defer the Goldstone Report, the UN report alleging that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last winter, was nothing short of betrayal. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Richard Falk even described the decision as "perverse."
“The Palestinians have betrayed their own people,” Falk said. “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.”
Falk continued, "For the Palestinian representatives in the UN themselves to seem to undermine this report is an astonishing development."
Indeed, it was astonishing for Palestinians and those who have supported Palestinian efforts toward justice and freedom for the last 61 years. Human rights, after all, are the cornerstone of the Palestinian struggle. From the right to self-determination to putting an end to the economic sanctions imposed on civilians, modern Palestinian history has consisted of one Israeli transgression after another.
This makes the decision to defer the Goldstone Report all the more perplexing. Rather than think of the landmark Goldstone Report as being about war crimes and accountability, it will represent a very sad chapter in Palestinian history. Equal to the Hamas takeover in Gaza where the first internal Palestinian bloodletting took place, this incident has crossed a privately understood red line.
It’s been said that Abbas was pressured to defer the report, but even if this were so, it is irrelevant. A president is elected to represent the interests of his or her people at home and abroad, not the interests of others. This is true of every nation, including the USA. It appears that Abbas did not take his leadership responsibility seriously. He clearly did not have his finger on the pulse of the people because had he known what the Palestinians were saying and feeling, he would not have been as shocked at the post- reaction.
There are upsides to all of this, however.
First, is the unprecedented and unified opposition of Palestinians. Neither faction affiliation nor religion nor gender has made a scintilla of difference in opposing this deferment.
The unity is very much welcome in an era of political exploitation in the Middle East. This exploitation has not only played a role in preventing a Fateh-Hamas reconciliation — something which the people have demanded, both in Palestine and in the Diaspora — but it has also prolonged the ineffective leadership currently in place in the West Bank.
More than 30 Palestinian organizations in Europe alone have called for Abbas to step down saying his position towards the report gave Israel a cover-up for its war crimes. In general, a conversation with a Palestinian from the Diaspora reveals a sort of universal disgust with the Palestinian leadership. There are also questions asking why Abbas is so fearful of outside pressure that he was willing to turn his back on the very principles that put the Palestinian cause on the map, in the first place.
The second upside is that the Palestinian people have re-captured their rebellious spirit on a grassroots level, not seen since the 1987-1993 intifada.
And while Hamas might be enjoying this scandal, they should not take it as vindication of their ineffective leadership style in Gaza. This is about the heart and soul of the 61-year-old Palestinian struggle with Israel.
A third upside is that Palestinian leaders from all factions have been put on notice that the Palestinian people demand loyalty and accountability. Throughout modern history in the Middle East, the citizens in Arab countries have essentially accepted the brutal tyrannies they live under; those who dare to change the status quo are often imprisoned. Perhaps, the unanimous outrage in Palestine will inspire others to take back their country.
A final upside is that the Goldstone Report will have generated even far greater publicity than what might have been. Countless UN resolutions have been introduced and swept under the rug; this is one UN report that will never be swept under the rug not only because of its unprecedented importance but also because of the significance for internal Palestinian politics — politics that affect Israel and all nations involved in the "peace process."
The famous civil rights activist Dominique de Menil once articulated that, “What should move us to action is human dignity: the inalienable dignity of the oppressed, but also the dignity of each of us. We lose dignity if we tolerate the intolerable”
Wise words. Common sense words. Words which can be applied to so many crises around the world and especially to the Palestinian cause.
So, why can’t Palestinians like Abbas remember this, instead preferring to save their own hides and cheapen Palestinian blood in the process?