The Goldstone report and its ramifications for Palestinian politics

The findings and recommendations of the Goldstone report were shocking to Israelis. They were furious at the warrant for Ehud Barak’s arrest in London as a result of a court case brought by the families of the many victims of Israel’s Gaza offensive. But the decision to support the deferral of a vote on the report in the UN’s Human Rights Council has caused an earthquake in Palestinian politics.

Palestinians feel that a historic opportunity was missed to make Israel answer for its atrocities against them. This is especially important because throughout the history of the conflict, Palestinians have always failed to ensure that Israel be held accountable by the international community.

The Goldstone committee was appointed by the United Nations to investigate allegations of war crimes during Israel’s offensive on Gaza earlier this year. It found that Israel and Hamas militants had committed war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. It recommended that both sides investigate and punish those responsible. If that did not happen, the Goldstone commission’s recommendations should be put to a vote in the Human Rights Council and then the Security Council. In case the latter could not agree to implement the report’s recommendations, it would then be referred to the General Assembly, where a majority could send the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The decision of the Palestinian leadership to agree to a six-month deferral of the vote at the first stage of this process sparked an unprecedented wave of criticism from the public and political factions. This has weakened the public standing of the leadership. Indeed, it might be argued that the only reason the leadership has survived is the absence of any system of accountability, particularly the absence of a functioning legislative council.

This development came only a week after American pressure on President Mahmoud Abbas had pushed him to meet Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in New York, without the latter agreeing to freeze Israeli settlement construction in occupied territory.

In both cases, the Palestinian leadership was put under pressure by Israel and the United States. In both cases, this has damaged the domestic standing of the leadership and offset any hard-won improvement in that standing, following the Fateh conference, the convening of the PLO’s National Council and improvements to the economy and in the field of law and order achieved by the government.

While it is easy to understand the motives of Israel, whose right-wing leadership finds it more convenient to deal with Hamas rather than a moderate leadership, it is difficult to understand American motives. But whatever they are, the net outcome of this American approach has been to encourage the anti -peace leadership of Israel and the Hamas-led opposition in Palestine.

Resuming a new phase of the peace process without proper preparation and adherence to specific terms of reference such as the roadmap, will only result in a repetition of the Annapolis process and its outcome, failure. The peace camps in Israel and Palestine had different expectations from this American administration.