Why Mr. President? Open Letter to Mahmoud Abbas

By Nidal Azza

(This open letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was first published in Arabic by Ma’an News, Palestine, in early March 2010.)

Since the adoption of the strategy of the “peace of the brave” which seeks to achieve Palestinian rights through negotiations, Palestinian officials have never missed an opportunity to raise the demand for the international community to intervene and ensure respect of its international law and UN resolutions. And while the Palestinian leadership had limited its own strategic options in the public relations battle around the peace negotiations, the demand for enforcement of international law preserved a certain “logic” in midst of the general deterioration, in particular the disintegration of the Palestinian political system.

However, what is puzzling in light of this strategy is the fact that Palestinian officials have recently challenged sincere international bodies and figures who have identified Israel’s regime as one that combines belligerent occupation with colonialism and apartheid. In other words, where is the logic in claiming a Palestinian strategy which demands enforcement of international law and UN resolutions, when Palestinian officials are the first to stand in opposition to strong international reports and resolutions which seriously aim to protect and promote Palestinian rights?

At the end of February 2010, Ibrahim Khreisheh, Permanent Representative of Palestine in the United Nations in Geneva, requested that the Human Rights Council postpone discussion of the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Professor Richard Falk. Prior to Khreisheh’s formal request, many Palestinian and international human rights organizations tried to persuade Palestinian representatives at various levels of the risks involved in such a decision for the interests of the Palestinian victims, Palestinian rights and human rights in general, and of its negative impact on the positions of UN member states, especially supportive members.

In response, Representative Khreisheh argued in an interview with al-Jazeera that the request for postponement was caused by the shortcomings in the Falk report, such as references to the responsibilities of Israel and Hamas and not the Palestinian Authority, and criticism of the Goldstone Report. He said that discussion of the report at this stage would be divisive and that there were other and more important reports to be debated than Falk’s.

Mirroring the Palestinian controversy preceding the vote over the Goldstone Report, the Palestinian Representatives again put forward a number of justifications which appear to be consistent with the strategy of seeking the implementation of international law and UN resolutions. Even more so, Mr. Khreisheh made sure to shape his arguments in a way that suggested that he was, more than anybody, else concerned to protect the “supreme national interest.”

Such arguments may mislead those unfamiliar with the content of the Falk report, in particular because Professor Falk has also been portrayed as “a Jew,” someone who attacks the Palestinian Authority and apparently sympathizes with Hamas, and has caused a scandal by giving credit to rumors according to which President Abbas initially withheld official Palestinian support of the Goldstone Report in exchange for Israel’s approval of the Wataniyah cell phone company’s business deal in which is son was allegedly involved. Alternatively, Khreisheh argued that from a practical point of view, Israel’s ban on Professor Falk’s entry into the country “will make it impossible for him to closely monitor the human rights situation in the occupied territory,” and that it was not convenient to cooperate with an expert who is considered an anti-Semite by Israel.

The question begging to be asked is: Where exactly is the supreme national interest in postponing the discussion of Falk’s report?

For lack of space, I first invite all concerned to actually read the report that Mr. Khreisheh requested to be removed from the U.N.’s agenda (we Palestinians know exactly that to postpone is tantamount to removal of the report and exclusion of the responsible author). The truth that must be said is that Professor Falk’s report is not less important than Goldstone’s and maybe even more so.

First, the report covers the period from July to December 2009; it cannot be considered incomplete, therefore, for not including events and Israeli violations that occurred afterwards, such as Israel’s listing of the Ibrahimi and Bilal Ibn Rabah mosques in Hebron and Bethlehem among its national, cultural and religious sites. In fact, the report points to serious Israeli violations of sacred and archaeological Palestinian sites. Doesn’t it address the issue of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus? Also, doesn’t it address the attacks committed by Jewish settlers against Palestinians, especially during the olive harvest, and the protection afforded to them by the Israeli army? Mr. Khreisheh, where exactly is the shortcoming in all of this?

The Falk Report reaffirms the recommendations of the Goldstone Report and does not criticize them. Falk rather attempts to fill gaps in the investigation of Israel’s aggressive war on Gaza as conducted by the Mission led by Judge Goldstone. Where is the shame in Professor Falk stating that the Goldstone Mission should have investigated Israel’s violations of the temporary truce that preceded the war, such as the assassination of six Palestinians on 4 November 2008? What is wrong with emphasizing that the Goldstone Mission did not give enough attention to the impact of the protracted blockade of the Gaza Strip? Where is the flaw in saying that Israel is responsible for the failure of efforts to reach a lasting truce over the past decade? Where did Falk go wrong when he states that the Goldstone Mission gave more importance to the sole captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit than to the some ten thousand Palestinian prisoners and detainees, most of whom are civilians? Does any of this detract from the supreme national interest?

The Falk report also affirms the conclusion of the Arab League fact finding mission that Israel’s targeting of Palestinian civilians in the occupied Gaza Strip was not accidental, but rather intentional. What is the shame in affirming that the deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians has been a systematic policy of Israel ever since the establishment of the state? Does any of this detract from the supreme national interest?

Falk’s report is critical of legal analysis which treats both parties (Israelis and Palestinians) as equals. Calling upon the international community to examine Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, he explains that despite Hamas’s International Humanitarian Law violations, such as the launching of rockets into civilian Israeli areas, this was a war carried out by one side. What is wrong with calling on international organizations, particularly the International Committee of the Red Cross, to formulate rules that would regulate state responsibility in situations of unequal warfare, especially if that state is an occupying power such as Israel? Is this something that would detract from the supreme national interest?

After reaffirming the Goldstone Report’s recommendations regarding universal jurisdiction over those responsible for serious human rights violations and war crimes in the Gaza Strip, the Falk report calls on states to take seriously these recommendations and implicitly criticizes states that evade their legal obligations. Where is the shame in criticizing third-party collaboration with Israel? What is wrong with criticizing the British government for seeking to change its universal jurisdiction laws for international crimes in order to help Israeli perpetrators escape accountability? Does this detract from the supreme national interest?

The Falk report boldly addresses Israel’s ongoing colonization of the occupied West Bank. It not only reports related numbers and statistics, but also refutes the allegations of Israeli leaders and emphasizes that the ultimate Israeli goal of settlement expansion is annexation of the West Bank. What is the shame in saying that settlement expansion in occupied East Jerusalem is not the result of “natural growth,” but of a policy intended to reduce the number of Palestinian Jerusalemites to less than 8%, in order to extinguish the possibility of Jerusalem ever becoming a Palestinian capital? What is wrong with saying that Jewish settlement expansion will lead, in practice, to the failure of efforts for Palestinian statehood? Does this detract from the supreme national interest?

The report also covers issues related to the Israel’s Wall, suppression of Palestinian resistance (even peaceful resistance), the continuing blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip, and the failure of the international community to impose its will and protect the Palestinian people. What is wrong with stating that the Human Rights Council has an obligation to exercise its authority by insisting that Israel ends its occupation and by intervening to stop its demolitions, forced evictions and settlement expansion in Jerusalem? Does this detract from the supreme national interest?

Notably, the report also tackles the issue of the Palestinian refugees and their right to return. Not limited to the ongoing forced displacement of Palestinians in the OPT, the report raises the need to implement UNGA Resolution 194 in order to facilitate return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes of origin, property restitution and compensation for damages and losses, which is the basis of achieving a just, comprehensive, and lasting peace. What is the shame in saying that remaining silent on refugee rights, especially 1948 refugees, is no longer acceptable? Does this detract from the supreme national interest?

In light of the inability of the international community to bring about a just solution to the Palestinian issue for the past sixty years, does Professor Falk’s call to adopt the civil society campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions contradict the supreme national interest?

It seems that the supreme national interest known to Mr. Khreisheh is different from the one we know.

Why, Mr. President, should Prof. Falk’s report be postponed when “indirect” negotiations with Israel are approved? And this while Israel just announced that the Ibrahimi and Bilal Ibn Rabah mosques in the occupied West Bank were “national” Jewish holy sites and the expansion of Jewish settlement continues?

How can the supreme national interest of the Palestinian people be achieved when the official Palestinian position towards Falk’s report is similar to the Israeli position?

Why, Mr. President, have we not received any response from you regarding the request of human rights organizations to stop this unreasonable postponement of Falk’s report?

In fact, the Palestinian position in the United Nations is in contradiction with the publicly declared Palestinian strategy at least since January 2009 [when the UN’s General Assembly convened to decide about ways to end Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip]. UN records from the General Assembly’s emergency session show that opposition to the draft resolution proposed by the GA President was shared by the representatives of Palestine and Israel. Western and Arab media described Israel at the time as the only state that enjoys having two permanent representatives in the General Assembly, one Israeli and one Palestinian! The draft resolution was submitted by Ecuador and supported by more than two-thirds of the member states. It was rejected by the representatives of Palestine and Egypt and opposed by the European Union and the United States. If adopted, the resolution would have condemned Israel and held it responsible for the war on Gaza; it would have called upon Israel to immediately halt the war, withdraw from and lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip; it would have recommended establishment of a special international tribunal to investigate and prosecute those responsible for war crimes and serious human rights abuses, as well as adoption of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Such a resolution, however, was found to be “very extremist” by the Palestinian representative. A letter was sent to the President’s office by a number of human rights organizations and networks, asking to investigate the occurrences in the United Nations. (It was not the first letter of its kind. A similar one was sent in October of 2008, requesting clarification of why the Palestinian representative to the United Nations was disturbed by NGO reports and “interference,” and why he insisted on excluding them from the work of the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.)

Did you receive these letters, Mr. President? If not, why? If yes, why has there been no response?

The official Palestinian position and treatment of the Goldstone Report has been frustrating for all victims, human rights defenders and defenders of the rights of the Palestinian people. The justifications initially may have misled those unaware of the details. For NGOs present in the Human Rights Council, however, the situation was clear but they abstained from immediately going public. Instead, several human rights organizations and members of Palestinian national institutions submitted a memorandum to the President’s Office requesting scrutiny of the work of the Palestinian representatives to the U.N., as well as a firm stand against manipulation of U.N. protocol and titles, such as “Representative of the Palestinian Authority,” or “Representative of Palestine – PA,” which undermine representation of the Palestinian people in the United Nations.

Did you receive this memorandum, Mr. President? If not, why? If yes, then why has there been no follow-up?

Earlier this year, a letter was sent to the President by Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations and networks, requesting that he instruct the responsible specialized authorities to set up a mechanism for the domestic criminal investigation and prosecution required under the General Assembly Resolution endorsing the Goldstone recommendations. The letter urged for urgent action in order to prevent Israel from using a Palestinian shortcoming as a pretext for avoiding its obligations (which is indeed what happened). The responsible Palestinian authorities and officials, however, did not do what was required of them. The result was a finding by the U.N. Secretary General that both, the Israeli and Palestinian parties have fallen short equally so far in meeting their obligations.

Did you receive this letter, Mr. President? If not, why? If yes, then why has there been no reaction?

On 25 February 2010, more than twenty organizations appealed to the President to intervene as a matter of urgency and issue instructions to the Palestinian U.N. delegation in Geneva to drop the request for postponement of discussion of Prof. Falk’s report by the Human Rights Council, and to halt all personal attacks against the Special Rapporteur.

Did you receive this appeal, Mr. President? If not, why? If yes, why has there been no response?

As soon as Ibrahim Khreisheh, head of the Palestinian delegation to the U.N. in Geneva, had confirmed the request for postponement of the Falk report, numerous members of the PLO Executive Committee, leaders of Palestinian political groups and factions and the Secretary of the Legislative Council were contacted. All of them were briefed, provided with a copy of the letter to the President, and urged to take action in order to correct the mistake and avoid repetition of the frustrating experience with the Goldstone Report.

To this moment, we have not heard back from any of them!

What remains of the strategy seeking implementation of international law and U.N. resolutions? If the supreme national interest is a mystery which only the Palestinian representatives understand, then peace be upon our cause…

– Nidal Azza is the Coordinator of Badil’s Resource Unit, and Lecturer in Refugee Rights under International Law at al-Quds University. (This article was originally published in al-Majdal – www.badil.org/al-majdal – the English language quarterly magazine of the Badil Resource Center, Bethlehem, Palestine.)

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