Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The tide is changing, and the sky is clearing for the Palestinians, at last

Look around you, or peep into the world's window. Do you notice that the world has changed? Yes, it has. The unthinkable has happened. In fact, a series of events unimaginable only a year ago have occured. Even though one of these astonishing events occured in far away Geneva, the show and its entourage will take the center stage right here in New York, at the UN quarters, in a few weeks.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Friday, October 16, 2009, with a majority vote, passed a resolution in Geneva that endorsed the Goldstone Report. Out of the 47- nation Council, 25 voted in favor of the report. They included China, Russia, Egypt, India, Jordan, Pakistan, South Africa, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ghana, Indonesia, Djibouti, Liberia, Qatar, Senegal, Brazil, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and four other nations. These six countries opposed the resolution: the U.S., Italy, Holland, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine. Eleven countries abstained: Bosnia, Burkina-Faso, Cameron, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Belgium, South Korea, Slovenia and Uruguay. And five countries did not vote at all. Madagaskar and Kyrgyzstan were not present during the vote; and Britain and France behaved as if they were not presesnt in Geneva at all, but were instead partying elsewhere, and did not vote.

Long before voting, Britain and France had stated very clearly that the report had made many valid points, and so they did not wish to vote against the report. But, apparently, they did not wish to vote for the report either, because of their reluctance to displease President Obama; hence their behavior.

The New York Times wrote about the vote: "On breaches of the Geneva Conventions as grave as those alleged in the report - including its finding that Israeli soldiers deliberately targeted civilians - any nation that has agreed to the coventions has jurisdiction to investigate the crimes in their national courts. The Goldstone report recommends that those nations do so, setting up a possible situation of cases being brought against Israeli officials elsewhere." The question now is: Inspired by this vote at the UNHRC in Geneva, and also by the recommendations of the Goldstone Report, would Judge Baltasar Garzon of Spain reopen the case he started eight months ago against the perpetrators of the Gaza War? I wonder.

Following the vote in Geneva, Mr. Riyad Mansour, Palestinian Permanent Observer to the UN, spoke to reporters and said, "Advancing the cause of justice and upholding the international law, it serves the peace process. You can not serve the peace process while you have violation of international humanitarian law. This is not a question of pursuing the Israelis, but a matter of international law." He said also that, "Now it is required from the Secretary General of the UN, based on recommendation two of Goldstone report, to move the report to Security Council."

Palestinian National Initiative's (PNI) Secretary General Mustafa Barghouthi described the majority vote on Goldstone's report as "a victory to the Palestinians and to the families of the victims of Israeli war crimes in Gaza."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote a joint letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The letter acknowledged the sensitivity of the Goldstone report in Israel and encouraged Israel to handle it in a way that helps the negotiation for peace in the Middle East. Brown and Sarkozy urged Netanyahu to establish an independent and transparent investigation into all accusations made against Israel in relation to alleged war crimes in Gaza. They also urged him to improve humanitarian access to Gaza, and to implement a complete freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

History indicates that until the Gaza War, Britain, France, and Germany did not deviate very much, if at all, from USA's stand regarding Israel, faithfully parroting whatever America dictated to them. The worldwide furor caused by the Gaza War, however, especially the use of white phosphorus on civilians in the Gaza, drastically changed the atmosphere. And now, instead of attentively listening to and focusing both of their eyes on America, countries such as Britain. France and Germany are now keeping one eye on America and the other eye on the world opinion, because America has lost much of its former clout on the world stage.

Encouraged by the vote, the two factions of the divided Palestinians, the Fatah and the Hamas, are now more likely than ever before to unite, so that they could best follow up on the Goldstone report, and face their next challenging task at the UN Security Council, and also at the UN General Assembly. To reconcile their differences and forge unity, representatives of Hamas and Fatah are scheduled to meet in Egypt, again, in a couple of weeks. And now, because of the developments at the UNHRC in Geneva, there is genuine hope that this time the parties will unite at last.

There are reports that if the UN Security Council votes to recommend sending the Goldstone Report to the International Criminal Court in Hague for adjudication, President Obama will instruct his UN Amgassador to veto the resolution. Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, has reported that Mirit Cohen, the spokeswoman for the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, has said that the Israeli ambassador was assured by the Obama administration that it would veto in the Security Council any resolution that could be harmful to Israel. Which raises an interesting and pertinent question: What happened to the promise President Obama made to the world from Egypt that he would provide a level playing field to the Palestinians in the peace negotiations, and that he would be unbiased? If he vetoes the resolution in the Security Council, President Obama would be taking the first concrete step to "tarnish" his golden Nobel Peace Prize medal that he won less than a month ago.

All the pressure exerted on the world leaders by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and the dozens of calls and threats made to Palestinian President Abbas have failed to postpone or freeze the voting at the UNHRC in Geneva. Neither Obama nor Netanyahu wants to see the report end up in the ICC in Hague. And now that the Goldstone report has been endorsed by the UNHRC in Geneva, in Tel Aviv there is stunned silence and palpable fear in the air. Haaretz has reported that Netanyahu has suddenly decided to settle the settlements dispute he had been waging with Obama for months. There is no doubt that since the vote in UNHRC in Geneva, the political landscape in Israel has changed drastically. Could the change in physical landscape be far behind? For the Palestinians, the tide has turned at last.
Yesh Prabhu, Plainsboro, NJ

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