Goldstone report: New roadblock to Palestinian reconciliation?

Hamas cancels Fatah reconciliation talks in Egypt. At the UN, Libya gets a hearing today about allegations in the Goldstone report on the Gaza war.

Hatem Moussa/AP
A Palestinian boy stands on top of rubble last week from a building destroyed in January's Israeli military offensive, in Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip. UN investigator Richard Goldstone defended a report Tuesday that accuses Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes during their conflict in Gaza, an allegation Israel condemns and claims is the result of bias against the Jewish state.

JERUSALEM - The Palestinian Authority’s decision to delay further action on the Goldstone report – a UN investigation into the war in Gaza – is continuing to put Fatah leaders in a difficult political position vis-à-vis their domestic image, and may ultimately postpone progress on a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal.

Hamas said today that it had canceled a meeting between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo, where the two were expected to sign a reconciliation deal on Oct. 26. The reason, the Islamic organization said, was their outrage towards PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The crime of postponing the vote on Goldstone’s report left a severe psychological crack, and Abbas should immediately apologize to the Palestinian people,” said Salah al-Bardawil, a senior Gaza-based Hamas leader, in a statement sent to the media. He added: “Hamas has asked Egypt to postpone the dialogue, until Abbas apologizes.”

Anger against the Fatah-led PA has been manifest since late last week, when its representative in Geneva asked that the Goldstone report not be adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, which would then send it to the UN Security Council. Small protests have been held in Ramallah, and larger ones in Gaza City, which is now full of posters accusing Abbas of “a great treason” and saying he should be thrown into “the dustbin of history.”

The 575-page UN report points to evidence that suggests both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it reserved its most damning criticism for Israel. Israeli officials have attacked the report as devoid of merit and balance, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned last week that if Palestinians pursue action on it, they would endanger any return to peace talks.

Behind-the-scenes talks have been taking place in the US, and President Barack Obama’s Middle East peace envoy, George Mitchell, is due to arrive in Jerusalem late Wednesday.

Mr. Mitchell arrives at time not just of heated emotions over the UN report, but also increased tensions in the past week in Jerusalem over access to holy sites.

Working to do damage control, PA officials have begun to voice regret over the decision to delay and said they might change course. Libya, the only Arab member of the UN Security Council, called for a discussion of the report to take place later today.
Others Palestinian officials have taken more extreme steps. Nabil Amr, the PA’s ambassador to Cairo and a prominent member of Fatah, announced his resignation late Tuesday and he laid the blame for the fiasco at Abbas’ doorstep.

Senior Abbas adviser Yasser Abed Rabbo told the Voice of Palestine radio on Wednesday that the Palestinian leadership had made a misstep, and would try to rectify it. “What happened is a mistake, but it can be repaired,” said Abed Rabbo. “We have the courage to admit there was a mistake.”

Hani el-Masri, a leading Palestinian columnist, wrote in the al-Ayyam newspaper that Hamas is capitalizing on the controversy to score political points, to the detriment of Palestinian reconciliation. Hamas broke away from the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority in a violent coup in June 2007.

“The report should definitely not be used as a tool to disrupt the internal reconciliation attempts. Some Hamas members have acted irresponsibly by talking about the ‘grand treason’ that Abbas’ Authority committed when it requested the delay,” he wrote.

“Hamas members are using this incident to gain politically from it by stating that both Fatah and the PA leadership have been weakened by this Goldstone affair,” Mr. Masri wrote. “What the Palestinians should do is concentrate on the main issue, which is … ending the state of divide. Only through a united leadership can the political track change from one chasing the negotiations forever … to a united approach to ending the occupation through all means possible. “

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