Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Goldstone Report and the dim prospects for peace in the Middle East

Today, Al Jazeera reports that "Syria has postponed a visit by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in the latest fallout arising from his failure to endorse a UN report criticising Israel's conduct in its war on Gaza."

The report in question emerged on Friday, and "
concluded there is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity." It also condemned "Palestinian armed groups" for "their repeated launching of rockets and mortars into Southern Israel," saying that they too had "committed war crimes, as well as possibly crimes against humanity."

Last month, BBC News revealed that Israel "strongly criticised" the report, saying that it was "flawed from A-to-Z" and its findings were "ludicrous." Government spokesman claimed that "the investigations Israel has done into its troops' behaviour in the Gaza Strip is 1,000 times more serious than this investigation." Haaretz backs up this assesment with an analysis asking whether Richard Goldstone, author of the report, "will be shown up as a naive idealist, one who enabled an implacably Israel-obsessed body to use the findings of a distinguished pro-Israel Jewish jurist to justify its actions."

This perspective was backed up by the United States, which raised "serious concerns" over "
many of the report's assessments and its recommendations." Michael H Posner, US representative on the UN Human Rights Council, concluded that the report was "deeply flawed." This led BBC News to declare on Friday that "the Palestinian Authority had withdrawn its support for a resolution endorsing the report, after strong pressure from Washington," though it added that "this was strongly denied by Palestinian officials."

Now, with former Arab League ambassador Clovis Maksoud calling the PA's decision "very mind-boggling" and "a slap in the face of Goldstone, who meticulously and objectively brought about a serious indictmennt of war crimes against Israel," such denials appear to be false. Ismail Haniya, Gazan leader of Hamas, declared that the move "encouraged the occupier ... to continue his crimes," whilst even Fatah members called it a "mistake" which will "cost us dear."

Indeed it will. The findings of the Goldstone report only confirm those of the Amnesty International report
"Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction," published in July, which condemned the "wanton and deliberate" destruction of homes, schools and businesses that "could not be justified on the grounds of military necessity." Gaza was all but razed to the ground, with over 1,400 civilians killed, in the offensive at the turn of the year, and still the crimes of that war go unpunished.

But, by agreeing not to endorse the Goldstone report, Mahmoud Abbas has destroyed what credibility he had left. In the eyes of most Palestinians, he is nothing more than a puppet, answering to the whims of US and Israeli planners in order to cement his own position. As with Yasser Arafat before him, he has become not just a prisoner of the occupation, but its enabler. This will only serve to increase support for Hamas who, despite whatever objections the Palestinians may have about their ultimate goals, are offering resistance against Israel, as well as grassroots health and social programs for the poor and suffering.

That an Islamic militant group are the only ones providing both opposition to Israeli rejectionism and support for those worst affected by it is bad news for the Palestinian people. Though undoubtedly that resistance and support is needed, the understandable worldwide revulsion to Hamas ensures that there will never be a breakthrough. Meanwhile, lacking support from his own people and serving only as a token gesture towards the peace process for the Israelis, the achievements of Abbas and his group Fatah are guaranteed to be nil.

The Palestinian people need international support and solidarity in their struggle against brutal oppression. But, more than anything, they need a homegrown resistance built upon truly anti-imperialist and anti-racist principles rather than upon the doctrine of radical Islam. As long as the Israelis, backed by their US benefactors, continue to patronise them, using moderate leaders to serve their own agenda and in the process driving the people into ever more extreme positions, such a possibility becomes ever more remote.