Fred Abrahams 4 October 2010
The message came in the form of a resolution drafted by the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The PA had the chance to increase pressure on Israel and Hamas to punish those responsible for war crimes. Instead, it opted to tread water, stalling justice and turning its back on victims, the vast majority of whom live in Gaza.
If critics who say the Palestinian Authority is out of touch with the needs of Palestinians require evidence, last week’s resolution provided it in spades.
According to diplomats in Geneva, Ramallah thought it needed to dampen the call for investigations to keep the fragile peace talks with Israel on track. But neglecting the victims of the conflict will not aid peace. It will undermine the already tenuous faith that many Palestinians have in the Palestinian Authority: how can it negotiate a fair settlement if it won’t demand justice for egregious crimes?
Since the Gaza war nearly two years ago, international pressure has steadily built for Israel and Hamas to conduct serious and credible investigations into alleged war crimes. A UN fact-finding mission led by Richard Goldstone documented the allegations by all sides, and the General Assembly twice demanded that the parties follow up, with a majority of European Union states joining the call. The General Assembly will review Goldstone implementation again this fall.
The unprecedented pressure brought some results: Israel and the Palestinians went further than after previous conflicts with their investigations, although Hamas has still done virtually nothing. Now the Palestinian Authority, which takes the lead in drafting UN resolutions on Palestinian affairs, has undercut that progress and potentially frozen the Goldstone report for the next six months.
Last week’s resolution addressed a report by a committee of experts on the domestic investigations by Israel, Hamas and the PA — the UN’s first independent assessment of local efforts to investigate allegations in the Goldstone report. The committee determined that both Israel and Hamas, to differing degrees, had failed to conduct credible and impartial investigations up to international standards. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, got a passing grade.
This was the opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to demand international justice, which is required when domestic mechanisms fail. It was an opportunity to send the report forward to the General Assembly, as Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups have requested, because the General Assembly is the main venue for keeping the Goldstone process alive.
Instead, the resolution meekly “welcomed” the report, effectively filing it in the closet, with no mention of international justice or the International Criminal Court.
The PA could not kill the accountability process altogether without being accused of completely betraying the Palestinians’ desire for justice — as happened last year when it temporarily withdrew its support for a resolution endorsing the Goldstone report. So, the resolution merely extended the mandate of the expert committee on accountability, and asked it to report back next March.
The resolution, which passed with 27 in favor, 19 abstaining and only the United States against, leaves the General Assembly without an objective analysis of domestic investigations. Instead, it has only one report to consider as it follows up on Goldstone: a formal document compiled by the Secretary-General that presents without evaluation the glowing self-assessments submitted by the Palestinians and Israelis. The expert report, by contrast, analyzed and assessed the efforts of both sides, and their failure to meet international standards for investigations.
The debate on Gaza accountability will nevertheless soon come to the General Assembly, even without formal submission of the independent experts’ report. The Palestinian Authority, as lead drafter of a resolution there, will have another opportunity to promote justice. Failure to do so again will turn a cruel message to the Palestinian people into a slap on the face.
Fred Abrahams is a Senior Advisor at Human Rights Watch. He conducted research in Israel and Gaza for the organization during the 2008-2009 war.