Thursday, 8 October 2009

Is the Palestinian Authority complicit in Gaza War Crimes?


Alazeera claims a secret videotape is behind the decision by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to delay the vote on a UN report accusing Israel of war crimes during its offensive on the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian news agency has reported.

"The Abu Mazen Tapes, Goldstone Report and Israeli Blackmail."

Quoting what it called reliable sources, Shahab news agency said on Tuesday that PA representatives at a meeting in Washington had initially rejected Israel's request not to endorse the report and were determined to stick to this position.

But, the agency added, Brigadier Eli Avraham played a videotape showing a meeting between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister.

The meeting was also attended by Tzipi Livni, Israel's former foreign minister.

The video reportedly showed Abbas trying to convince Barak to continue the war on Gaza, while Barak looked hesitant, although Livni appeared to be in support of the plan, Shahab quoted its sources as saying.

Security Council Push

The report by Shahab emerged on the same day that Libya called on the UN Security Council to hold an emergency meeting to consider the content of the report by Richard Goldstone, a former South African judge, which accused Israel of committing war crimes.

Palestine TV, the official television channel of the PA, reported that Abbas would send Riyadh al-Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister, to New York to assist in the Libyan bid to have the council address the report.

Israel launched a major offensive on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in December 2008, saying it wanted to stop rockets fired by Hamas into its territory.

At least 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died during Israel's three-week war in Gaza.

Recorded phone call

Shahab also reported that Avraham played an audiotape of a telephone call between Dov Weissglas, the director of the Israeli chief of staff bureau, and al-Tayyib Abdul Rahim, secretary-general of the Palestinian presidency.

In the conversation, Abdul Rahim says that circumstances were suitable for entry of the Israeli army into Jabalya and al-Shatea refugee camps, and adds that the fall of these two camps would end Hamas's rule in Gaza Strip, Shahab says.

Weissglas then told Abdul Rahim that this operation would lead to the death of thousands of civilians, but, according to Shahab, Abdul Rahim said: "They have all elected Hamas, so they are the ones who have chosen their fate, not us."

Shehab said the Israeli delegation threatened the PA representatives that it would present the recorded material to the UN and news organisations, forcing the delegation to accede to Israel's demand to delay the vote on the report.

Meanwhile, a senior Qatari foreign ministry official said the Palestinians missed a rare chance by delaying the vote on the Goldstone report.

Sheikh Khaled bin Jassem al-Thani, the ministry's human rights department head, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that the Palestinian representative to the UN Human Rights Council had requested a delay until the next meeting in March.

'Missed opportunity'

"The Palestinian decision was based on their wishes ... and member states could not take unilateral measures contrary to the wishes of the Palestinian Authority.

"There were many countries that supported [the report and a vote] ... it could have been adopted, but I think that an opportunity was missed and it may not come back."

Israel and Hamas have been blamed by the UN report for war crimes [File: EPA]
Abbas is under pressure from the PA's executive council and the central committee of his Fatah movement has launched an investigation into the delay.

But there appears to be no respite for him from the barrage of criticism from Palestinians.

A senior member of Hamas has demanded that Abbas resign for supporting the postponement of the vote.

Mahmoud al-Zahar told Al Jazeera on Monday that Abbas was guilty of "a very big crime against the Palestinian people" over the PA's support to defer endorsing the report.

"He is encouraging the Israeli military leaders to attack Gaza, to kill Hamas, and to kill people because they voted for Hamas; to postpone a very important report concerning the Israelis committing crimes against human beings," al-Zahar said.

"He should resign and he should seek a fair trial. He is not representing any of the Palestinian people."

The comments came as hundreds of people in the West Bank city of Ramallah protested against the delay in the vote on the report.

Protesters waved placards at Monday's events, saying the delay "insults the blood of the martyrs and wounds our people".

Protests were also held in Jerusalem, where pro-Palestinian activists demanded an apology from Abbas.

"If the government had anything to do with the decision we want it to resign," Muhammad Jadallah, the head of the Coalition for Jerusalem, said.

Thirty-two Palestinian groups in Europe also called on Abbas to immediately step down.

In a statement, the groups said "the step to delay the endorsement was not less dangerous than the atrocities committed by the Israeli occupation in Gaza".

Norman Finkelstein and Philip Weiss have also posted on this controversial story.

See also this report from the UN News Centre