October 2, 2009

Israel Calls Daddy

They had no one else to turn to. Yesterday PLO Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Ibrahim Khraishi claimed “we have enough votes” to pass Richard Goldstone’s Gaza report in the UN Human Rights Council and present it to the ICC. Israel's ambassador in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, admitted, "I will never have the numbers."

But all he needs is one. Today the PA withdrew its resolution to adopt the UN recommendations on Gaza. France can claim whatever credit it would like, but "intense diplomacy"from Washington got the case dropped. Rumor is President Mahmoud Abbas received an earful from State Secretary Hillary Clinton.

"The Palestinians recognized that this was not the best time to go forward with this," a U.S. official said.

Yes, the Palestinians must have come to this decision on their own. According to the Haaretz, “The Obama administration has told the Palestinians that a renewal of the peace process must come before any diplomatic initiatives based on the Goldstone report, or any other initiatives that could stifle efforts to renew Israel-PA negotiations.”

In fact Obama is the one playing dangerously close the the cliff. Goldstone, who’s been under attack the moment he accepted the unsavory mission in Gaza, immediately countered Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s logic, disagreeing that the peace process would suffer from investigations into human rights crimes.

"I think [Netanyahu] got wrong what our report is all about," Goldstone said. "He talked about Israel's right to self-defense. That is not what the report was about... I think if the report achieves one good thing, it is to cause this debate in Israel. It would be a healthy thing."

Evidently not. Goldstone admitted, “I believed that Israel would cooperate - it turned to be a naive expectation.”

Netanyahu had considered an internal inquiry for about three days before dropping the idea; later Defense Minister Ehud Barak said it was never taken seriously in the first place. Flickers of domestic debate attempted to inject objectivity into how the war was waged, but the military leaders have put their foot down and President Obama seems no more intent in getting to the bottom of Gaza. He's correct that advancing the Gaza report would torpedo the peace process, but he misses the underlying reason why.

The obstacle to peace isn't Gaza report itself but what it stands for - the blockade and suffocation of Gaza, Israel’s military impunity, and its American bubble. Obama is conspiring with Israel to cover up collective punishment, according to Goldstone. Gazans voted for Hamas for the same reason Americans voted for him - change from Fatah, who was at a low point before Western support. Now they’re paying the price.

The core problem is Gaza itself. It's the 50% unemployment, the starving children, the depression. The problem is Israel's absolute rejection of accountability, preferring to be judged like Hamas, "a terrorist organization." Khraishi didn’t appear bent on passing the resolution and struck a moderate tone, saying he was open to compromise. His trap Friday deadline never intended to press the resolution, only squeeze some accountability out of Israel and force it to police itself so the world doesn’t have to. And he wants to help the Gazan people.

"I hope the parties will study the report deeply, and try to find a way to proceed," he said. “It will help us to explain to the Israelis that the international community is with the Palestinians to achieve their hopes and their dreams.”

But the signs don’t look good.

Let’s be real - no Israeli official will ever be prosecuted in an international court, and the odds are low of a legitimate internal inquiry. The motion will likely be blocked again when it returns to the Council’s next session in March. Israel isn’t going to take any steps between now and then because it knows America will shield it. What motivation has Israel to correct itself when it knows America will get it out of jail for free? Meanwhile the blockade will stand and may stand for years. Israel isn’t concerned about its reputation with Palestinians, 76% of which list Israel as the greatest threat, despite fighting a counterinsurgency where perception is critical.

Neither is America concerned with Israel’s perception, nor does it seem to value its own. President Obama wowed Israeli and American officials and pundits with his UN speech, but he made lots of enemies in Palestine by holding another fire sale on their negotiating positions, finally stripping them of preconditions entirely. Now he’s shielding Israel from a vigorous Palestinian and Muslim movement to restore justice to Gaza, and worse, denying Palestinians at every turn. Obama isn't going to move the peace process with this strategy.

Leshno-Yaar said all he could hope for was a "moral success,” that, “If the United States or other allies refuse to endorse the report, this will be seen as a victory.” But Zuhairi countered, "this is not a victory for Israel." If anything Obama has suffered a defeat. Once again America bailed Israel out of its own mess and left Gazans to rot, contrary to Obama's message of change.

In reality the PA had to fold; it would be lost without America to provide even a semblance of control on Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas was a sad sight being dragged to the UN Security Council in September. Netanyahu was right, he had no choice but to come, except the reason wasn’t Israel. Abbas knows, as does Netanyahu, that he can’t afford to alienate Obama. Afterward Abbas disagreed with everything Obama said at the UN, but insisted he didn’t want to ruin relations with America.

This situation just played out again in Geneva.

Robert Blecher, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said, "This is a further indication that the current Palestinian leadership is not considering any options except for negotiation and in that sense the climbdown, like the climbdown in the meeting in New York city, is not unexpected – just the speed with which it was taken."

Silent throughout the Gaza war, President Obama stayed silent throughout the human rights investigations. Only now when the report is gaining steam does he raise his voice - in the name of peace - but his actions speak louder than his words. Israel, who sees Gaza as a report, will consider their American cover a victory. To everyone else it's one more obstacle to peace.

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