Palestinians agree to defer UNHRC vote

Goldstone crisis averted

The Palestinian Authority agreed late Thursday night to delay until March a vote set for Friday at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that would have endorsed the Goldstone Report. Endorsement would have opened the door for the Security Council to bring Israelis before the International Criminal Court at The Hague for prosecution for either war crimes or crimes against humanity. The deferral came after unsuccessful negotiations to find a compromise text that would be acceptable to the six Western countries on the 47-member council: the United States, Belgium, France, Italy, Norway and the United Kingdom. Palestinian officials said they had enough votes to get endorsement for the report based on the original resolution. US and Western powers are in a minority position on the council, which has consistently voted against Israel since its inception in 2006. There were reports of US pressure on the PA to defer the vote, with some sources claiming that US President Barack Obama had personally intervened behind the scenes, impressing upon the Palestinians that the diplomatic process would be adversely affected if the vote were not shelved. The PLO ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, told The Jerusalem Post he was interested in a compromise text because it was important that the report, which condemned Israel's military actions in Gaza last January, received the widest range of support possible. "It will help us to explain to the Israelis that the international community is with the Palestinians to achieve their hopes and their dreams," said Khraishi. When the hour grew late and no compromise was in sight, he said, "we decided to defer the matter" to the council's next session in March. "I hope the parties will study the report deeply, and try to find a way to proceed," he said. Israel, which had engaged in an intense diplomatic initiative over the past 48 hours to keep the report from heading from Geneva to New York, where it would likely have come before both the General Assembly and the Security Council, immediately declared that its efforts had been victorious. Israel's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, credited both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman with the Palestinians' decision to withdraw the resolution they had authored. "What happened today is proof that their strategy of not cooperating" with the four-person fact-finding mission led by South Africa jurist Richard Goldstone "was correct... Israel insisted from the beginning that this was about politics against the State of Israel and not human rights. It emphasized the primacy of the peace process. It is a precedent for all states fighting terror," said Leshno-Yaar. He added that "it shows above all that the priority of the international community is to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to relaunch negotiations." Earlier in the day, in a meeting with ambassadors at the Foreign Ministry, and later at a press conference with the international media, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon hammered home the point that legal initiatives such as those outlined in the Goldstone Report endangered the peace process and the right of democracies in general to defend themselves against terrorists and extremists. Using the flawed and biased Goldstone Report to seek legal action against Israel "is going to be have a detrimental effect on the peace process, if not indeed giving it a mortal blow," said Ayalon. "How can this government make further concessions and take risks if it can not then defend itself when the necessity arises," he asked. If "we are trying to negotiate with the Palestinians to achieve something good, we can not be under constant attacks by the same Palestinians. Attacks today in the complex battles can be done through grenades or bullets, or through words. Sometimes words can be more dangerous," said Ayalon. An unjustified pursuit of Israel in the legal arena, such as what was happening with the Goldstone Report, was part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel, said Ayalon. He noted that Fatah, which "pushed us to do away with Hamas" in Gaza, is "now trying to take us into the international courts" for Israel's military actions against Hamas. "Not to mention the fact that the ones who are benefiting from this report are the extremists anywhere and everywhere, especially in Gaza," said Ayalon. But Khraishi countered that the issue here had been seeking equal justice for Palestinians under international law. Peace cannot be achieved if one group, such as Israel, views itself as being above the law, he said. •