By TOVAH LAZAROFF , HERB KEINON
In a televised address on Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the UN Human Rights Council to hold a special session to endorse the Goldstone Report, which condemned Israeli military action in Gaza.
"I gave instructions to our envoy to hold an extraordinary meeting of the Human Rights Council to vote on the resolution, in order to punish all those who committed the most brutal crimes against our children and women in Gaza," Abbas said.
The call for a special session marked a sudden turnaround from Abbas's stance at the start of the month, when he agreed to defer until March the council's vote on endorsing the report.
Already on Saturday, PLO Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Ibrahim Khraishi said that Abbas was contemplating taking this step.
On Sunday, he told The Jerusalem Post that at Abbas's request, he now plans on Monday to formally submit a request for a special session to the UN in Geneva. He then must submit the signatures of 16 of the council's 47 member-countries.
Khraishi said he hoped that the procedures could be quickly concluded and that a special session could be held already this week.
The UN Human Rights Council had been scheduled to endorse the report on October 2. The Palestinians had enough votes to ensure that the council would support a resolution that would send the document on to the UN's General Assembly and Security Council in New York. The draft resolution also asked the Security Council to turn the matter over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, so that it could use the report to prosecute individual Israelis for alleged crimes against Palestinians in Gaza.
But on the eve of the vote, Abbas opted to defer the matter until March. By mid-week, however, in the face of rising criticism, the Palestinians began to recant their position.
The PA supported a motion by Libya to bring the report to the Security Council, irrespective of any decision by the UN Human Rights Council. The Security Council said it would move up to this Wednesday an already-scheduled debate on the Middle East, and include the Goldstone Report in that meeting.
On Sunday, Abbas fully back-tracked and asked that the Human Rights Council hold a special session on the matter.
It would be the council's 12th special session since it began work in 2006. Out of the past 11 sessions, nine have been on issues relating to countries and two have been on other matters, according to Hillel Neuer, executive director of the UN Watch, a Geneva-based non-governmental group. Out of that nine, five have been on Israel, Neuer said.
Israel is keeping its strategy on how to combat the latest maneuvering in the Human Rights Council very close to its chest, with Foreign Ministry officials declining to say what Israel was doing to combat efforts to convene a special session.
Nonetheless, with the Palestinians very likely to muster enough votes to convene a special session, Israel's diplomatic efforts will surely focus on trying to ensure that the resolution passed on the matter is as weak as possible.
For instance, a resolution calling for the Security Council to take up the issue, or for the Human Rights Council to set up a committee to monitor compliance to the report, and for that committee to report back to the Human Rights Council on a periodic basis, could be extremely damaging for Israel.
A resolution saying the monitoring committee took note of the report, or one that generically called on both sides to comply, would be something different altogether.
Just as Israel was not commenting officially on its strategy regarding the report, there was no official response to an interview that Britain's ambassador to the UN, John Sawers, gave to Army Radio on Sunday. Sawers said the Goldstone Report contained "serious information" that raised suspicions that violations took place during the Gaza offensive, and called on both Israel and the Palestinians to examine its findings.
Sawers said he was surprised that the PA had asked to defer until March the UN Human Rights Council-planned endorsement of the report. He also expressed dismay that both sides failed to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission, adding that the report represented this lack of cooperation.
The feeling in Jerusalem was that Sawers's remarks were not random off-the cuff comments, but were actually reflective of British government thinking. There was a sense that the British, themselves involved in a nasty war against terrorism, realize that supporting this document could handcuff them down the road, but they also realize that the US would almost certainly veto any Security Council resolution on the matter. In other words, London could curry favor with the Arab and Muslim countries by supporting the report, knowing full well that in the final analysis the US would step in, do their "dirty work," and veto the resolution before it could harm British interests.
Sawers will become head of Britain's MI6 intelligence agency next month.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.
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