'We erred by deferring Goldstone action'

Facing relentless critic

A member of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's inner circle said Wednesday that the Palestinian leadership had erred by suspending action on the Goldstone Report, which alleged that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last winter. The comments came as the first such acknowledgment after days of angry protests in the West Bank and Gaza. Last week, Abbas apparently gave in to US pressure and agreed to suspend the push for war crimes tribunals. Abbas aides defended the decision by saying they were only delaying, not dropping action. However, on Wednesday, senior Abbas adviser Yasser Abed Rabbo said that "we have the courage to admit there was a mistake." The Palestinians are now seeking to have the UN Security Council consider the Gaza report. Members of the UN Security Council said delegates were set to meet Wednesday to discuss Libya's request for an emergency session on the report that claimed Israel and Palestinian gunmen not only committed war crimes, but also possible crimes against humanity during the conflict in Gaza. Vietnam's ambassador Le Luong Minh, who holds the council presidency this month, told The Associated Press he set closed-door talks after receiving a request from Libya, the only Arab member on the 15-nation council. The Palestinian Authority UN Mission issued a press release saying it affirmed "full support for the Libyan request." The Libyan move and Palestinian support surprised some council members because less than a week ago - on October 1 - the UN Human Rights Council, which commissioned the report, delayed a vote on a resolution to refer the report to the UN General Assembly at the Palestinians' request. The vote would have moved the issue one step closer to possible prosecutions, but it was delayed at least until March. Abbas, under intense pressure from Hamas for agreeing to suspend efforts to go after Israel, appears to have agreed to try to put the Goldstone report on the Security Council agenda. Whether the Libyans and Palestinians succeed remains to be seen. On Tuesday, chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, whose name has been mentioned as one of the senior officials who had advised Abbas to dump the motion, said the PA leadership was considering a series of steps to keep the Goldstone Report "alive." On Monday, PA officials accused some of Abbas's top advisers of misleading him into withdrawing the motion. Erekat did not specify what steps the PA was contemplating, but another senior official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that one of the ideas being discussed was asking Arab and Islamic countries to officially take the Goldstone Report to the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. The PA is not a full member of the Human Rights Council and is not entitled to present its own proposals. Erekat said that Abbas was planning to deliver a speech upon his return to Ramallah to explain the circumstances that prompted the PA to abandon its demand that the UN Human Rights Council endorse the findings of the report. He said the PA was now preparing a plan to tackle the Goldstone document. "This report can't be buried," Erekat said. "The report can't vanish. War crimes can't be forgotten." He hinted that a number of Arab countries had secretly supported the PA's decision to withdraw the motion. Although Erekat did not name the countries, he said that the PA would not hesitate to expose them in public. "From now on we won't allow anyone to hide behind our backs, whether they are Arabs or non-Arabs," he stressed, strongly condemning all those who have been criticizing the PA leadership in the past few days. Meanwhile, the head of the special commission of inquiry that was formed by Abbas to study the circumstances that led to his controversial decision said on Tuesday that he still hasn't received an official notice from the PA regarding his mission. Hana Amireh, member of the PLO Executive Committee, said he would decide whether to accept the appointment after hearing from Abbas about the commission's mandate. The PLO's former ambassador to Egypt, Nabil Amr, launched a scathing attack on Abbas, saying he alone bore the responsibility for the "burial" of the Goldstone Report. Amr also scoffed at Abbas's decision to form a commission of inquiry into his own decision. Amr, who is also a senior leader of Fatah, recently resigned from his job as ambassador after accusing Abbas and his top aides of forging the results of the faction's internal elections during the faction's sixth conference in Bethlehem in August. The Hamas police in the Gaza Strip announced on Tuesday that they would arrest any Palestinian suspected in involvement in the decision to defer the vote in the UN Human Rights Council over the Goldstone Report. Rafik Abu Hani, a spokesman for the Hamas police force, said his men would open an investigation to determine whether there are PA officials in the Gaza Strip who were involved in the controversial decision. Abu Hani said the Hamas security forces were studying the possibility of suing the PA leaders in court on behalf of the families whose loved ones were killed during Operation Cast Lead. The announcement is yet another indication of growing tensions between Hamas and Fatah in the past few days. The tensions erupted after Hamas accused Abbas and the PA leadership of "high treason" because of the decision to abandon the motion at the UN in Geneva. Sources close to the two parties did not rule out the possibility that the renewed tensions would force the Egyptians to postpone plans to sign a "reconciliation" accord between them on October 25. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called on Abbas to apologize to the Palestinians for the "sin" he committed when he agreed to defer the vote at the UN. US envoy George Mitchell is expected to land here Wednesday night for a new round of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials. He will meet Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday and will hold meetings with Palestinian officials over the weekend. He is expected to fly back to the United States on Sunday. According to a senior Prime Minister's Office official, Mitchell's visit comes amid "a sense that we're moving forward toward dialogue, but as yet without dramatic breakthroughs." Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report