‘Justice Delayed is Justice Denied’

This time, Palestinians were sure they had an ace in the hole. For the first time in a very long time, a credible, balanced and efficient international investigation has been conducted and its findings released on Israel’s actions against the Palestinians. The UN Fact-Finding Mission, lead by Justice Richard Goldstone into Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip last winter in which nearly 1,500 Palestinians were killed was pretty much what the Palestinians have always been hoping for –” a respected and credible international voice for those Palestinians without one, a voice that has witnessed the injustice and refused to remain silent. Finally, Goldstone’s mission was representative of a voice with the diplomatic clout to put words into actions and maybe, just maybe force Israel to face the crimes it has committed.

Yes, Palestinians everywhere were looking forward to the October 2 vote in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which would, if it won a majority, effectively refer the findings of the report to the UN Security Council for further action and possibly put those responsible for war crimes before an international criminal court.

Hence, when news broke that voting on the report had been delayed to the Council’s March session – a long five months from now – jaws dropped to the floor in dismay. Since then there has been a flurry of press conferences, tongue-twisted justifications and blundering, babbling politicians trying to defend, rationalize or deny the indefensible –” that the PLO had been party to the decision to postpone the voting.

Four days later, the game is still on. After the initial shock of the news resided, Palestinians were up in arms, pointing icy fingers at the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and in Geneva, accusing them of the worst of vices –” betraying their own people. From that leadership came contradictory statements meant as damage control, some defending the decision as a means of "ensuring a consensus" on the vote, others speaking their mind, saying the deferral was a mistake and still others, namely Geneva’s UN Ambassador Ibrahim Khreisheh, charging on October 5 that the postponement was actually in the Palestinians’ interest since the report also charged Hamas with war crimes for firing rockets into Israel, something he said the leadership would work to drop.

As for President Mahmoud Abbas, who, according to some media reports, was paid a visit by the US Consul General who put tremendous pressure on him to drop the Palestinians’ request for Goldstone’s report to go to a vote, is now saying it was the Arabs who asked for the postponement. "We are only observers in the UN, we cannot make such a decision," Abbas said in a press conference. Abbas also formed an "investigation committee" to look into the reasons behind the postponement.

For average Palestinians, something about this is just not right. While it is understandable that the United States would go to great lengths to defend Israel, even in the case of its blatant violation of humanitarian law and war crimes in Gaza, it is unfathomable that the Palestinian leadership would kowtow to such pressure. Needless to say, the victims of Gaza who lost loved ones, homes, jobs and land due to Israel’s brutal pounding of the Strip for 22 days on end, feel betrayed and sold out, especially since the excuses given are just not convincing. The Human Rights Council, a body of 47 UN member states, works on a majority-vote basis, not one of consensus. That is to say, any resolution that wins the majority votes is passed and does not need the entire Council to accept.

In the case of the HRC, this particular vote was as good as won. Since its creation in 2006, the Council has passed several resolutions on Israel’s human rights violations in the Palestinian territories and is deemed by some western countries as anti-Israel. Even before the scheduled voting day, both Israel’s and Palestine’s ambassadors knew where it was going. Khreisheh boasted to the press that he already had the votes needed while Israeli ambassador Aharon Leshno-Yaar admitted he could "never get the numbers" needed to block it.

This means that by now the findings of the Goldstone Report, which found Israel responsible for "serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," should have been their way to the UN Security Council, whose resolutions are legally binding. This would have hopefully led to a probe of war crimes in the International Criminal Court, something Israel and the United States have clearly opposed since the release of the report.

It is certainly not surprising that the United States could have put extreme pressure on the Palestinians to neutralize the report by requesting a postponement on its vote. This is the American way when it comes to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. It is also no wonder that Israel would use every trick in the book to twist the Palestinians’ arm, including holding a contract for the launching of Al Wataniya Mobile Company ransom should Palestinians refuse to drop their endorsement of the October 2 vote on the report. These are so-called "enemies" and the Palestinians expect only the worst from them.

No, what is so hard to swallow, what cuts painfully deep, is the possibility that our own leadership, those who vowed to fight side by side with us in our struggle for freedom, could be accomplices to this undermining of justice. What’s more, those in favor of the decision continue to insist that the move is in the best interests of our people.

None of the arguments hold any water for the majority of the people, especially those in Gaza who have been waiting for months for some justice to prevail. The Goldstone Report should have gone to vote, plain and simple. The fact that it was deferred until next March is simply abominable, especially if the leadership had a hand in it. To quote a coalition of 16 Palestinian human rights and legal organizations that condemned the postponement decision, "Justice delayed is justice denied."