Abbas and the Goldstone Report Our Shame is Complete

As Israeli bombs fell on the Gaza Strip during its one-sided war between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009, millions around the world took to the streets in complete and uncompromising outrage. The level of barbarity in that war, especially as it was conducted against a poor, defenseless and physically trapped nation, united people of every color, race and religion. But among those who seemed utterly unmoved, unreservedly cold were some Palestinian officials in the West Bank.

Mahmoud Habbash, the PA Minister of Social Affairs is but one of those individuals. His appearances on Aljazeera, during those fateful days were many. On one half of the screen would be screaming, disfigured children, mutilated women, and search parties digging in the dark for dead bodies, at times entire families. On the other, was Habbash, spewing political insults at his Hamas rivals in Gaza, repeating the same message so tirelessly parroted by his Israeli colleagues. Every time his face appeared on the screen, I cringed. Every unruly shriek of his, reinforced my sense of shame. Shame, perhaps, but never confusion. Those who understand how the Oslo agreement of September 1993 morphed into a culture that destroyed the very fabric of Palestinian society can fully appreciate the behavior of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank during the Gaza war, before it and today.

But especially today.

Those who hoped that the Israeli atrocities in Gaza would rekindled a sense of remorse among the egotistical elites in Ramallah, were surely disappointed when the PA withdrew its draft resolution supporting recommendations made by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. The Goldstone report is the most comprehensive, and transparent investigation as of yet into what happened in Gaza during the 23-day war. It decried Israeli terror, and chastised Palestinians as well. But the focus on Israel undoubtedly and deservingly occupied much of the nearly 600-page report. The next step was for the Human Rights Council to send the report for consideration to the United Nations Security Council, which was to study the findings for a possible referral of the case to the International Criminal Court e in the Hague. Such a move would have been historic. Knowing the full implications of such a possibility, Hamas accepted the report’s recommendations in full. Israel, backed by its traditional US ally, rejected it, leveling all sorts of accusations and insults on the world-renowned Jewish judge.

The draft resolution – condemning Israel and calling for the transfer of the report to the UNSC – was due for a vote at the Council on October 2. Alas, it was withdrawn at the behest of the Palestinian Authority and its president Mahmoud Abbas himself. Palestinian friends and allies at UNHRC were shocked, but obliged. They were equally disappointed when they watched PA envoys discussing the matter, not with the Asian, African or other traditional allies at the Council, but with US and European diplomats, who seemed to have a greater sway over Palestinian political action than those who have for decades supported Palestinian rights at every turn.

Something went horribly wrong. How could a leader of an occupied and suffering nation commit such a ‘mistake’, deferring an urgent vote and discussion on a report pertaining to the death of over 1,400 people, the maiming and wounding of thousands more, to a later date, six months from today?

Theories flared. Israeli and other media argued that US pressure on PA president Mahmoud Abbas was the main reason behind the supposedly unanticipated move. A positive vote on the resolution would jeopardize the ‘peace process’, therefore any action must be stifled for the sake of giving the ‘peace process’ a chance, was the rationale.

Amira Hass of Haaretz opined, “The chronic submissiveness is always explained by a desire to ‘make progress.’ But for the PLO and Fatah, progress is the very continued existence of the Palestinian Authority, which is now functioning more than ever before as a subcontractor for the IDF, the Shin Bet security service and the Civil Administration.”

Jonathan Cook, however, offered another view: “Israel warned it would renege on a commitment to allot radio frequencies to allow Wataniya, a mobile phone provider, to begin operations this month in the West Bank. The telecommunications industry is the bedrock of the Palestinian economy, with the current monopoly company, PalTel, accounting for half the worth of the Palestinian stock exchange.”

“No blood for mobile phones,” should perhaps be the new chant in Palestine. But it’s that sad fact that held the Palestinian will hostage for too many years. However, it’s not just mobile companies whose interests triumph over Gaza’s agony. Indeed, the post-Oslo culture has espoused a class of contractors. These are businessmen who are either high-ranking officials in the PA and the Fatah party, or both, or closely affiliated with them. Much of the billions of dollars of international aid that poured into Palestine following the signing of Oslo found its way into private bank accounts. Wealth generated more wealth and “export and import” companies sprung up like poison ivy amidst the poor dwelling of refugees throughout the occupied territories. The class of businessmen, still posing as revolutionaries, encroached over every aspect of Palestinian society, used it, controlled it, and eventually suffocated it. It espoused untold corruption, and, naturally, found an ally in Israel, whose reign in the occupied territories never ceased.

The PA became submissive not out of fear of Israeli wrath per se, but out of fear that such wrath would disrupt business, the flow of aid thus contracts. And since corruption is not confined by geographical borders, PA officials abroad took Palestinian shame to international levels. Millions marched in the US, in Europe, in Asia, South America and the rest of the world, chanting for Gaza and its victims, while some PA ambassadors failed to even turn out to participate. When some of these diplomats made it to public forums, it was for the very purpose of brazenly attacking fellow Palestinians in Hamas, not to garner international solidarity with their own people.

Readily blaming ‘American pressure’ to explain Abbas’ decision at the UNHRC no longer suffices. Even the call on the 74-year-old Palestinian leader to quit is equally hollow. Abbas represents a culture, and that culture is self-seeking, self-serving and utterly corrupt. If Abbas exits, and considering his age, he soon will, Mohammed Dahlan could be the next leader, or even Mahmoud Habbash, who called on Gaza to rebel against Hamas as Israel was blowing up Palestinian homes and schools left and right.

Palestinians who are now calling for change following the UN episode, must consider the Oslo culture in its entirety, its ‘revolutionary’ millionaires, its elites and contractors. A practical alternative to those corrupt must be quickly devised. The Israeli wall is encroaching on Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank, and a new war might be awaiting besieged Gaza. Time is running out, and our collective shame is nearly complete.

Ref: Counterpunch

Ramzy Baroud is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London).

How Israel Buried the UN’s War Crime Probe – Buying Off the Palestinian Authority

Israel celebrated at the weekend its success at the United Nations in forcing the Palestinians to defer demands that the International Criminal Court investigate allegations of war crimes committed by Israel during its winter assault on the Gaza Strip.

The about-turn, following furious lobbying from Israel and the United States, appears to have buried the damning report of Judge Richard Goldstone into the fighting, which killed some 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians.

Israeli diplomats suggested on Sunday that Washington had promised the Palestinian Authority, in return for delaying an inquiry, that the United States would apply “significant pressure” on Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to move ahead on a diplomatic process when the US envoy, George Mitchell, arrives in the region tomorrow.

But, according to Israeli and Palestinian analysts, diplomatic arm-twisting was not the only factor in the PA’s change of heart. Haaretz newspaper reported last week that, behind the scenes, Palestinian officials had faced threats that Israel would retaliate by inflicting enormous damage on the beleaguered Palestinian economy.

In particular, Israel warned it would renege on a commitment to allot radio frequencies to allow Wataniya, a mobile phone provider, to begin operations this month in the West Bank. The telecommunications industry is the bedrock of the Palestinian economy, with the current monopoly company, PalTel, accounting for half the worth of the Palestinian stock exchange.

The collapse of the Wataniya deal would have cost the Palestinian Authority hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties, blocked massive investment in the local economy and jeopardised about 2,500 jobs.

Omar Barghouti, a Jerusalem-based founder of a Palestinian movement for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, denounced the Palestinian Authority’s move: “Trading off Palestinian rights and the fundamental duty to protect the Palestinians under occupation for personal gains is the textbook definition of collaboration and betrayal.”

The deal to establish Wataniya as the second Palestinian mobile phone operator has been at the centre of the international community’s plans to revive the West Bank’s economy and show that Palestinians are better off under the rule of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, than Hamas.

Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy representing the so-called Quartet of the United States, Russia, the UN and the EU, brokered the agreement last summer, saying Wataniya’s investment of more than $700 million over the next 10 years would “provide a much-needed boost to the Palestinian economy”.

Wataniya is a joint venture between Palestinian investors, including close allies of Mr Abbas, and Qatari and Kuwaiti businessmen.

But while Mr Netanyahu has welcomed the deal as part of his plans for an “economic peace”, an option he prefers to Palestinian statehood, Israel has been dragging its feet in allocating the necessary frequencies.

Wataniya’s planned launch earlier this year had to be pushed back and the company has threatened to pull out of the deal if the new October 15 deadline is missed. If it does, the Palestinian Authority will have to repay $140m in licensing fees and could be liable for hundreds of millions more that Wataniya has invested in building 350 communication masts across the West Bank.

According to Who Profits?, an Israeli organization that investigates links between Israel and international companies in exploiting the occupied territories, Israel has a vested interest in limiting the success of the Palestinian mobile phone industry and protecting its control over extensive parts of the West Bank it wants for Jewish settlement.

The only existing Palestinian operator, Jawwal, a subsidiary of PalTel, has been blocked from building communications infrastructure in the so-called Area C of the West Bank, comprising 60 per cent of the territory, which is designated under full Israeli control.

Instead, four Israeli companies – Cellcom, Orange, Pelephone and Mirs – have built an extensive network of antennas and transmission stations for Jewish settlers in Area C. Mirs, a subsidiary of Motorola Israel, also has an exclusive licence to provide cellular services to the Israeli military.

Typically, Palestinians travelling outside the major population areas of the West Bank find a limited or non-existent Jawwal service and therefore have to rely on the Israeli companies.

A World Bank report last year found that as much as 45 per cent of the Palestinian mobile phone market may be in the hands of the Israeli companies. In violation of the Oslo Accords, these firms do not pay taxes to the PA for their commercial activity, losing the Palestinian treasury revenues of up to $60m a year.

Israeli companies also rake off additional surcharges on connections made by Palestinians using Jawwal, including calls between mobile phones and landlines, between the West Bank and Gaza and many within Area C, and international calls.

Dalit Baum, a founder of Who Profits?, said the importance of the telecommunications industry to the Palestinian economy made it a point of leverage over the PA at moments of diplomatic crisis, such as the Goldstone report.

She said: “This case highlights not only how Israel restricts Palestinian economic development through the occupation but also how it uses that control for its own economic and diplomatic advantage.”

Israel’s chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, was reported last week to have conditioned his approval for Wataniya’s launch on the Palestinian leadership withdrawing demands for a referral to the war crimes tribunal.

Defense officials were reported to be angry that the PA had supported the attack on Gaza when it was launched last winter but were now pressing for Israeli soldiers to be put in the dock. One senior figure was quoted by the Haaretz newspaper saying: “The PA has reached the point where it has to decide whether it is working with us or against us.”

Under the Oslo accords, Israel retained ultimate control over the “electro-magnetic spectrum”, including the allocation of radio frequencies, in both Israel and the occupied territories.

Allan Richardson, Wataniya’s chief executive, who has previously launched mobile services in post-war Iraq and Afghanistan, blamed Israel for the company’s problems during an interview in July: “The obstacles we’re suffering from are obstacles you’ll never get anywhere else in the world.”

Last year Israel committed to providing Wataniya with a bandwidth of 4.8MHz, the absolute minimum required to provide coverage over the West Bank, but so far has offered only 3.8MHz.

Jawwal finally received 4.8MHz from Israel in 1999, two years after it launched. Despite the number of its subscribers growing tenfold to 1.1 million today, its bandwidth has remained the same. In comparison, Israel’s Cellcom company, with three times as many subscribers, has 37MHz.

Abdel Malik Jaber, PalTel’s chief executive, complained last year that millions of dollars of imported telecoms equipment was stuck at Israeli customs, some of it since 2004. Wataniya has made similar accusations against Israel.

Ref: Counerpunch

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jkcook.net.

READ THE UN REPORT ON ISRAELI(HAMAS) WAR CRIMES!!!