October 12, 2009

Jeopardizing the Palestinian Cause

Several droplets had barely dripped down the sides of a frozen Israeli-Palestinian conflict when a new blizzard iced them up again. The Goldstone report, nearing infamy, has transformed into a political groundhog. Both Israelis and Palestinians saw their shadows and ran back inside, ensuring six more weeks of winter.

That could be six months, a year, or longer in Middle East time.

The Goldstone affair has played out in predictably ugly fashion. Palestinians were bound to exploit it and Israel certain to torpedo it, with America awaiting the coordinates. Forget the politics gyrating around Richard Goldstone’s report for a moment, if possible, and remember why the report exists in the first place - to bring justice, order, and restitution to Gaza.

Forget the politics because the leaders - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - cannot. Each undoubtedly believes they’re pursuing the best for their people, yet each is in a deeper hole than when the Goldstone report was first submitted to the UN Human Rights Council last week.

Why? They saw power in their shadows, not fear, and wanted more.

Abbas is looking less guilty each day compared to his counterparts, but he committed the original sin. Withdrawing the report wasn’t a problem if his plan was to gather more support or wait until reconciliation with Hamas, but bowing to American pressure, little choice did he have, after an equally embarrassing UN summit exposed too much weakness from Palestinian leadership. Shrouding the reasons for his actions compounded the damage.

Of the three leaders, Abbas is most difficult to explain. With nothing to gain by delaying or lying, he burnt his credibility and opened the door for challengers like Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Mustafa Barghouthi. He appears terrified to act against America’s wishes, but what good is American support if he’s losing Palestinians? Abbas may have been lured by the illusion of President Obama’s power.

The Goldstone report has become a weapon in the Palestinian’s negotiating arsenal (by any means necessary). If anything good can be said for Abbas it’s that he didn’t overplay a good hand, potentially saving deeper investigations for a more timely occasion. The same cannot be said of Khaled Meshaal.

Hamas easily stood to gain the most through the Goldstone report despite its own implication. Israel predictably overreacted to a counterinsurgency and induced a propaganda battle disguised as a legal battle, possibly Hamas’ plan all along. This strategy has more potential to damage the Israeli state than any rocket and it’s showing.

Why then was Hamas so unprepared to seize the advantage? Simple - greed.

Hamas would be in a greater position of power if not for itself. If Hamas had stayed cool and collected, reaffirmed the reconciliation process, added its weight to Fatah and Arab states to push the Goldstone report, and championed the voice of Palestinians, the party and its leaders would’ve spiked in popularity while simultaneously bringing down Abbas.

Instead Meshaal is playing his hand too quickly, telling seven Palestinian groups in Damascus, “A courageous leadership is a leadership that is frank with its people. Those who are accumulating political mistakes are today continuing their lies. This is not a leadership that deserves to be entrusted with the leadership of the Palestinians.”

Hamas failed to realize that letting Abbas fall by his own hand provides a higher chance of success in the coming election than bringing him down. It tastes power in Abbas’ weakness and desires more, but now Abbas is hitting back with the ammo Hamas is giving him.

"This campaign by Hamas is aimed at serving their interests, which is to postpone the signing of the reconciliation agreement," Abbas said in reaction to his criticism. “They want to concentrate their rule and their regime in Gaza. They want to ensure the continuity of division in Gaza, that aims at weakening the Palestinian Authority."

Naturally Meshaal insisted Hamas wasn't to blame for anything, telling Fatah, “We are angry because of what is happening to our people. Do not say we have embarrassed you.”

Fatah embarrassed itself, but now Hamas is too; missing an advantage is as bad as creating a disadvantage. Forging reconciliation with Fatah would yield a boost in popularity, increase the chances of advancing the Goldstone report, and solidify its hold on Gaza. Failing to do so would be a strategic error.

And by the sound of its internal debate, Israel is headed down the same road.

Few people had faith in Benjamin Netanyahu to pursue the Goldstone report or any serious investigation into the Gaza war, but just to be sure, he recently announced, “We will not allow Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, who sent our sons to war, to arrive at the international court in the Hague... Israel will not allow its leaders to be prosecuted at The Hague. We reject this absurd state of affairs.”

Israel isn’t alone. Any state would reject an international attempt to try its present leaders, but once again Israel is missing the point. Its battle is primarily propaganda, not legal, and it’s sorely losing. The more Netanyahu stalls, objects, and defiantly attacks, the more Israel is damaged in public. The West is its only ally and some states are losing patience.

After denouncing Goldstone and reiterating his demands from Palestinians during a recent Knesset speech, Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni took to the floor and berated Netanyahu.

“The Americans exerted pressure and the Goldstone Report was taken off the table,” Livni said. “Wonderful. But then Israel, led by you, had to boast of its performance, humiliate the Palestinians. And what happened is that the report is now back on the table. If hurting the Palestinians and humiliating Abu Mazen gives you pleasure, this shows that you are still in the field of ‘there is no partner’ and have not moved to the real negotiations field.”

Knowing that America isn’t serious about pressuring Israel, Netanyahu has grown accustomed to getting his way and once again laid the blame on Palestinians for refusing to recognize the Jewish state of Israel. Growing more audacious, he manipulated the Goldstone report into an obstacle in the War on Terror to further exploit America. Instead of policing and protecting itself - and scoring a public victory in the process - he’s stonewalling the UN with absolute confidence.

Withdrawing the Goldstone report was victory to him, but at what cost?

“In short: We have beaten America, humiliated the Palestinians, isolated ourselves,” Livni said. “Raise your head from the small politics and see what has happened, see that Israel is excommunicated. Today Turkey, yesterday Britain, before that Europe. You have turned the state into a state that is losing its international support. When the prime minister thinks he wins, all of Israel loses.”

One tragedy follows another. The battle over the Gaza war has been just as fierce; sadly Palestinians are once again lost in the middle.

Israel is drunk with power, to the point where Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman can sweep aside a two-state solution with no American response. Livni warned Netanyahu that failing to advance the peace process will eventually unite the Palestinians and increase their demands. Meanwhile Palestinian factions, obsessed with advancing their individual interests in pursuit of power, are overlooking an even greater potential in unification.

These leaders aren’t just power tripping, they’ve actually tripped over their own power.

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