Abbas Aide: Deferring Action on Goldstone Report Was a Mistake

PA threatens Israel: Advance peace talks or we'll take Goldstone report to international war crimes tribunal.

Click here for more on the Goldstone commission report on the Gaza conflict

The Palestinian leadership made a mistake by suspending action on a U.N. report on Gaza war crimes, a member of President Mahmoud Abbas' inner circle said Wednesday - the first such acknowledgment after days of protests in the West Bank and Gaza.

At issue is a 575-page United Nations report that alleged both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during Israel's three-week offensive against the Islamic militants in Gaza last winter.

Last week, Abbas withdrew Palestinian support for a vote in the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to have the report sent to the UN General Assembly for possible action. Such a vote would have been a first of many steps toward possible war crimes tribunals.

With the Palestinians out of the picture, the council set the report aside for six months.

Abbas made the decision under heavy U.S. pressure, Palestinian and Israeli officials have said. U.S. officials told Palestinian leaders that a war crimes debate would complicate efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to participants in such meetings.

Abbas' aides have defended the step, saying the Palestinians needed more time to win international support for the U.N. report. They said deferring action did not mean burying the report.

But Abbas apparently underestimated the angry response at home. With every day, there were more protests, marches and statements of condemnations, not only from his Hamas rivals, but also from human rights groups and intellectuals.

On Wednesday, senior Abbas adviser Yasser Abed Rabbo told the Voice of Palestine radio that the Palestinian leadership had erred.

"What happened is a mistake, but [it] can be repaired," said Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization. "We have the courage to admit there was a mistake."

In Gaza, public outrage at Abbas reached a new level on Wednesday, when hundreds of posters criticizing the Palestinian president appeared in public areas around Gaza City. Abbas and Hamas have been bitter rivals since the Islamic group violently seized control of Gaza from pro-Abbas forces in June 2007.

The text on one poster under an Abbas photo read: To the dumps of history, you traitor, Mahmoud Abbas. Another had a big, black X over Abbas' face.

A crew dressed in civilian clothes was seen putting up the posters Wednesday morning, though it was not immediately clear who headed the campaign. The posters were signed Intellectuals and university professors.

In an apparent attempt at damage control, Abbas' government is now backing a request by Libya to convene the UN Security Council for an emergency session on the report, written by South African Judge Richard Goldstone. Council members were to meet Wednesday to discuss the request.

Libya is the only Arab member on the 15-nation council, the U.N.'s most powerful body.

Whether the Libyans and Palestinians succeed remains to be seen.

The United States, Israel's closest ally, is expected to argue that the Security Council should not take up the document until the Human Rights Council considers it. The U.S., along with four other permanent members of the Security Council, can veto any resolution before the Council. Israeli officials declined comment on the council meeting.

The Goldstone report accused Israel of using disproportionate force and deliberately harmed civilians. It said Hamas fired rockets indiscriminately at civilians in southern Israel.

Both Israel and Hamas have denied the allegations.

PA: Advance peace talks or face war crimes tribunal

On Tuesday, a close associate of Abbas told Haaretz that if Israel does not soften its positions on the peace process, the Palestinian Authority will resume pushing to get the Goldstone report moved to the Security Council, and thence to the International Criminal Court.

The PA initially proposed that the UN Human Rights Council pass the report onto the Security Council, which has the power to ask the International Criminal Court to open a criminal case, but then withdrew its motion under pressure from the United States, which feared that such a move would derail Washington's drive to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Abbas' associate said that not only the U.S., but also Britain and China vehemently opposed the PA's original motion. And since all three have veto power in the Security Council, referral to the Security Council would have accomplished nothing except to antagonize three major powers, he explained.

Several Arab states also urged Abbas to withdraw the motion, after they too, came under pressure from Washington, he said.

Erekat threatens to name names

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the French media Tuesday that Abbas is now considering asking Arab states to raise the Goldstone report in the Security Council themselves. Erekat also threatened to reveal the names of all the countries that pressured Abbas to pull the motion and instead negotiate with Israel without preconditions.

The growing criticism of Abbas' decision is apparently what prompted him to publicly demand Tuesday that Arab states fight what he termed an Israeli takeover of Jerusalem, even though privately the PA is worried by the possibility of a conflagration in the city: It was an effort to divert attention from the Goldstone issue.

However, it did not stop Nabil Amr, a leading member of Abbas' Fatah movement who has long been one of his outspoken critics, from resigning as the PA's ambassador to Egypt Tuesday to protest Abbas' decision on the Goldstone report.

Moreover, the Israeli Arab party Balad announced a rally in Acre on Saturday at which it plans to demand that Abbas resign over the decision, which it termed "a political crime." This is very unusual, as Israeli Arab parties generally refrain from coming out openly against the PA leadership.

"Someone who ignores the occupier's crimes and even tries to whitewash them cannot be the legitimate representative of his people," Balad said in a statement.

Hadash, another Israeli Arab party, also slammed Abbas' move Tuesday.