A diplomatic, political and legal disaster has left people in Gaza shocked and disillusioned, and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), and its President look like they are trying to cover the sun in continuing to deny their responsibility for it.
In a move that stunned Palestinians, the representative of Palestine to the United Nations (UN) mission requested the postponement of a vote last week at the Human Rights Council to endorse the report of the fact-finding mission into the war on Gaza earlier this year. That was the mission – headed by Judge Goldstone – that highlighted Israeli breaches to international humanitarian law.
To date, no one knows who ordered the postponement of the vote, while speculation fills the airways and ordinary people in Gaza feel a deep sense of shock in what they see as a huge let-down.
No matter what spin the PNA attempts to put on the Geneva issue, including what it describes as wanting to avoid passing a weak endorsement, it won't wash. Countries which were not prepared to endorse the Goldstone report by the time the council met would probably never be persuaded to endorse it later. That the PNA was subjected to tremendous political pressure to delay the vote does not absolve it of having committed a grave mistake.
In his address to the UN General Assembly in New York the week before, Barack Obama emphasised how keen his administration was to support the UN as a multi-lateral organisation. Why have Palestinians not laid the burden on the UN's Human Rights Council to follow through on what was expected to be a majority endorsement of the Goldstone report instead of having to short-circuit its expected progress under, so far, unconvincing pretexts?
Israel is seen as having acted with impunity towards ordinary people during the war on Gaza. And yet in response the PNA has yet again compromised the moral credit of the Palestinian people's cause, under the banner of a relentless pursuit of peace. The PNA can clearly see how Israel's policy in the West Bank and East Jerusalem runs contrary to any notion of peace. Israeli settlement expansion still eats up the West Bank, the Separation Wall continues to alienate people of the same land, and East Jerusalem – including Al-Aqsa Mosque, the second Holiest spot to Muslims – is compromised as Israeli police and army prevent Palestinian Muslims from praying there.
It will surely only be when Israel respects Palestinians as adversaries that it will become serious about peace. But when the government in the West Bank delays the pursuit of justice, Israel escapes accountability. And Hamas's deposed government in Gaza seems stuck in its inability to reach out to a world that continues to boycott it. All the while, Israel's refusal to compromise on any of the major obstacles to peace only shows how it continues to subject Palestinians to impossible policies.
Unsatisfied with discrediting the Goldstone report, Israel seems to have trapped the PNA into responding to its pressure – even if this pressure has come via other countries – by forcing it to postpone the vote in Geneva. Israel will not allow any Palestinian government to build respect and advance the moral credit of the Palestinian cause. It seems bent on threatening to pull the plug on the peace process while it continues to – in effect – pull the plug on Palestinian lives.
Palestinians must use the Geneva moment to show the world how unfairly they are expected to accommodate and compromise for the sake of a just peace; one that we all hope for but feel is increasingly becoming a phantom. Palestinians need to cultivate a sense of initiative, and of counter-initiative, to master the grey and manipulative politics of the world. After all, Israel has successfully done that in applying pressure that diminishes the morality of the Palestinian cause.
Sami Abdel-Shafi is co-founder and Senior Partner at Emerge Consulting Group LLC, a management consultancy in Gaza City