From the Editors
The political dymamics surrounding the report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (commonly known as the Goldstone Report) provide a number of interesting insights into the recent evolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It bears recollection that the report was produced during a period when the Palestinian leadership was engaged in what has been characterized as serious permanent status negotiations with Israel. Yet the vast majority of Palestinians seemed more interested in the deliberations of Judge Richard Goldstone than those of President Mahmoud Abbas.
This reflected more than widespread Palestinian indifference to diplomacy after two decades of consistent failure. Against the background of the unsuccessful uprising of 2000-2005, growing numbers of Palestinian activists were seeking alternatives to both armed struggle and negotiations. In the context of the PLO’s refusal to promote the 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the West Bank Wall, the Fatah-Hamas schism that erupted in 2007, and popular suspicions (later confirmed) that the leadership of the Fatah-dominated West Bank Palestinian Authority (PA) was implicated in Israel’s 2008-2009 assault on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, such activists also sought to formulate approaches that could be pursued independently of their formal representatives. Thus the anti-Wall and BDS movements as well as the Gaza Freedom Flotillas, for example, instead sought to mobilize Palestinians directly and/or capitalize upon global public support for Palestinian rights.
In the larger scheme of things the Palestinian agenda is being reformulated from one in which agreement with Israel forms the framework for Palestinian statehood, to one in which confronting and reversing Israeli impunity, and activating the principle of Israeli accountability for its actions towards the Palestinian people, forms the core of a new strategic approach to achieve self-determination.
While UN inquiries are not – at least formally – established by popular demand, it is beyond doubt that the Goldstone Commission was formed in response to outrage at Israel’s actions on a planetary scale rather than – as in the case of the ICJ – the efforts of Palestinian officials who at crucial junctures enjoyed the support of their leadership.
In this regard the Goldstone Commission also exposes the limitations of independent activism. This was demonstrated most forcefully in late 2009, when the PLO successfully sabotaged consideration of the Report by the UN Human Rights Council. The same observation arguably applies to the Commission’s peculiar terms of reference, which left out the core question of the conflict’s legality but included detailed consideration of Hamas conduct. Negotiating for Palestinian statehood, and pursuing the application of Palestinian rights as codified in international law are, it seems, irreconcilable modus operandi.
The latter points raise the pertinent question of the efficacy of operating outside of the political system. Can one simply ignore it because it is too compromised, or is change at the top ultimately a prerequisite for effectiveness from below? A partial yet inconclusive answer to this question was provided in February 2011, when the PLO insisted on going forward with a UN Security Council resolution confirming the illegality of Israeli settlement activity in the occupied territories. Successfully bullied by Washington and its allies into withdrawing the initiative on several previous occasions, this time Abbas felt even more threatened by the prospect of ‘another Goldstone’ (i.e. another betrayal) so soon after Ben Ali, Inc. had relocated to Jeddah and Mubarak was being hounded out of power.
It also needs to be asked whether the recent emphasis on the enforcement of international law and associated campaigns to hold Israel accountable for its conduct reflects the weakness of not only the Palestinian national movement but that of the Arab state system more generally. If so, it would be a strategic error to relinquish the initiative in this vital arena at a time when Palestinians and Arabs generally are feeling a growing sense of empowerment on account of growing challenges to the regional order, and perhaps reviving hopes of salvation through more traditional methods.
Despite its shortcomings, the squandering of those opportunities it did present, and Justice Goldstone’s subsequent (and in part resultant) bogus recantation, the Goldstone Report remains a milestone at many levels. Inadvertently, one of its primary achievements is that it helped expose the thorough bankruptcy of the political process, and contributed to removing negotiations about negotiations as the sole strategic option countenanced by the Palestinian leadership.
The severity and success of the backlash against Goldstone and his report demonstrates not only how much ground remains to be covered, but also the fertility of the soil being tilled. On balance, it is a case of two steps forward and one step back. We are better off today than if this entire saga had never transpired. And if the regional environment continues to develop in a positive direction, more such opportunities will be forged, and not less importantly will be deployed more effectively. Particularly when they come to complement rather than contradict the policies of a more responsive leadership.
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