Egypt mediation and Goldstone report

(Press review – week from September 14 to 18, 2009)

The week was rich in events related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some of them made some noise, some did not. We learned that on the one hand Hamas and Fatah have been able to find a common ground through Egyptian mediation, and secondly Egypt also received the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and urged to resume negotiations with the Palestinians. The publication of the UN report of investigation accusing Israel and Hamas of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity had large media coverage.

Diplomatic meetings in Cairo

This week Egypt was positioned as a mediator in several rounds of negotiations under way or planned. Indeed, President Mubarak received successively Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
The Egyptian Al Ahram Weekly reports the Israeli newspaper analysis according to which Netanyahu had to get the support of Egypt in its plan to resume negotiations without prior freezing of the colonization. For his part Egypt Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Abul Gheit, maintains that a complete freeze of colonization over the duration of negotiations will be necessary.

Moroccan Le Matin reported the suggestions of Mubarak for a resumption of negotiations. Besides the freeze on colonization, the Egyptian President stressed on the sensitivity of the issue of colonization in East Jerusalem, for Palestinians but also the entire Arab world. He said that a future Palestinian state should have Jerusalem as its capital. He also urged Israel to lift blockade on the West Bank and Gaza.

As for the interpalestinian negotiations, the events of last week in the West Bank did not bode well. The Jerusalem Post reported that in fact the Palestinian Authority dissolved on Saturday the municipal council of Qalqilya, led by Hamas. The latter found the measure arbitrary and harmful to the ongoing negotiations between the two movements. The AP has justified its act by financial arguments, the expenditure of the municipality having more than quadrupled since 2005.

On Monday, the same Israel daily newspaper announced that Hamas and Fatah have accepted the Egyptian plan for a resumption of interpalestinian negotiations. This plan includes free elections in the first half of 2010, and the division of Palestinian territories in 16 electoral districts: 11 in West Bank (referred to as Judea -Samaria in the Israeli daily), 5 in the Gaza Strip. The vote will receive a check from representatives of Western and Arab countries to ensure transparency.

These likely new elections raise again the question of recognition of results by Europe. On his blog « L’Orient indiscret, » the Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot recounts the meeting of the former French Minister of Foreign Affairs with Hamas representatives in Geneva. He took the opportunity to emphasize that « France and Europeans more generally, do not know how to « treat the problem of Hamas.” Europe refuses to speak with an Islamist movement, but understands that not to speak with it just help to harden and strengthen it. The opinion of Hubert Védrine, and other diplomats, is that it is necessary to talk with Hamas because, as he said, « Democracy was invented to talk with people who do not agree with your opinion.”

Report Goldstone

The mission of the United Nations headed by the judge of South Africa presented its report Wednesday on the events that took place in Gaza in December and January, but also before and after the Israeli operation “Cast Lead”. The report accuses Israel and the Hamas of war crimes or crimes against humanity.

France 24 details the alleged acts for both parties. Israel is accused of a disproportionate use of force and of violating international humanitarian law. Hamas is accused of firing rockets into areas where civilians lived. In the video of the news channel, judge Goldstone also said, « It cannot be any peace process if people do not confront the truth, if they do not confront the facts and if the victims are not recognized.”

The Israeli government reacted promptly to the publication of this report: « a prize to terrorism », « a mockery of history”and «a summary, political, anti-Israeli trial” as reports an article in La Libre Belgique. Accusing the commission of bias, the Israeli government noted that the report « marginalizes the fact that Hamas is behind the war. »

In this connection, in his blog « Nouvelles d’Orient« , the journalist of Le MondeDiplomatique, Alain Gresh comes back on the findings of the report for the period between the cease-fire agreement reached in June the 18th between Israel and Hamas and the beginning of the Israeli offensive. The survey makes it clear that Israel did not respect its commitments to open the crossing points and maintained a policy of blockade on the Gaza Strip. Regarding the cease-fire, it was more or less respected by both parties until an Israeli incursion in November the 4th which provoked an escalation of violence between Hamas and Israel. These facts show that it is Israel which first broke the terms of the cease-fire and not Hamas as claimed by the Israeli government.
On the other hand, another video posted on the Information website, France 24, reported accounts given by Israeli soldiers and collected by the organization Breaking the Silence. They say they have repeatedly used Palestinian civilians as human shields in areas at risk. But Israel has often accused Hamas of using this technique during the events of December and January, justifying the fact that civilians are affected by the offensive.

In an editorial written in the New York Times, Judge Richard Goldstone underlines that although Hamas is guilty of meddling in the civilian population to hide, the Israeli army has not taken enough measures to avoid harming the civilians. He also regrets that none of the two parties had conducted serious investigations into the actions of their forces. That is why the international community has a role to play. If local authorities are not able to establish justice for civilian victims, foreign governments must act. International justice can be done through various channels, including the International Court of Justice.

Given the risk implied by the establishment of an international court with jurisdiction on what happened in Gaza, the Israeli government decided to launch a counter offensive. La Libre Belgique reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and President Shimon Peres will contact their foreign counterparts to convince them not to implement the report Goldstone. Their argument is as follows: « The report establishes a precedent that will complicate the fight against terrorism around the world. »

Renee-Anne Gutter, journalist for La Libre Belgique added that the report and its aftermath will not facilitate the mission of U.S. envoy to the Middle East, who will visit the region this weekend to mediate in the issue of freezing Israeli colonization of the occupied territories. In this connection, a video by the Israeli Channel 2 and published on the English site ofHaaretz newspaper said that according to Netanyahu a freeze on colonization will not be in question, despite the American demands.