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Agence France-Presse

Fury Over Gaza War Report Weakens Abbas


Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas speaks to media after a meeting with Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa on October 4. A controversial decision not to press a vote on a UN report on the Gaza war has angered many Palestinians and weakened president Abbas amid US-backed peace efforts, observers say. (AFP/Getty Image)

RAMALLAH, West Bank - A controversial decision not to press a vote on a UN report on the Gaza war has angered many Palestinians and weakened president Mahmud Abbas amid US-backed peace efforts, observers say.

The Palestinians agreed to delay a vote on the damning report at the UN Human Rights Council on Friday after reportedly coming under pressure to do so by the United States and Israel, who said it would sink efforts to relaunch peace talks.

But the decision to support delaying consideration of the report -- which accused Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes -- has unleashed a tide of anger that will ramp up pressure on Abbas ahead of any talks, observers say.

"Ironically, (Abbas) is probably in a much better position to deal with the Israelis and the United States because of what he did," Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, a former Princeton University professor, told AFP.

"The problem is that he is losing his standing in front of his own people... He will be under extreme pressure now to produce tangible results in the negotiations."

The report by the former war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone detailed alleged war crimes committed by both the Jewish state and Hamas during the three-week Israeli military offensive launched on December 27.

Goldstone recommended that the Human Rights Council submit the report to the prosecutor at the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC). But on Friday the Geneva-based body decided to defer a vote until March.

The decision came after the Palestinian delegation reportedly dropped its support for an immediate vote, clearing the way for Arab and Muslim states who had also supported the report to instead delay its consideration.

The decision has caused a groundswell of criticism, with the Islamist Hamas movement, several Palestinian human rights groups and even some members of Abbas's own Fatah party slamming it as a "betrayal" of the war's victims.

"The Palestinian Authority misunderstood the reaction of the people," Kuttab said. "It was badly handled and they were completely outmanoeuvred by Israel and by Hamas."

Last week, Hamas scored a major political victory by trading a video clip of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for 20 Palestinian women prisoners.

The Islamist group has also ridden the wave of anger unleashed by a series of clashes over the past week at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site sacred to Muslims and Jews and a major Israeli-Palestinian fault line.

Hamas leaders have repeatedly linked the clashes and the delay of the Goldstone report, claiming that Abbas, by capitulating to US and Israeli pressure, has cleared the way for further Israeli "crimes."

Abbas has faced accusations of giving into US and Israeli pressure since he met Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York last month without securing a sought-after freeze in Jewish settlement construction.

"(The Goldstone report) is the second major blow to Abu Mazen (Abbas). The first was his meeting with Netanyahu," the political writer Hani al-Masri said.

Now, analysts say, Abbas will be under even more pressure to get results if and when he enters direct negotiations with the Israelis.

"The credibility of the Palestinian president, as it relates to the negotiations, among the people and even within the Fatah movement, has today become very shaky," political analyst Samih Shabib said.

"Unless the Palestinian side can accomplish something on the ground, pursuing the path of negotiations will have a negative impact."

Abbas's weakened political position could make it even more difficult for him to negotiate over the core issues of the decades-old conflict, including borders, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

"If the Palestinian leadership cannot deal with an international report that talks about war crimes committed by Israel in Gaza because of the pressure exerted on it, then what is going to happen when it tries to talk about final status issues?" said Iyad al-Barghuti of the Ramallah Centre for Human Rights.

US President Barack Obama has been struggling for months to get the two sides to revive their peace talks, which were relaunched in November 2007 but suspended during the Gaza war.

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