Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 22 June 2010
A document sent to Ibrahim Khraishi, Palestinian Authority representative at the UN in Geneva, proves that the PA attempted to undermine Turkey's push for a UN Human Rights Council investigation in to Israel's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla (Patrick Bertschmann/UN Photo)
The Palestinian Authority attempted to neutralize a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution condemning Israel's deadly attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, leaked UN and Palestinian Authority documents obtained by The Electronic Intifada show. Israel's 31 May attack killed nine Turkish citizens, including a dual US-Turkish citizen, and injured dozens of others aboard the Mavi Marmara in international waters.
The Electronic Intifada (EI) today published one of the documents it obtained, containing proposed amendments to a draft Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution. Annotations to the resolution indicate the Palestinian Authority (PA) stood with European Union (EU) countries against Turkey's calls for robust action to hold Israel accountable.
The PA's apparent collusion to shield Israel will recall for many its efforts to undermine UN action on the Goldstone report last October.
Apparently written by a European delegate, the document's amendments would have seriously diluted Turkey's original wording. The most damaging change would have removed the call for an independent UN investigation under HRC auspices. The document was provided to EI by a source who described how it was obtained inside the UN Office at Geneva, and asked to remain anonymous.
Turkey rejected the EU-PA amendments, and the final resolution on 2 June declared that the council "Decides to dispatch an independent international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law resulting from the Israeli attacks" ("The Grave Attacks by Israeli Forces against the Humanitarian Boat Convoy," United Nations Human Rights Council, Fourteenth session, A/HRC/14/L.1, Adopted on 2 June 2010).
The language in the final resolution was very similar to the January 2009 HRC resolution which led to the Goldstone report, the independent investigation that detailed war crimes committed during Israel's 2008-09 invasion of Gaza.
Yet annotations apparently made by a European diplomat on the draft resolution obtained by EI make it clear that the PA consented to removal of this wording. A PA-backed alternative paragraph instead proposed that the HRC: "Requests the UN Secretary-General to ensure a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to the [sic] international standards."
This difference is key because the Turkish wording specifically calls for an investigation under the authority of the HRC. Yet the weaker EU-PA version would have allowed the UN secretary-general to merely endorse an Israeli-led inquiry provided he considered it "credible."
One of the document's annotations explains that "TK [Turkey] has checked with their capital and they are still under high-level instruction to insist on language as originally proposed." The note adds that "PA and PAK [Pakistan] can agree to both proposals" — i.e to replace the independent HRC investigation with one merely approved by either the UN Security Council or the secretary-general.
Similarly, while Turkey had — according to the annotations — insisted that the resolution specifically condemn the Israeli attack, the "PA and PAK is [sic] OK with the EU proposal" to replace reference to "the outrageous attack by the Israeli forces against the humanitarian flotilla" with the more ambiguous "use of violence during the Israeli military operation." The EU alternative could be interpreted as including condemnation of "violence" by passengers attempting to defend themselves with water hoses or sticks against the unprovoked Israeli military attack in international waters.
Public statements by both French and UK diplomats support EI's interpretation of the document. After Turkey succeeded in getting its wording into the 2 June resolution, the UK and France abstained, and the Netherlands, Italy and the US voted against.
Explaining his country's abstention, French representative Jean-Baptiste Mattei expressed a wish for a "unanimous stand" and said his government "regret that proposals for amendments to the text made by the EU" were not accepted. Peter Gooderham for the United Kingdom concurred with this wish "to reach consensus" and even mentioned he was "grateful for the efforts of the co-sponsors in this regard" ("UN Human Rights Council, Archived Video", Fourteenth session, 2 June 2010).
The Palestinian Authority was one of the resolution's co-sponsors.
Imad Zuhairi, the Deputy Permanent Observer of the PA to the UN in Geneva, said in a phone interview that the position of his delegation was that "no matter if it's Geneva, the Human Rights Council, or the Security Council, there should be a transparent and international independent investigation committee in accordance with international standards."
Zuhairi claimed his delegation had been "not against or with" the EU effort to scupper the HRC investigation. He criticized the Security Council resolution wording as "ambiguous" and said the PA would "reject by all means any internal investigation" by Israel. He added: "what we care for is our [Palestinian] people in the occupied Gaza Strip."
When questioned specifically on the comment in the document that the PA can "agree" to removal of the HRC investigation, Zuhairi said the comment was inaccurate, and said that whoever had written it was mistaken.
However, the annotations in the draft HRC resolution leaked to EI are corroborated by a second leaked document which reveals an earlier attempt to dilute the HRC resolution, but this time directly by the PA itself.
The second document, and the email to which it was attached, were leaked by a source unconnected to the first document. EI was given access to the second document on condition it not be published.
The second document is in the widely-used Microsoft Word format and the "Track Changes" feature has been used, so the exact changes made to it are unambiguous. An examination of the Word document's metadata reveals that it was initially created by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs ("Disisleri Bakanligi") before the PA added its changes.
The email to which it was attached was written by Feda Abdelhady Nasser, a diplomat at the PA's UN mission in New York, and sent to Dr. Ibrahim Khraishi, the PA representative at the UN in Geneva where the HRC is based. It is copied to Riyad Mansour, the head of the PA mission at the UN in New York.
Abdelhady Nasser explains that the attached document contains the PA mission in New York's edits to the draft resolution being proposed for adoption by the HRC.
The document itself proves that the PA representatives replaced the proposed Turkish wording in which the HRC "Decides to dispatch an independent international fact finding mission …" with much vaguer and more indirect language that: "Calls upon the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to dispatch a fact finding mission …"
This language would have removed the entire issue from the auspices of the HRC. Taken together, the evidence indicates that the PA was directly involved in trying to dilute and undermine Turkey's robust position and to protect Israel from accountability.
Recent reports suggest that the "investigation conforming to international standards" approved by the Security Council and the US administration will be conducted by Israel itself, observed by Northern Ireland politician David Trimble who recently co-founded an organization called Friends of Israel, and Canadian Brigadier-General Ken Watkin.
A separate investigation by the HRC, as stipulated in the 2 June resolution that passed with 32 votes in favor (three against, nine abstentions) would represent a challenge to the authority of the Israeli investigation. If the Goldstone report is a precedent, an HRC investigation is far more likely to be critical of Israeli actions.
In October 2009, the Goldstone report was finally adopted by the HRC. Despite the PA initially withdrawing support for the South African jurist's investigation into Israel's 2008-09 onslaught against the Gaza Strip, Mahmoud Abbas, who extended his expired term as PA president under contested "emergency laws," was forced into a humiliating U-turn after an outpouring of disgust and protest from Palestinians around the world.
Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Ramallah. His website is www.winstanleys.org.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.