‘It’s good to be Palestinian for a change,’ Sha’ath says– and suggests that Palestinians will push Goldstone Report

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Last Saturday at PLO headquarters in Ramallah I caught a press conference by Nabil Sha’ath, the longtime Palestinian Authority official. Glowing from the aftermath of the United Nations bid– “it’s good to be a Palestinian for a change”–  he seemed excited by the idea that Palestinians were actually directing events, or at least aspects of events, rather than watching as things happened to them.

And he suggested that the Palestinians have more surprises up their sleeve, including the Goldstone Report. “Israel haunted Goldstone” till he reconsidered the report on the Gaza conflict, Sha’ath said. But all that Palestinians are seeking is “a court of law.” This after all is the western answer, he said, not to take matters into our own hands.

We are not trying to join the Mafia or Al Qaeda, he joked, but the United Nations.

Herewith, a few of the issues that came up, and Sha’ath’s responses.

–Palestinian terms for negotiation

“If Israel stops all its settlement activites, ends its siege of Gaza, comes to negotiation seriously committed to the [Quartert’s] terms of reference, we will not complain about Israel anywhere. Not to the International Court of Justice or anywhere.”

–Meaningful and meaningless negotiations.

In the cases of East Timor, Sudan, Northern Ireland and Kosovo, Sha’ath said, the global community only won accords when it took a forceful role. There must be “active international involvement when there are two parties that are not of equal power. Otherwise the status quo becomes lovely. Particularly with our commitment to no violence…

“How can I believe in the Quartet, if they say nothing about 1100 [new settlement] units…. What makes negotiations succeed– you need international involvement that is much more forceful… Without rules you cannot negotiate anything.”

Sha’ath asked us to imagine a soccer match in which there was no referee with a whistle and red card. It would quickly devolve into massacre. “We need that referee holding up the red card.”

–Abbas’s speech to the U.N.

Sha’ath said that speech was comparable only to Yassir Arafat’s famous 1974 speech to the General Assembly, his first. In that speech, “Mahmoud Darwish wrote the line do not let the olive branch drop from my hand.”

In the recent speech, Abbas quoted Darwish, the late Palestinian poet, at length. “So Mahmoud Darwish, somehow live or dead, was an important contributor to both speeches.”

–Palestinian bid is getting a smooth ride, procedurally.

Within half an hour of Palestinians seeking statehood, Sec’y General Ban Ki-moon handed the request to the Security Council. “In the Macedonian case the Secretary General kept it nine months in his drawer.” Then the Security Council met immediately and transferred the issue to the membership committee.

“It is moving very fast. And if it doesn’t we can go back to the Security Council to vote to speed up. And in the final analysis if all else fails we can go to the General Assembly.”

–The US Congress.

Sha’ath was asked about the fact that Congress is moving to freeze $200 million in aid to the Palestinians following the UN bid for statehood. What will you do? “Declare war!” Sha’ath joked. He went on to say that he would try to explain to Congress that it is being unfair. “Please don’t quote me on declaring war.”

–The Palestinian street

Sha’ath said that the large rallies supporting Abbas’s speech on Friday September 23 were genuine. People took taxis and buses from villages to Ramallah to be there. “None of them were provided buses or free rides… no one was collected from offices. Or told to leave work. It was a Friday [the weekend]. People really felt the dignity and the honor. They felt it’s good to be a Palestinian for a change. And therefore they came.”

–Goldstone Report.

Sha’ath said the Goldstone Report is very much alive. “Israel haunted Mr. Goldstone. It haunted his children and his grandchildren. It made his life miserable, and the man despite his courage and professionalism had to make a statement [Goldstone’s April 1 “reconsideration” of the Goldstone mission report, published in the Washington Post] it was forced up on him.”

Sha’ath pointed out that the other three commissioners have taken none of the report back, and the report is supported by two UN resolutions. So it’s not a dead letter. “We have given all our attention in the last three months to this campaign [for statehood].” The Palestinians have “several other” irons in the fire, he said, “including the Goldstone Report.”

–Palestine’s agenda

Sha’ath laughed at the view that the Palestinians are making trouble by going to the Security Council to pursue statehood. “We’re not joining the Mafia, we’re not joining Al Qaeda,” he said. Palestinians are only seeking a legal forum for their case. “We’re going to court. We’re not taking matters into our own hands. We go to court. This is the western answer.”

–The Israel lobby

Sha’ath said that the American Jewish left has deferred power to the right wing. “The lobby has an important role but it has been made more important because of the right wing lobby. The problem with the leftwing lobby is they don’t know what to do with President Obama. … He is in trouble. I think the left wing wants to protect all the domestic programs. And so on the international issues, the right wing Israeli lobbies are taking over.”

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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7 Responses

  1. Whizdom
    October 6, 2011, 6:58 am

    That’s an interesting concept; “amnesty” for Israel in claims before the ICC for offenses occurring before a specific date. No amnesty for offenses committed after that. If Israel agrees to the following.

    “If Israel stops all its settlement activites, ends its siege of Gaza, comes to negotiation seriously committed to the [Quartert’s] terms of reference, we will not complain about Israel anywhere. Not to the International Court of Justice or anywhere.”

    • Hostage
      October 6, 2011, 10:17 am

      That’s an interesting concept; “amnesty” for Israel in claims before the ICC for offenses occurring before a specific date.

      The ICC hasn’t work that way so far. Years after Côte d’Ivoire accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC under an Article 12(3) declaration, the Security Council was still trying to get the ICC to apply that declaration to new and different situations. There are no provisions that would allow the Palestinians to withdraw their declaration and complaint, e.g. http://humanrightsdoctorate.blogspot.com/2011/04/cote-divoire-and-international-criminal.html

      So far, the ICC has never agreed to drop a prosecution on the grounds of a permanent exile or amnesty agreement for a deposed dictator. In fact it pointedly refused to honor one in Charles Taylor’s case, e.g. http://humanrightsdoctorate.blogspot.com/2011/07/britain-france-flirting-with-letting.html

      So, if Palestine is upgraded to a non-member state, nothing would prevent the Court from prosecuting Netanyahu anyway – except for a yearly Security Council resolution requesting a temporary postponement in accordance with Article 16 of the Rome Statute or credible investigations and prosecutions at the national level. I don’t think there will ever be a veto-proof majority of nine votes for Israeli amnesty in the Security Council.

  2. seafoid
    October 6, 2011, 7:58 am

    The UN bid is about Palestinian agency. The Palestinians have agency and they know how to use it. Shake that thing.


    For Israel and the US the only acceptable agency for the Palestinians is an underfunded UNRWA

  3. pabelmont
    October 6, 2011, 8:39 am

    The USA and Israel believe that slavery (slaves have no rights to take to court) is “the western answer”. UNCLE SAM SAYS: “Do what you’re told and say Yassah boss.”

  4. Richard Witty
    October 6, 2011, 11:31 am

    If the PA stays on the Sha’ath themes, it will continue to control history, rather than be controlled by it.

    If it extends to more militant rhetoric and any violence, then it will lose the control of history.

    It is Abbas and Fayyad to thank for that shift from victim to participant.

    • Dex
      October 6, 2011, 2:06 pm

      Are you saying Palestinians have been playing the part of victim?

      Are you on medication? That is a serious question.

  5. Charltonr
    October 6, 2011, 3:51 pm

    Dr. Nabil Ali Sha’ath is re-emerging as a lead stalwart person for the Palestinian cause. He was in the intense though ultimately fruitless post-Oslo negotiations with Shimon Peres, taking leave from his Cairo-Amman consulting firm TEAM. he was a minister in late Arafat cabinets who avoided the taint of corruption. He relates effectively to, and deserves the respect in which he is held by, the outside world, even the Americans. He holds a doctorate from the Wharton School. University of Pennsylvania. He has always been one of the few Palestinian leaders who was effective in dealings with the US State Department of Warren Christopher. Now only in his 60s, he has health, energy, smarts, and continuous experience at a high level on these issues since the 1980s. He deserves attention and respect for his integrity and candor in dealing with everyone who is sensible about the Israel-Palestinian mess, as well as the zealots on all sides.

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