October 18, 2009
The United Nations Council for Human Rights on Friday approved the Goldstone Report, which falsely accuses Israel of targeting civilians during the December-January war in Gaza. While the move has been accurately described as a naked attempt to demonize Israel, it was also a distinct failure for President Barack Obama in the Middle East.
When the Goldstone Report was first released in September, the White House reportedly signaled to Israel that it would die quietly in Geneva. Jerusalem, in turn, signaled it would continue to cooperate with Obama's peace team, led by George Mitchell.
Obama then went to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and requested that the Palestinian Authority drop pursuit of the report. Abbas reluctantly acquiesced.
"After studying the situation and in order to ensure the largest possible support, we agreed to delay the vote till the next session of the council (in March 2010)," Abbas said in a speech on Palestinian television.
Abbas, however, faced an intense backlash on the Palestinian street. Throngs of angry Palestinians relished the possibility that the report could reach the International Criminal Court (ICC). In short order, Abbas flipped positions and snubbed Obama's request.
As a result, the U.N. Human Rights Council approved the report today in Geneva by a vote of 25-6. Douglas M. Griffiths, the U.S. representative to the council, merely registered "disappointment at the outcome of this resolution."
Apart from his inability to hold Abbas to his word, Obama failed to appeal to the sensibilities of U.S. allies on the council such as Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, who voted in favor of the report. This confirms that the Arab world is still more interested in vilifying Israel than negotiating with it – despite Obama's attempts to engender good will in the Arab world by exacting concessions from Israel.
More importantly, Obama has conveyed to the Israelis that he lacks sway with the Palestinians. This bodes poorly for future negotiations.
The Goldstone is not just a black eye for the United Nations. Obama has demonstrated that his diplomatic efforts in the Middle East have thus far failed.
Jonathaan Schanzer, a former intelligence analyst for the U.S. Treasury, is deputy executive director for the Jewish Policy Center and author of Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan).
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