The withdrawal last week of a UN agency report accusing Israel of being an apartheid state will not change the stark findings and harsh conclusions reached by two distinguished researchers. The report, entitled “Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” was solicited by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). While dominated by Arab states, it has been critical of human rights abuses in Arab countries as well.
The report was immediately denounced by Israel and the US, as expected. The latter pressured UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to withdraw the report, while US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley described it as “false and defamatory.”
The head of ESCWA, Rima Khalaf, resigned in protest. She told Guterres that “in the space of two months you have instructed me to withdraw two reports produced by ESCWA, not due to any fault found in the reports and probably not because you disagreed with their content, but due to political pressure by member states who gravely violate the rights of the people of the region.”
The report triggered accusations by Israeli and US officials that the UN was once again being used in a propaganda war against the Zionist state. But not one Israeli official had the courage to discuss the report’s damning findings.
The attack against the UN and its agencies is not new. Whenever a report or resolution is released or adopted by a UN body that criticizes Israeli practices against Palestinians, as in the case of the Human Rights Council, it is immediately attacked as biased against Israel and part of a campaign to shame it. Pressure is immediately applied on UN officials and heads of enquiry commissions in order to discredit findings that incriminate Israel.
Almost 70 years since the UN body first got involved in the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, Israel remains in defiance of UN resolutions. As an occupation force, it continues to violate international charters and conventions, while accusations and warnings that it is fast becoming an apartheid state are being leveled by distinguished international figures, including Jews and Israelis.
The barrier that segregates Arabs and Jews, Israeli insistence on the Jewish character of the state, and the adoption of discriminatory laws and practices against Palestinians all fall within the parameters of the crime of apartheid.
Any objective legal argument against Israel’s occupation and its unlawful practices against Palestinians will reach the conclusions of the now-suspended ESCWA report. But that was never the issue. The UN’s credibility has always been in question when addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Almost 70 years since the UN body first got involved in the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, Israel remains in defiance of UN resolutions. As an occupation force, it continues to violate international charters and conventions.
Palestinians have always known that their continued suffering has little to do with the integrity of their legal standing, and more with Israel’s unique immunity from prosecution or accountability as a protege of the world’s dominant superpower.
Furthermore, there is tacit acknowledgment — some would call it complicity — by Western countries that it is acceptable for Israel to receive special treatment when it comes to its refusal to adhere to UN resolutions and international laws and conventions.
The Palestinians, often perceived as political orphans, have no access to such treatment. And when special inquiries or non-governmental human rights watchdogs come out with damning accusations against Israeli practices, the stigmas of bias and propaganda are immediately thrown at them.
But if the UN and its various bodies cannot bring Israel to account or award justice to the Palestinians, who can? Israeli exceptionalism is undermining the entire UN system, and putting in doubt the viability of the rule of international law that should apply to all.
If Israel is unwilling to submit to international law, and remains adamant in its occupation of Palestinian lands and usurpation of Palestinian rights, its standing as a rogue/apartheid state is normalized. This normalization will lead to a breakdown in all forms of checks and balances, reversing decades of internationally agreed conventions, charters and laws.
The irony is that instead of changing Israel, it is the world that is required to change. Two days after the release of the ESCWA report, the US State Department published its annual country report on human rights practices. The section covering the situation of human rights in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories raises a number of issues related to ill-treatment of Palestinian child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights in Israeli military courts.
According to the organization Defense for Children, the report notes other grave violations against Palestinian children, including unlawful killing and excessive use of force by Israeli forces. Breaking with tradition, the US secretary of state did not launch the report in person and in front of the media.
Israel will undoubtedly attack the report and its findings. The US State Department may suspend publication of such reports in the future, or omit any reference to Israel and the occupied territories. The price of this appeasement will be hefty. The cost of such blatant hypocrisy will be borne by the rest of the world.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.