After a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014 condemning Israel’s human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described the UN as absurd and vowed to “continue to denounce and expose” its “procession of hypocrisy.” For years, Israel has undermined the UN and its various bodies and, with unconditional support from Washington, ignored UN resolutions on the illegal occupation of Palestine.
To a certain extent, the strategy has worked. With US vetoes blocking every UN attempt at pressuring Israel to end its military occupation and human rights violations, Israel was in no rush to comply with international law.
But two major events have forced an Israeli rethink.
First, in December 2016, the US abstained from a UN resolution that condemned Israel’s illegal settlement activities. After decades of shielding Israel from international censure, it appeared that Washington’s allegiance to Tel Aviv was uncertain.
Second, the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement began changing the dynamics of international politics regarding the Israeli occupation.
The movement, which began as a call by Palestinian civil society to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations, grew rapidly into a global movement. Hundreds of groups multiplied around the world, joined by artists, academicians, union members and elected politicians.
Within a few years, BDS has become a serious tool of pressure to denounce the occupation and demand justice for the Palestinian people. The UN Human Rights Council said it would release a list of companies that must be boycotted for operating in illegal settlements, and there were repeated condemnations of Israel’s human rights violations as recorded by the UN cultural agency, UNESCO.
UN bodies with no veto-wielding members grew in their ability to challenge the Security Council, spurring a determined Israeli-American campaign to delegitimize them.
The Trump administration and the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, have has waged a war against the UN, using intimidation and threats to withhold funds.
Stung by support at the UN for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Israel now wants a seat on the Security Council.
Nevertheless, UNESCO stood firm and the UNHRC said it would publish its list by the end of the year. It is thought to include Coca-Cola, TripAdviser, Airbnb, Priceline and Caterpillar, along with Israeli companies and two large banks. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the UN was “playing with fire,” and the US and Israel would work together to start a “revolution” at the Human Rights Council.
Signs of this oddly termed “revolution” are already apparent. Aside from choking off funds to UN bodies, Israel is lobbying countries that have traditionally shown solidarity with Palestinians because of common historical bonds of foreign oppression and anti-colonial struggles.
Netanyahu has just visited Latin America, and in Mexico he offered to “develop Central America.” The price, of course, is for Latin American countries to support Israel’s occupation of Palestine and turn a blind eye to its human rights violations in Palestine. The irony that escaped no one is that, in January, Netanyahu declared his support for Trump’s promise to build a wall along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it.
Netanyahu’s charm offensive was supposed to include an Israel-Africa Summit in Togo in October, but it was canceled because over half of African countries planned to boycott it.
Netanyahu has made African diplomacy a pillar of his foreign policy. In June he visited Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda, with a large delegation of business executives. He promised West African leaders at a summit in Liberia that Israel would supply them with agricultural technology to prevent drought and food scarcity, provided they opposed UN resolutions critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Not all African leaders allowed themselves to be manipulated.
Israel’s aim is to undercut support for the Palestinians at the UN General Assembly, and sabotage the work of UN bodies outside the realm of US power.
Meanwhile, it also wants a seat on the UN Security Council. The assumption is that, with the support of Haley at the UN, this is not far-fetched. In addition to the five permanent veto-wielding members, ten countries are elected for two-year terms. Israel’s charm offensive in Latin America, Africa and Asia is meant to win it a seat in the 2019-2020 term. The vote will take place next year, and Israel will stand against Germany and Belgium.
Israel’s strategy of elevating its status at the UN can also been seen as an admission of the failure of its antagonistic behavior. However, if it wins that seat it will use the new position to strengthen its occupation of Palestine, rather than adhere to international law.
It is unfortunate that the Arabs and the Palestinian Authority are waking up to this reality late. Israel has been plotting it since 2005 under the premiership of Ariel Sharon, but the PA is only now requesting an Arab League strategy to prevent it.
Palestinians are counting on the historical support they have among many countries around the world, especially in the global South. Most of these nations have experienced colonization and military occupation, and have had their own costly and painful liberation struggles. They should not allow a colonialist regime to sit at the summit of the UN, obstructing international law while preaching to the world about democracy and human rights.
• Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California. Visit his website: www.ramzybaroud.net.