Tuesday, June 13, 2017

UN - Occupied Territory or Disputed?

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June/July 2017, pp. 32-33

United Nations Report

Emulating the Settlers He Supports, Israeli Ambassador Danon Seizes U.N. Territory

By Ian Williams

Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., speaks to journalists, May 11, 2017. (U.N. PHOTO/MARK GARTEN)

FOR A LONG TIME, Israeli right wingers have scorned and reviled the United Nations and all its works—apart, of course, from General Assembly Resolution 181 partitioning Mandatory Palestine.
As an Israeli right-wing settler supporter himself, Ambassador Danny Danon, the state’s permanent representative to the U.N., surprised many Israelis when he took the position, which Netanyahu had offered him as a way to get rid of a domestic rival. The ambassador, however, has exploited his position well. In the U.N., occupied territories, seizing ground wherever and whenever he can and then expanding from there.
Even though his grandstanding in the General Assembly is aimed less at winning over other U.N. members and more at amassing potential future contributors for his political ambitions back home from affluent American supporters, it does indeed have the effect of softening up the institution, whose staff have seen what happens to people who utter inconvenient truths.
In the halls of the U.N. itself, the Americans had to bully the West European and Other Group some years ago to accept Israel as an associate member of their regional bloc. It is now a full member, and a majority of the group successfully placed Danon as chair of the U.N.’s Legal Committee—the U.N. equivalent of putting Goldman Sachs in charge of banking regulation. If the poacher keeps on poaching, any arguments about promoting him to gamekeeper lose some validity, but it’s a measure of the success of Israel’s PR push that the West Europeans could vote for a state that has a record-breaking run of scofflaw behavior standing in defiance of innumerable U.N. resolutions. 
One cannot help but suspect that the de facto axis that has developed between Saudi Arabia and Israel against Iran has also contributed to the successful “normalization” of Israel in the international system. As we saw, the Saudis explicitly claimed quasi-Israeli privileges when they successfully censored a report on the effect of their horrifying bombardment of Yemen, and they continue to evade successfully examination of the effect of their sanctions on Yemeni civilians. 
It has to be said that while the defection of reactionary Arab regimes might enhance the Palestinians’ moral high ground, the Israelis and their friends almost have a point about the U.N.’s special treatment of Israel. In reaction to their military and economic impotence, Palestine and its remaining friends have generated innumerable resolutions against Israeli behavior, each of them separately well merited. But the overwhelming number has tended to devalue those issues that matter, and of course the nature of the complainants leaves much to be desired.  
At one time the resolutionary road to liberation was an attempt by Palestinians to fight on the only battlefield that they had a chance of winning, but now it is almost counterproductive—although the reactions of Israel must be gratifying. 
The UNESCO board, for example, pointed out the legal truth that West Jerusalem is not under legal Israeli sovereignty, even if it has parked the Knesset there. Trump’s promises notwithstanding, that is why there are no diplomatic missions there. And innumerable resolutions condemn the continuing Israeli presence in “the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem,” which of course galls them almost as much. 
The Israeli response has been to enlist the U.S. externally, and lobbies internally in many countries, to soften their positions so countries will now abstain on resolutions that they used to support, and in some cases—notably the Anglo-Saxon axis of Canada, Australia and the UK—to move closer to the U.S. on Middle East questions.  Once again, the Saudi dimension is important. Margaret Thatcher, for example, did not care in the slightest for Palestinian rights—but she cared deeply about arms sales to the Gulf states and looking after their petrodollars banking for them. The new British Prime Minister Theresa May is equally concerned about arms sales—but it is now clear the possibility that British diplomatic positions could veer toward Israel now weigh much less heavily in Riyadh than in the past.
So it is against this U.N. backdrop against which Ambassador Danon is now screening his hasbara (propaganda) events, most recently using a U.N. committee room for a forum to pillory the Palestine Authority for payments to the families of alleged terrorists. In particular, Danon has used his office to book the U.N. General Assembly Hall to sponsor “Ambassadors Against BDS” mass rallies where the usual suspects among pro-Israeli organizations bused in their supporters to fill the hall. Although the Assembly has been available for private hire in the past—when, for example, the Church of Scientology rented it—U.N. officials carefully covered U.N. insignia so the organization’s integrity would not be compromised. 
On this occasion, the podium with the U.N. badge formed the backdrop for Danon’s photo-ops, with thousands of supporters waving Israeli flags. Interestingly, apart from Danon there were few ambassadors actually present, but billing U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley as his guest speaker doubtless helped intimidate any U.N. officials who remembered U.N. decisions on the Middle East. 
Haley is of Indian origins and is close to the current Indian government. But one would never guess the role played by boycotts in the India independence movement, which targeted government salt and British manufactures in an effort to get rid of the colonial yoke. Indeed, one would never guess the iconic role played by U.S. agitators in boycotting tea imports in times past in Boston. 
One cannot help but wonder why other states, like South Africa, do not join hands with the Palestine Mission for a conference on the essential role played by civil society organizations in BDS movements against apartheid and other repressive regimes. In case the flood of Israeli indignation clouds the view, one should perhaps remember that the BDS movement is an attempt by civil society to enforce international law and U.N. decisions on the government that has been defying them for 50 years!


Perhaps most symbolic of the march of Israel through the institutions is the withdrawal of the report from the Economic Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) on Israeli Apartheid, which brings together all these strands. The impassioned torrents of outrage from Israeli supporters about BDS and comparisons with apartheid have intimidated commentators across Europe and America, despite their essential validity. The white regime in South Africa was, after all, a close collaborator with Israel in sanctions busting, arms trading and, it would appear, even nuclear weapons development, so quite why the comparison should have become odious to the point of “anti-Semitism” is a mystery. After all, few, if any, of the people now so outraged objected to Israel’s aid and support for the apartheid regime.
There was a dilemma for ESCWA. Prof. Richard Falk has an outstanding record in international law and human rights, but like anyone else who submits critical reports on Israel he has been demonized and vilified. But not to use his expertise would be to bow down to politically motivated slander, so he was commissioned, along with Virginia Tilley, anyway.  
The ad hominem slurs were wheeled out immediately—think poor Judge Richard Goldstone—and cries came for the report to be withdrawn. New Secretary-General António Guterres had just taken office and the biggest item on his agenda was relations between the U.N. and the new U.S. president, Donald Trump, who had adopted a strong anti-U.N. and pro-Israel stance, so when the U.S. asked for the report to be removed, he folded. Despite the U.N.’s withdrawal of the report, it is still available ­online, at <www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/26223/un-report-establishes-israeli-apartheid;-fallout-b>, and it is still valid. It is reassuring that Rima Khalaf, ESCWA’s director, resigned in protest at being forced to take down the report.
The report meticulously demonstrates the apartheid-like conditions Israel imposes—and one should remember that there is a binding International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid—which, like the earlier Genocide Convention, commits states to action about it. 
Indeed, that is one of the reasons Israeli leaders get so upset about the comparison, since although the blow to their reputation can hurt in PR or political terms, such charges carry international legal weight, not least with the International Criminal Court hovering around. Similarly, they might have physical possession of the occupied territories (and East Jerusalem, of course!), but without legal title that only the U.N. can give them, their behavior is subject to potential jurisdiction of the ICC and other tribunals adjudging the Geneva Conventions.
However, as a resounding footnote, the report also answers the question Israeli supporters keep asking: why is Israel singled out so often at the U.N.? The report explains: “the situation in Israel-Palestine constitutes an unmet obligation of the organized international community to resolve a conflict partially generated by its own actions. That obligation dates formally to 1922, when the League of Nations established the British Mandate for Palestine as a territory eminently ready for independence as an inclusive secular State, yet incorporated into the Mandate the core pledge of the Balfour Declaration to support the ‘Jewish people’ in their efforts to establish in Palestine a ‘Jewish national home.’ Later United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions attempted to resolve the conflict generated by that arrangement, yet could not prevent related proposals, such as partition, from being overtaken by events on the ground. If this attention to the case of Israel by the United Nations appears exceptional, therefore, it is only because no comparable linkage exists between United Nations actions and any other prolonged denial to a people of their right of self-determination.”
And that, dear reader, is why the international community keeps going on about ­Israel—it is the world’s own guilty conscience. 

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