Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1301, (23 - 29 June 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1301, (23 - 29 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Israel and the UN Sixth Committee

The election of Israel to chair the UN’s Legal Committee has created outrage in occupied Palestine, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

As BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) and other international movements to censure Israel are gaining ground across the world and reaping important effects at the economic, cultural and academic levels, a group of countries, led by the US and some European states, are working overtime to halt the movements and break Israel’s international isolation.

Their steps have included attempts to introduce laws criminalising BDS advocacy and nominating Israel to UN committees. On 13 June, they scored a major success with Israel’s election as head of the UN’s Sixth Committee, which deliberates legal affairs in the General Assembly.

This marks the first time that Israel has been elected to chair one of he UN’s permanent committees. Israel’s permanent delegate to the UN, Danny Danon, the nominee for the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG), will be chairing the committee primarily responsible for deliberating affairs related to international law and terrorism.

Naturally, this election stirred outrage among Palestinians across the political spectrum. Spokespersons for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and for the various factions described the development as a “disgrace”, a “mockery”, a slap in the face of international law, and a dangerous precedent that promotes the perpetuation of the Israeli occupation and its crimes against the Palestinian people.

Palestinian officials warned that the election of Israel to the position — with the support of WEOG and a majority of 109 votes — will only encourage the occupying power to continue its gross violations of rules and principles of international law and conventions that were drafted by the very committee it will head.

They underscored the irony of this election at a time when Israel acts as a country above the law, keeps another people under a brutal occupation, and is steadily escalating settlement expansion, the Judaicisation of Jerusalem, appropriation of Palestinian land and property, home demolitions, expulsions and “transfer” of indigenous people, not to mention arbitrary mass arrests, police shootings of unarmed civilians, and abuses against Muslim and Christian holy places.

Moreover, they added, not only was Israel being rewarded for its flagrant violation of human rights standards, it was also being rewarded for undermining all opportunities for peace, the latest instance of which is its rejection of the recent French peace initiative.

The election of Israel as the chair of the UN General Assembly’s Legal Committee is “a farce and shameful affront to the human conscience”, said PA spokesman Youssef Al-Mahmoud. “That an extremist occupation power should head the UN committee responsible for legal affairs reflects the extent to which things have deviated from norms and standards, and the grave deterioration at all levels in UN-related matters,” he said.

“Israel has a long record of contempt for the law and, above all, international law and international legitimacy, and it has a blood-stained record of aggression against a defenceless people.”

Al-Mahmoud continued, “This could never have happened had it not been for the current state of Arab discord and fragmentation and the dark Palestinian schism.” He called for rapid Palestinian reconciliation efforts and a unification of Palestinian ranks.

The Sixth (Legal) Committee is responsible for considering matters related to international law, developing international law and its applications, promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels, promoting antiterrorist measures, and adding protocols to the Geneva Conventions, the bedrock of international humanitarian law. The committee is also charged with drawing up new treaties and conventions and promoting the adoption and ratification of such instruments.

Generally, elections to the chair of UN committees are speedy affairs, accomplished through a quick show of consensus. In this case, however, the objections of the Arab Group forced the General Assembly to hold a secret ballot. Danon, Israel’s permanent delegate to the UN, won the support of 109 out of the UN’s 193 member states. There were 23 abstentions and 14 invalid votes. The Swedish nominee won 10 votes and nominees from Greece and the UK won four votes each.

The Palestinian Fatah movement slammed the election. “The occupation power tops the list of countries that not only fail to respect international law but also deliberately break it on a daily basis through their crimes and racist practices against the Palestinian people,” said Fatah spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmi.

“How is it possible for the country that is occupying Palestine, perpetrating the most atrocious racist policies, killing and detaining, destroying homes, stealing peoples land, expelling indigenous inhabitants, Judaicising holy places and constructing a racist separating wall, to head the UN Legal Committee, one of the responsibilities of which is to enforce international law?”

The Hamas leadership in control of Gaza also condemned the appointment “as an international reward to Israeli terrorism and an encouragement for Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people”.

Palestine’s delegate to the UN, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, told a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York, “The Arab and Islamic states tried to prevent the election of the Israeli delegate as chairman of the Sixth Committee because it is not right for a country that is known as the greatest violator of international law to preside over the activities of this committee.”

Israeli chairmanship of the legal committee “will be the greatest obstacle to the realisation of the tasks for which this UN committee was established,” the ambassador said, adding, “Israel is growing more and more extremist. It turns its back to all peaceful initiatives, including the recent French initiative. It expands its settlement activities and breaches international law in all its practices. Then the international community comes along and rewards it.”

Observers of Palestinian affairs in human rights organisations see this step as part of a systematic drive on the part of European and other nations to market Israel has a normal and key player in the international sphere, as though it were not a power occupying Palestinian and Arab lands.

They point to the fact that on 8 June 2014, WEOG nominated Israel as its representative on the UN’s Fourth Special Political and Decolonisation Committee in its 69th session. From 2014-2015, Israel was vice chairman of the committee, which oversees matters related to ending colonisation, peacekeeping and human rights, as well as such sensitive issues as the Palestinian refugees.

The Arab states registered their objections but could not prevent Israel from attaining the position. Unlike the recent appointment, however, the post of vice-chair on the Fourth Committee is limited in its power, especially given that there are two other vice-chairmen in that committee.

“Every time we try to overlook the historical role of certain great powers that supported the occupation since it began — morally, politically, legally, economically and militarily, leading to a humanitarian catastrophe for the Palestinian people — some new illogical follies arise to remind us of decisions that make us increasingly certain that the world is conspiring with the occupation,” said Palestinian writer and political analyst Rafat Hamdouna.

“One of the worst decisions that has ever exposed the nature of the polices of the UN, which claims to be neutral and to defend the downtrodden, is the election of the ambassador of the occupation power as chairman of the UN General Assembly Legal Committee. This decision ... will only encourage it to new heights of arrogance, refusal to heed international resolutions, rejection of international peace initiatives.”

Hamdouna also points to the political history of Danny Danon who, in Hamdouna’s view, is an extremist and hatemonger. Danon, born in 1971 to a family of Moroccan origin, is known for his anti-Palestinian stances in general and his positions towards Palestinians inside Israel in particular. He insists that these Palestinians should declare their allegiance to Israel as a state for the Jewish people.

Danon opposes the two-state solution and has called for Israel’s continued occupation of most of the occupied territories in the West Bank, with “self-rule” accorded only to the larger Palestinian communities.

Before becoming Israel’s delegate to the UN, Danon served as deputy minister of defence during the Israel war against Gaza in the summer of 2014. Netanyahu removed him from that post at the time because of his vehement criticisms against the government’s war policy. He was campaigning at the time for a ruthless ground intervention that would have escalated the war.

Before that war he threatened to resign if the cabinet approved the release of the fourth round of long-term Palestinian prisoners. The step was required as a precondition to progress in the US-sponsored Palestinian-Israeli negotiations from 31 July 2013 to 28 April 2014.

Many Israelis have charged that Danon’s rash and irresponsible statements have caused considerable damage. They see him as a non-stop troublemaker. Netanyahu’s decision to appoint him as Israeli ambassador to the UN in 2015 triggered harsh criticism inside Israel. To represent their country in the international forum required someone with considerable diplomatic savvy and self-restraint, they said. These are qualities lacking in Danon, who has a reputation for rudeness, even in his dealings with Netanyahu.

Danon hailed his country’s election to the chair of one of the UN’s permanent committees as a major historical event since Israel became a member of the UN in 1949. “I am proud to be the first Israeli elected to this position. Israel is a world leader in international law and in fighting terrorism. We are pleased to have the opportunity to share our knowledge with the countries of the world,” he said in a statement to the press.

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