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The UK should put Israel on notice, not the UN Human Rights Council

First published by the Middle East Eye on 28/3/2017

After supporting the UN resolution against Israeli settlements, the UK’s attack against the council is illogical – unless this is all about trade deals

In a surprise move, the UK representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council made a scathing attack against the council at its 34th session late last week, accusing it of “bias against Israel”.

Of particular concern is the council’s Agenda Item Seven which requires that Israel’s human rights record is discussed and scrutinised three times each year.

“The persistence of bias,” the UK representative argued in his statement, “particularly the disproportionate volume of resolutions against Israel, undermines the Council’s credibility as the globally focussed and objective international human rights body we all want and need.”

Making no distinction between attacks on Israeli forces maintaining an illegal occupation and attacks on civilians, he said that the council “must also recognise the continuing terrorism, incitement and violence that Israel faces. According to the Quartet’s report last year, there were 250 terrorist attacks, leading to the deaths of at least 30 Israelis”.

“If things do not change,” the representative concluded, “in the future we will adopt a policy of voting against all resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Syrian and Palestinian Territories.”

Breaking with the EU

Despite the UK’s dissent, the 47-member council comfortably passed five resolutions on Israeli human rights abuses:

  • Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,
  • Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination
  • Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem
  • Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan
  • Human rights in the occupied Syrian Golan

The UK only supported the resolutions on Palestinian rights to self-determination and the human rights situation in the occupied territory, voting against the resolution on the occupied Syrian Golan and abstaining on the other two.

The UK’s argument for voting against the Golan resolution was that “Syria’s regime butchers and murders its people on a daily basis. But it is not Syria that is a permanent standing item on the Council’s agenda; it is Israel.”

Even while voting against the resolution, the UK confirmed that it had not changed its position on the illegality of Israel’s occupation of this Syrian territory. However, in voting against the resolution, the UK broke from the EU, which may be a sign of things to come as it exits the union.

The UK’s stance seemed to be in tune with the Israeli and the US positions. After the resolutions passed, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said the UNHRC “has become the most notorious branch of the BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement] movement. The body’s resolution on Syria, he said, was “ridiculous”.

Acting US spokesperson Mark Toner said the US “strongly and unequivocally” opposed the council’s Agenda Item Seven, the one which permanently tables a discussion of Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians three times each year.

The US stance can be explained by the change of administration from President Obama’s to that of President Trump.

‘Stay strong Israel’

Following his election, Trump claimed that Israel was being treated “very, very unfairly”. He accused Obama of handling Israel with “total disdain and disrespect” after the US abstained from the vote on UN Security Council resolution 2334 which condemned Israeli settlement building. Trump then tweeted “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has been enacting Trump’s promise. Last month, she blocked the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to a high profile position at the UN and, more recently, pressured the UN secretary general to pull a report labelling Israeli policies as apartheid.

She further threatened to boycott the Human Rights Council altogether. And in her appearance at the recent AIPAC conference, in a reference to resolution 2334, she promised, “The days of Israel-bashing at the United Nations are over.”

While the US abstained on 2334, the UK voted for the resolution before it passed in December. Instead of halting construction, Israel has since announced approval for the constructions of thousands of new settlement units.

So it is at best illogical for the UK to abstain at the UNHRC on a resolutions condemning Israel’s settlement activities and, at worst, an abdication of its responsibility as a signatory to the 4th Geneva Convention that sets rule for the administration of occupied territory.

The UK’s threat to vote against all future resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in the occupied Syrian and Palestinian territories implies that it might also vote against a resolution reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. That would be a shocking development which would further damage the UK’s image as an upholder of human rights.

If not occupation, what is it?

It is interesting to note that the UK is willing to change its policy to protect Israel when it perceives it to be treated unfairly, but not to bring it to account for its violations of international law.

If passing resolutions, democratically put and democratically passed, against Israeli oppressive and illegal practices is unfair, what does the UK consider Israel’s 50-year occupation to be?

What does it consider illegal settlements, land theft, legalising illegal settlements, prisoners, the siege of Gaza and the refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to be?

Every day, Palestinians wake up to the reality of a foreign occupation that is far from temporary, one which impacts every aspect of their lives. That is grossly unfair.

In the UK’s own statement at the council, its representative stated clearly that, “Respect for justice, the rule of law, and international law are the cornerstones of international peace and security”.

The representative should have taken note of the findings of the report which UN ESCWA commissioned, released earlier this month, which found Israel guilty of apartheid.

While that report was taken down following pressure from the US and Israel through the UN General Secretary, it was quickly followed by another damning report of Israeli policies in which Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, charged Israel with “the subjugation of humanity” in Palestine and intensifying a crackdown on human rights campaigners.

Either the UK doesn’t get it or it is prepared to turn a blind eye to Israeli policies as it looks beyond Brexit and towards strengthening trade ties, including those with the US and Israel.

In the new brave world, it seems trade will always trump human rights and the upholding of international law. The UK is talking the talk on Israeli aggression through empty condemnation, but walking the walk to protect it.

In the centenary year of the Balfour Declaration, the UK is once again betraying the Palestinians while celebrating its role in creating Israel, an apartheid state.

It should be putting Israel on notice, not the UN Human Rights Council. 

The Palestinian leadership must embrace the Conference for Palestinians Abroad

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 6/3/2017

In my last article for MEMO, I wondered whether the Conference for Palestinians Abroad (CPA) could lead to Palestinian unity of vision. It was a privilege to be with an estimated 6,000 Palestinians from 50 countries in Istanbul for the conference, which took place on 25 and 26 February, both as a founding member and to test that question.

The dates are important because I believe that the launch of this conference will mark a milestone in the Palestinian struggle for justice, freedom, equality and the restoration of our rights. The 26 February will forever by the day when Palestinians who live outside Palestine and who are refused the right to return to their homeland said loud and clear that enough is enough. We will no longer be sidelined or ignored, either by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO, our non-representative representative); Israel (the cause of our catastrophe); or those in the “international community” who had a hand in our dispossession and expulsion from our homeland by Zionist terrorists in 1948 and who continue to deny us our rights to this day.

The unequivocal message from Istanbul was that the Palestinians will not give up their right to return to the places from which we were ethnically cleansed. This was exemplified by Palestinian poet Mohammed Abu Daya who brought his original title deeds to the conference and after a moving speech handed them to one of his many grandchildren, imploring him to commit to returning, and receiving a promise from him that he will struggle to return to that very plot of land one day. Some may see this as unrealistic and theatrical. However, that would be to misunderstand the core Palestinian issue. The struggle has always been about Palestinian refugees returning to their homes instead of languishing in the diaspora, whatever political structure exists in historic Palestine.

Reaffirming the right of return was at the heart of the conference but the final statement also reaffirmed the commitment by Palestinians in involuntary exile to liberate Palestine from the “river to the sea”. Such language is usually mistranslated by Zionists to mean the destruction of Israel and “throwing the Jews into the sea”. That is pure propaganda from Zionists who, by the way, happen to believe that the Palestinians must be thrown out of their own land for there to be a truly Jewish state west of the River Jordan.

They are forever looking for means to achieve this, claiming that “Jordan is the Palestinian state” or that a state can be created in the Sinai to which the Palestinians in “Judea and Samaria” (the occupied West Bank) can be sent, by force if necessary. Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has no qualms about claiming the whole of historic Palestine for Israel. “We need to return to the basic truth of our rights to this country,” she believes. “This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.”

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, buoyed by Donald Trump being in the White House, claims that there will not be a Palestinian state. Indeed, the far-right Bennett has called for the annexation of most of the illegally-occupied West Bank, starting with the illegal colony-settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, and bringing it under Israeli “sovereignty”.

Standing next to Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed two conditions that must be met before “peace”: The Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state and, “Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.” The latter is de facto Israeli sovereignty over historic Palestine from the river to the sea. While he has not explicitly called for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, Israel would continue to rule over an occupied people for ever, making their lives so miserable under the pretext of security that they would leave of their own accord. In Zionist terminology, this is known as “silent transfer” and it is very much part of Israel’s strategy for a Palestinian-free land.

None of the above inflammatory statements by the most senior Israeli ministers has been condemned by any member of the so called international community. It seems that Western governments are happy for Zionist Israelis to claim the whole of historic Palestine as theirs, but not for the Palestinians whose land it is to do so. If modern day Zionists with no real connection to historic Palestine can lay claim to the whole land on the basis of what they claim to be a Biblical legacy, then surely Palestinians have every right to lay claim to their homeland, which they inhabited prior to Israel’s creation was forced upon them and from which they were expelled over the past 70 years.

I must stress that I did not get any impression from the CPA that liberating Palestine would necessitate or result in the mass expulsion of Jews, unlike the mass expulsion of Palestinians which took place in 1948. The conference focused on the emergence of a just political solution with the right for Palestinian refugees to return at its heart. Had I detected any sense of the former at the conference, I would certainly have withdrawn.

The failure of the two-state solution demonstrates the need for creative thinking to meet the needs of those who truly wish to coexist in historic Palestine. A solution is needed which would end separation. There should be no racist settlements built only for Jews or a new town built only for non-Jews. The solution must allow all who inhabit historic Palestine to live in peace wherever they desire. It should allow those refugees in Gaza, Jenin, Syria, Brazil, Europe and elsewhere to return to their land and homes. A reconciliation commission would need to be set up to deal with the details where the reclamation of exact sites is not physically possible.

Following the Trump-Netanyahu press conference in Washington, the Palestinian leadership’s 24-year long negotiations strategy — the charade of the peace process since signing the catastrophic Oslo accords — has collapsed. The PLO has been almost silent since that 15 February media circus, apart from calling for the international community not to abandon the two-state solution, bringing new meaning to the term “flogging a dead horse”.

It is time for fresh thinking that can strengthen the hand of a future, democratically-elected Palestinian leadership. The 6.3 million Palestinians abroad can play a vital role in shaping this. However, in the absence of a clear plan by the PLO to revitalise diaspora input, the CPA is the only game in town. The outcome of the conference was a commitment to continue to build both the new institution and Palestinian community, as well as lobby organisations abroad.

What is needed for this to materialise is for every Palestinian outside the borders of their homeland to make a commitment for contributions to the struggle in his or her adopted country. They should be knocking on the doors of their local decision-makers, lobbying for a just solution. They should take a more active part in the political system through joining political parties and standing for both local and national elections. They should be supporting and joining local solidarity groups, both as activists and donors. They should be forming alliances with other human rights groups and Jewish groups committed to justice for Palestinians. They should raise their voices in the media, locally and nationally, using articulate and convincing speakers and writers. They should also be knocking on the door of the PLO leadership in support of the CPA to ensure that the message is received and it is understood that they will no longer accept being ignored.

The CPA needs to find a sustainable way to continue to function long into the future. For that, it will need to widen its membership base in order to put to bed accusations that it is led by one group. The more community organisations which join, bringing together the widest possible spectrum of Palestinian views, the more representative the CPA will be. In turn, the more effective that the CPA is, the louder will be the call to the PLO to wake up and respond to that half of the constituency that it is meant to serve but which it has ignored since 1993. It can take strength from blessing the CPA, working to encourage Palestinians abroad to join it and developing appropriate links to it, leading to elections for the Palestine National Council, the people’s parliament.

Can the PLO rise to this challenge, as it must? Can its necessary reform include true representation for Palestinians abroad? Not only do they hope that it can, but all Palestinians would also want this. Fulfilling its responsibility would strengthen its hand in uniting and representing the Palestinian people and seeking a just solution for them. Ignoring or smearing the CPA will only add to the PLO’s own weakness, bringing it to the point of irrelevance. No Palestinian would want that to happen or for it to be interpreted as a desired outcome of the gathering of 6,000 Palestinians in Istanbul last month.

Debate: Why the status of Jerusalem is not the crux of the matter

First published by the Arab Weekly on 5/2/2017

Since his inauguration, Trump seems to have rolled back on his embassy com­mitment, much to the surprise of many.


Road signs are seen in front of the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank, on January 17th. (Reuters)

The question of whether the Trump administra­tion would quickly honour the pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has exercised the minds of Palestinians, Israelis and the wider world.

In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which recognised Jerusalem as the capi­tal of Israel and required a change in the embassy’s location by May 1999.

However, this was effectively re­sisted by every US president since then despite occasionally promises to carry it out as the United States continued to seek a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians.

During his election campaign, Donald Trump was explicit in his promise to move the embassy when he addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in March 2016 and said: “We will move the US embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

Trump’s choice for US ambas­sador to Israel, David Friedman, seemed to be a means of facilitat­ing this move. Friedman vowed to “strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem”.

Friedman also let it be known that he would live in a private apartment in Jerusalem and would work out of Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv.

Since his inauguration, however, Trump seems to have rolled back on his embassy com­mitment, much to the surprise of many. His spokesman, Sean Spicer, said recently: “We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject.”

Spicer dodged a question from a Sky News corre­spondent who asked: “What is the strategic interest for the US in the embassy move?”

The reality is that there is no strategic benefit for the United States in moving its embassy. The mere speculation that the move could happen raised alarms across the world.

The Palestinians warned of dire consequences with Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) officials threatening to revoke rec­ognition of Israel. The Palestinian president and the king of Jordan met in Amman in late January and agreed to “take steps” if the move happened.

Undoubtedly Trump knows that the United States’ strategic interest would be in securing a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians rather than unleash a backlash that he cannot predict or control by moving the US embassy.

The status of Jerusalem would be part of what would be a historic peace deal that he said he wanted to negotiate. Trump’s own experi­ence of negotiating should tell him to avoid measures that antagonise either party to a negotiation.

Some have argued that the em­bassy move would be so damag­ing to US strategic interests that a peace deal would be pushed well beyond Trump’s term in office.

In moving its embassy to West Jerusalem, the United States would be recognising Israel’s sovereignty over West and East Jerusalem, which no other country does. It would further be violat­ing international law. UN Security Council Resolution 478 rejected Israel’s declaration that Jerusalem (East and West) “complete and united” is its capital.

An embassy move could com­plicate matters if other countries followed suit. British support for a move of the US embassy came from former secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove. He wrote in the Times of London that “Israel is the only state where we don’t locate our embassy in the nation’s capital and the only ally the For­eign Office has refused to let the queen visit”.

He added: “So let’s celebrate the centenary of the Balfour declara­tion by moving our embassy to Jerusalem next year and inviting [Queen Elizabeth II] to open it. What are we afraid of?”

A Foreign Office spokesman quickly dismissed the idea, stat­ing: “The UK has an embassy in Tel Aviv and a consulate-general in Jerusalem. We have no plans to change the location of our diplo­matic presence in either Israel or the occupied Palestinian territo­ries.”

Observers note, however, that although a possible embassy move seems to have stirred the Pales­tinian leadership into action, the continuation of the status quo is more damaging to the prospects of signing a peace agreement. Palestinians point to the contin­ued judaisation of Jerusalem, the expansion of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, which may be annexed by Israel at a later stage.

Critics argue that unless a major effort is put into combating the settlement project, there will be no Jerusalem left for the Palestin­ians to claim as their capital or a contiguous plot of land in the West Bank to claim as their free inde­pendent state.

They say that the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem is highly sensitive but is not the crux of the matter: The end of the occupation without annexing Palestinian ter­ritories and the right of return are.

To see article on the Arab Weekly website click here

Palestinian Bedouins face Israeli discrimination from the river to the sea

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 5/12/2016

Palestinians transfer the rubbles of their housing tins after it was dismantled by Israeli bulldozers on 19th August 2013 [Saeed Qaq/Apaimages]

Image from Middle EST mONITOR: Palestinians transfer the rubbles of their housing tins after it was dismantled by Israeli bulldozers on 19th August 2013 [Saeed Qaq/Apaimages]

Will they or won’t they and when? This has been the question being raised constantly over the past few weeks about Israel’s intention to expel the Bedouins of Um Al-Hiran village in the Negev.

Their expulsion and the demolition of their village were to take place on Tuesday 22 November following an announcement by the Israeli Land Authority. A last minute appeal to the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court was rejected. In the event, the demolition order was postponed by police who claimed it was “to allow the legal process to exhaust itself following a last-minute appeal to the court”. However, it may also have been due to a show of solidarity by activists and members of the Knesset who spent the night there and possibly international pressure.

Responding to a parliamentary question on the day the demolition was to take place, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said: “I have raised with the Israeli Ambassador the concerns expressed in the House of Commons about plans to demolish the Bedouin village of Umm Al-Hiran in the Negev. Demolition orders delivered to residents had stated that initial demolitions would occur on 22 November. Although the demolition did not happen yesterday, the threat remains.”

However, rather than call on Israel to end the threat to the village and to connect it to the services Jewish communities expect, he simply called on “the Israeli authorities and Bedouin community to work together to find a solution that meets the needs and respects the rights of the people affected. This should include a robust planning process that adequately consults and addresses the needs of Israel’s Bedouin communities.”

The “planning process” the British minister refers to has already determined that a settlement for Jews only would be built on the ruins of Um Al-Hiran. To add salt to the wound, the new Jewish settlement would be named Hiran.

Um Al-Hiran is not the only village facing demolition.  It is one of approximately 40 Bedouin villages which Israel does not recognise and has refused to provide with the necessary services. They are home to 85,000 of Israel’s 170,000 Bedouin citizens and, while the majority were moved to the Negev from their original locations in 1948, some of the villages predate the creation of Israel.

Another village, Al-Araqeeb came to prominence after Israel destroyed it repeatedly. Its inhabitants refused to leave and rebuilt it after each demolition. In June of this year, it was demolished for the 100th time while its residents were observing the month of Ramadan and therefore fasting from sunrise to sunset.

The Bedouin community in the Negev has been under threat of eviction from their villages for a number of years. Their plight was sealed in 2103 when the Prawer-Begin bill was approved by the Israeli Knesset with 43 votes for and 40 against. The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) called the plan “discriminatory” and claimed that it would result in the mass expulsion of the Arab Bedouin community in the Naqab (Negev) desert in the south of Israel. It argued that if fully implemented “it will result in the destruction of 35 “unrecognised” Arab Bedouin villages, the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel, and the dispossession of their historical lands in the Naqab.” Israel claimed the plan would provide the Bedouins with economic development and they would be better integrated into Israeli society.

The Prawer-Begin Plan was “halted” when one of its architects, Beni Begin, announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted his recommendation to halt progress on the bill just before the end of 2013. Significantly, Begin admitted that contrary to reports, he had never approached the Bedouins with the plan and thus did not receive their approval on the matter. One could not imagine the fate of a Jewish Israeli community being decided without consultation with them. However, to this day it is not clear whether the bill was shelved or postponed.

It seems though that by targeting individual villages for demolition, Israel is continuing with its plan on a village by village basis. It is also continuing with its plan to populate the Negev with Jewish only communities, including five new settlements that will be constructed on the sites of the “unrecognised” Bir Hadaj and Katama villages.

The situation for Bedouins in the West Bank, who do not hold Israeli citizenship, is similar in many ways to their counterparts with Israeli citizenship. They number approximately 50,000. Their insecurity is particularly highlighted in “rea C, the part of the West Bank under both security and administrative Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords. Here, small communities living often in temporary structures have their structures destroyed by the Israeli army.

In July of this year, a leaked letter from eight European ambassadors to Israel representing Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Ireland and Norway protested the confiscation by the Israeli army of shelters for two “vulnerable” Bedouin communities. The letter claimed “these confiscations, as well as previous demolitions, compounded by the inability of humanitarian agencies to deliver relief items to the affected households, create a coercive environment that potentially pressures them to leave their current sites against their will. “If that scenario materialises, the UN expresses its concern that it may amount to forcible transfers, which are considered a grave breach of international humanitarian law.”

Another example of life as a Bedouin in the West Bank is reported here.

Israel has also developed plans to expel Palestinian Bedouins from their current villages East of Jerusalem to a “new town” without their knowledge or any consultation with them. The town would accommodate about 12,500 Bedouin from the Jahalin, Kaabneh and Rashaida tribes and would be located near Jericho in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank. The arrogance of the colonialist Israeli state is exemplified by its claim the proposal “suits the ‘dynamic changes’ Bedouin society is undergoing as it moves from an agricultural society to ‘a modern society’ that earns its living by commerce, services, technical trades and more.” It does not seem to have consulted the people in question about whether they agree with this or not and what kind of future they see for themselves.

And so it seems the Bedouins that have inhabited historic Palestine, from the river to the sea, for far longer than Israel has existed, moving from one area to another as and when they wished, must now accept a future determined for them. Whether the state whose citizenship they hold in the Negev or their illegal occupier in the West Bank, Israel treats the Bedouins with contempt, making arbitrary decisions for them which in reality suit its colonialist agenda. How else does it explain replacing Bedouin villages with Jewish only settlements? This is pure discrimination and racism rather than “development”.