Israel’s human rights abuses must be reported despite America’s protestations – By Natasha Lipman

2 May

In March, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to appoint a panel to evaluate the effects on Palestinian civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of continued Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Thirty-six states voted in favour of the resolution, with ten abstentions. The US was the only country to vote against the decision.

The mandate of the panel, although still not fully formed, will be to produce and submit a report on this topic to the UNHRC. In the decision, Israel was also called upon to fully cooperate with the mission and not to obstruct the process of investigation. Unsurprisingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded bitterly to the decision, accusing the council of being hypocritical, having an “automatic majority against Israel”. In some sense, he does have a point. The UNHRC has produced 91 decisions since its inception in 2007, 3 dealing with Syria, 1 with Iran and a disproportional 39 dealing with Israel.

This week the Obama administration’s Middle East envoy, David Hale met the UNHCR Commissioner, Navi Pillay in Geneva to ask her not to proceed with the investigation in the near future. In fact, Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel, Danny Ayalon, secretly visited the US a week later to meet with his counterpart, Bill Burns. Ayalon pressed for US support and help in stopping the creation of the panel. He even went so far as to suggest that the US publicly threaten to quit the UNHCR if the panel was established and went ahead with its mandate. The US did not make any comments about threatening to quit the committee. That would be extremely unlikely, as Obama is a firm believer in the UNHCR and it remains an important part of his foreign policy. The administration did agree, however, to lobby the council to delay the creation of the panel.

The overriding international consensus in regards to these settlements is that they are illegal and, as a result, constitute a gross violation of Palestinian human rights and international law. The fact that the US is trying everything in its power to delay the creation of the panel, and therefore, in effect, sweep the mere possibility under the rug is unacceptable. Yes, the US elections are only months away and this would be a huge blow to the pro-Israel stance in the country, but the constant hypocrisy of the Americans when it comes to Israel is utterly ridiculous. America has no right to lecture any other state on their human rights records when they are openly advocating (or at least blatantly ignoring) the gross violations of human rights that are committed in Israel every day. Settlement building on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem has been condemned for many years by the international community. In an ideal outcome of negotiations, a two-state solution, the West Bank will make up the majority of a new Palestinian state and Jerusalem would be partitioned to become capital to both Israel and Palestine, and the continued settlement building only makes this outcome more difficult.

The US uses their Security Council veto to stop any resolutions (no matter how well supported they are in the Council or General Assembly) which would cast further light on Israel’s human rights abuses or condemn them for these abuses. Yes, Israel is the only true democracy in the region and America’s most powerful ally and recipient of millions of dollars of US aid, but the real reason why America refuses to condemn Israel is purely political. The combination of an unquestioningly pro-Israel congress, the political and spending power of AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the importance and impact of the pro-Israel Christian right in the country, ensures that Obama often ends up vetoing resolutions that he has worked on himself, because politically he is not strong enough at home to counter congress, AIPAC and the Christian right.

It is a shame. The rights for all those living in Israel that are enshrined in their Declaration of Independence states that ‘the state of Israel…will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.’ Obviously this is not happening. With Israel becoming increasingly racially divided, and Palestinians still suffering from gross human rights abuses on a daily basis, the full extent of these violations must be ascertained and steps towards change must be taken if there is any hope of a lasting peace agreement. Any peace agreement.

My hope is that the UNHRC ignores the calls from Washington to delay the investigation. Yes, America is still, arguably, the dominant world power, but is not the mouthpiece of Washington (the US Security Council veto has no hold here) and as a result the Americans should not be pandered to. A decision has been made and a resolution passed by the vast majority of the committee, and as such, should be upheld. If it is not, the legitimacy of the Human Rights Council will be significantly diminished, illegal settlements will continue being built and the rights of Palestinians will continue to be violated on a daily basis.

Natasha is the Founder and Director of the International Political Forum. You can follow her on Twitter here and follow the IPF here.

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