Friday’s Fact: Outside Voices Quiet UN Report on Israel’s Treatment of Palestinians

A UN report describing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory as apartheid was pulled under the gaze of the world and the pleased voices of Israel and its allies.

A UN Commission’s report on the mistreatment of Palestinians, described as “apartheid”, by the State of Israel in the West Bank and Gaza, was published, criticised from without and within, praised from without and within, and finally withdrawn last week. The report, titled “Israel Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid”, examines the components of the legal definition of an apartheid system in the eyes of international law and norms, before it measures its applicability to the Palestinian – Israeli context. At the conclusion of the diplomatic firestorm, UN under-secretary general and the executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) that published the report, Rima Khalaf, resigned last Friday.

The report starts by examining the international legal definition of apartheid systems and concludes by arguing that the practices of the Israeli government constitute apartheid. “The [occupied Palestinian] territory”, reads the report, “is administered in a manner that fully meets the definition of apartheid under the Apartheid Convention: except for the provision on genocide, every illustrative “inhuman act” listed in the Convention is routinely and systematically practiced by Israel in the West Bank.”

The language and process of the report came under heavy criticism from a variety of international allies of Israel, not to mention Israel itself. A UN spokesperson, quoted by CNN, stated that the report was withdrawn based on “process, not content” and that it was published under the UN logo without “consulting the competent departments”. US UN ambassador Nikki Haley said “the US was outraged by the report, but praised the UN leadership for stepping away from it.” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was praised by the same actors for his quick and decisive intervention and withdrawal of the report, which eventually led to Khalaf’s resignation in protest.

The report was equally praised by the Palestinian side and the 18 Arab countries that requested it from the Beirut based commission. The same CNN report alludes to direct intervention by the US delegation to the UN to pressure for a withdrawal as a clear sign of the Trump Administration’s position on the matter and on Israel. Palestinian politicians across the political spectrum called upon the UN to adopt the report and back down from its decision to withdraw it. However, it seems unlikely that the UN, under intense pressure from the US, the agency’s largest benefactor, will adhere to Palestinian demands. This may signal a more pro-Israel stance within the international organization and an active antagonism to all that is perceived as “anti-Israeli”. The CNN report continues “Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said the UN’s decision to renounce the UN report “is an important step in ending the bias against Israel at the UN. Anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN,” he said in a statement. “It is time to put an end to practice in which UN officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda.”

Khalaf, in a detailed resignation letter to the UN Secretary General , stated “I cannot withdraw yet another well-researched, well-documented UN work on grave violations of human rights, yet I know that clear instructions by the Secretary-General will have to be implemented promptly. A dilemma that can only be resolved by my stepping down to allow someone else to deliver what I am unable to deliver in good conscience.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the decoration of Khalaf the highest Palestinian honour for her position to refuse to adhere to pressure in favour of her conviction.