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Netanyahu at the UN: The pariah state becomes the arbiter of justice

With Israel voted onto the UN's legal committee with Arab support, Palestinians have been abandoned again by the international community

On 13 June, Israel was elected to head UN’s Sixth Committee - which oversees issues related to international law - for the first time.

In other words, a country that has been routinely denounced by the UN for its settlement expansion activities in the West Bank was chosen to head one of its six permanent committees.

When a state renowned for scorning international law and conventions heads a legal committee, it is not only an affront to the rule of law, but also a mockery of the entire international legal system. Needless to say, this state of apartheid policies is now entitled to monitor the application of Geneva Convention that is consistently and consciously violated by successive Israeli governments.

On Thursday, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demeaningly humiliated the entire UN bodies. He rebuked and reprimanded the General Assembly for passing 20 resolutions against the "democratic" State of Israel and designated the UN Human Rights Council a joke.

And he described the activities of the UN heritage body UNESCO as a circus, simply because it denied the 4,000-year connection between the Jewish people and its holiest site, the Temple Mount.

"That's just as absurd as denying the connection between the Great Wall of China and China," he said just before saying the UN had degenerated from a "moral force" into a "moral farce".

For Netanyahu, denouncing Israel’s fascist measures against Palestinian civilians deserves every scathing word.

Netanyahu's striking words of rebuke were like those of an abusive teacher and would provoke even a child to leave the classroom

One tends to think that the UN has been put in an unprecedented, unenviable position as it helplessly listened to the malign lectures of Netanyahu. His striking words of rebuke were like those of an abusive teacher and would provoke even a child to leave the classroom. However, the even bigger shock was that Netanyahu’s scolding words were received by thunderous applause from the delegations present, including Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait and of course their peace partner, the Palestinian Authority. 

The Arab delegations may not have joined in the applause but even their presence in that hall was a slap in the face of their nations.  

Diplomatic triumph

Israel can now celebrate its diplomatic triumph with its Arab allies who voted in its support. It was leaked that at least four Arab countries voted in favour of IsraelNetanyahu believes that Arab governments are changing their attitudes towards Israel because they believe that Israel can help them protect their people. His equation is simple: if "the United Nations denounces Israel; the United States supports Israel," Netanyahu said in his speech.

At the 16th Zionist Herzliya Conference, an annual meeting addressing strategic challenges to Israel that was held in June, the Egyptian ambassador to Israel Hazem Khairat reiterated that Cairo is ready to put pressure on the Palestinians to create an appropriate environment for peace.

Jordan’s ambassador to Israel, Walid Obeidat, who shared the stage with Khairat at the Herzliya Conference, also called for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on the Arab Peace Initiative, also known as the Saudi Initiative that Israel has been dismissively turning down since it was endorsed by the Arab League in 2002.

Stab in the back

The conference was also attended by Ahmad Majdalani and Elias Zananiri, members of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Their participation in the Zionist conference was completely out of tune with the Palestinian consensus and showed how the monopolistic leadership of the PLO aims to promote surrender and subservience under the veneer of peaceful negotiations. In fact the participation of PLO members in that conference is no more than a stab in the back of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that has already proved its effectiveness.

The participation of PLO members in the Israeli conference is no more than a stab in the back of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) 

In a series of recent concessions, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Israel to speak about reinvigorating peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians amid secret efforts to arrange a meeting between PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.

By visiting Israel, Shoukry broke a nine-year stretch of no Egyptian foreign minister coming to Israel. It’s also important that the foreign minister, not the intelligence minister, was sent by President Sisi. The mutual security agreements between the two countries may have necessitated mutual visits of intelligence agents, but the provocative diplomatic level of the Egyptian was inexcusable. It came at the time Arabs should show palpable reluctance to offer any support for the belligerent Israeli attitude toward the Palestinians and its contempt for the Arab Initiative.

Arabs should show palpable reluctance to offer any support for the belligerent Israeli attitude toward the Palestinians and its contempt for the Arab Initiative

While Israeli bureaucrats have never had any respect for UN resolutions, they relentlessly fight to contain the critical repercussions of BDS that recently led countries such as France and Britain to criminalise calls for the boycott of Israel.

One of the more negative repercussions of Israel and Turkey’s rapprochement was its blatant violation of the success of the ongoing BDS movement against Israel. Turkey as a heavyweight Muslim country dealt a sharp blow to the efforts of international and Palestinian academics and civil society activists in their struggle to isolate and boycott Israel. 

Swedish example

At the time of the vote in June for the next head of the UN's Sixth Committee back, what drew attention was how Sweden lost out to Israel. It is well-established that Sweden’s records of human rights is internationally and widely hailed. In 1766, Sweden became the first country to introduce freedom of the press. Unsurprisingly, Sweden has not hidden its unfriendly responses to Israel’s violations against the Palestinian people.

In February 2015, Sweden became the first Western European country to open a Palestinian diplomatic mission. Prior to that, Sweden was the first Western EU member to formally recognise the Palestinian state. Early this year, Israel proclaimed Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, not welcome in Israel after she called for an investigation into the deaths of Palestinians murdered by Israeli forces that carried out extrajudicial killings.

Compared to Swedish stance, Israel, the state that breaches international law resolutions and deliberately violates countless humanitarian decrees, was shamefully elected to head a legal committee that promotes and defends basic human rights.

Though Israel’s diplomatic triumph is largely symbolic, its election to the committee raises recurrent concerns over the effectiveness and mechanisms of the current structure of the UN and its downright paralysis that impedes protecting innocent people of warring regions to attain their basic human rights. For more than five years, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has failed to reach an agreement on how to respond to the barbarous atrocities of Assad’s regime in Syria.

UN paralysis

The UN's structure has turned out to be a relic of the past; the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, constantly criticises the UN’s inability to resolve the world's ongoing problems. In a campaign called “The world is bigger than five,” Erdogan with a group of international leaders has demanded urgent restructuring and reforms to make the international body more effective to resolve world crises.

When the executioner becomes the arbiter, it’s absurd to ask Palestinians to uphold to the rules of the international community

When the executioner becomes the arbiter, it’s rather absurd to ask Palestinians to uphold to the rules of the international community and the UN’s resolutions. They shouldn’t be blamed when they lose trust in the whole hypocritical system of the so-called international community. As long as the UN's inappropriate and imbalanced structure exists, such outrageous inaction will be repeated.

Such a hollow and flatulent diplomatic victory cannot wash away the shame of the illegal occupier of Palestinian and Arab lands that has committed countless heinous atrocities amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

- Ahmed al-Burai is a lecturer at Istanbul Aydin University. He worked with BBC World Service Trust and LA Times in Gaza. He is currently based in Istanbul and mainly interested in the Middle East issues. You can follow him on Twitter @ahmedalburai1

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (R) greets Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting on the sideline of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York on 22 September  2016. (AFP)