The UK should put Israel on notice, not the UN Human Rights Council
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 construction 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 Fourth 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?
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
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.
- Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the British Palestinian Policy Council (BPPC) and a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). He appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com and tw
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Israeli soldiers beat up Palestinians as they take some protesters into custody during a protest against preventing Palestinians from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, on 7 October 2015, near a checkpoint of an Israeli settlement in Beit El, West Bank. (AA)