Inter Press Service
Whenever the Security Council (sporadically) or the General Assembly (more frequently) lambastes Israel, the reaction from the Jewish state is highly predictable: either launch a military strike on Palestinians or announce new settlements in the occupied territories.
Since the Israelis last month exercised the first option, causing devastation in Gaza, they opted for 3,000 new settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank immediately after the 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution elevating Palestine from an “observer” to a “non-member state”.
The settlements were condemned not only by the United States but also by the European Union and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Paradoxically, the retaliation followed even after Israel disparaged the General Assembly vote as “insignificant”, according to a New York Times editorial.
The final vote count was an overwhelming 138 in favour against nine, with 41 abstentions.
Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francicso, told IPS, “Yes, there has been a long tradition of Israel retaliating against Palestinians when a vote at the United Nations has not gone their way.”
Regardless of the appropriateness of U.N.’s actions, it is ordinary Palestinians who tend to suffer, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Middle East.
He recounted a cartoon in a U.S. newsmagazine in the 1970s which showed Palestinian refugees huddled under a tent as Israeli Phantom jets (since replaced with sophisticated U.S.-supplied F-15 and F-16 fighter planes) rain fire on a refugee camp.
The quote attributed to the Palestinian family in the cartoon read: “Looks like Israel had another bad day at the U.N.”
The United States and Israel, which unsuccessfully lobbied against the Palestine resolution, found themselves in the company of Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Panama, Canada and the Czech Republic.
In at least five other resolutions adopted by two U.N. committees last month, the United States and Israel had the backing of only Canada and the four tiny Pacific island states, who are politically insignificant at the United Nations.
The total population of all four member states, Marshall Islands (population: 55,000), Micronesia (106,000), Nauru (9,400) and Palau (21,000), amounted to a paltry 191,400 compared to the 138 countries that voted with Palestine, which accounted for about six billion out of the world’s total population of over seven billion people.
The resolutions adopted by the two committees, which will be endorsed by the General Assembly later this month, are expected to reflect the same voting patterns.
And the five resolutions against Israel highlight the continued human rights abuses and violations of international law in occupied territories; a reaffirmation of the Geneva conventions protecting the rights of civilians during war; and the right of all persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 hostilities to return to their homes in the occupied territories.
Mouin Rabbani, contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report and senior fellow at the Institute of Palestine Studies, told IPS the outcome of a General Assembly vote on Palestine was never in question.
“Those who openly opposed the vote can be counted on the fingers of an amputated hand: Israel; the United States, which is more pro-Israel than Israel itself; Canada, which is more pro-Israel than even the United States; and the Pacific islands, who cast their final U.N. votes since they will be rewarded for their efforts by further North American carbon emissions and an attendant rise in the sea level,” he said.
Rabbani said this is about “quality not quantity”.
With the outcome never in doubt, the real question is whether the Palestinian U.N. bid will gain significantly more support, and garner significantly less opposition, than the 1988 proclamation of independence.
There are already very encouraging signs in this respect, he said.
France is leading a very respectable group of European Union member states who voted in favour; Germany, which is no longer the determined obstructionist within the EU it has been in years past, abstained, and so did Australia.
Of particular interest is the British position (the UK abstained on the Palestine vote), Rabbani said.
“They have conditioned Palestinian commitment to return without conditions to a peace process that does not exist, and a Palestinian pledge to ensure Israeli impunity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) with respect to its war crimes, as conditions for supporting the bid,” he said. “They got neither, and abstained rather than vote against.”
In the U.S. Congress there are threats to cut U.S. funding to all U.N. bodies that accept Palestine as a member, as it did last year when the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) voted for Palestine to be one of its members.
Asked about ICC membership, Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations, told IPS, “If we’re looking purely at the question of accession to the Rome Statute (which created the ICC), the issue of a cut in funding is less important, since the U.S. is not a state party and so doesn’t really contribute financially to the ICC.”
He said the U.S. and others could seek to make Palestine – and perhaps the ICC -pay a political price, but that could incur a big cost as well, for the whole world.
“I want to think that helping to gut international justice just to protect possible Israeli and, incidentally, Palestinian, war criminals is too high a price to pay,” he added.
Rabbani told IPS, “The real issue is what comes next.”
Anyone familiar with the position of Western governments knows that what this issue is really about for them is not the U.N. or the General Assembly but rather the ICC, he said.
“They desperately don’t want to have to make a choice between Israeli impunity and support for the ICC.”
That has worked so long as the ICC only goes after Africans, said Rabbani, who is also a senior policy advisor to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.
“They’re mortified this may now change. Not only should they make that choice, they should be forced to make that choice in full public view… We need a real court, and a willingness to prosecute Israeli war crimes is for many the litmus test in this respect.”
Thalif Deen is a contributor to Inter Press Service.