Saturday, December 01, 2012

Palestine at the UN

In case you had any doubts about the significance of today’s (Thurs, Nov. 29) bid by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for United Nations “observer” status for Palestine, here are a few facts to chew on.
            First, Palestine is expected to prevail in the General Assembly vote by a large margin, possibly as much as two-thirds of the delegates. This will include European nations such as France, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland that have long formed a solid block against Palestine on this issue. It will not include Israel, of course, and its longtime poodle, the United States, along with its longtime poodles, Australia, Canada and Great Britain. But the opposition of these nations will have no bearing on the case: the Palestinians are on track to win this one big.
            What that means is that though they will not get full member status with voting rights, the Palestinians will have access to UN agencies and treaties, and, most importantly, the right to join the International Criminal Court (the ICC). This, in turn, will allow them to bring their cases alleging Israeli war crimes and violations of international law before the ICC. Now what any thinking person should be asking is: why should Israel and the United States and Great Britain (the Brits pledged that they would support the Palestinians in their admission bid if only they would promise NOT to seek an ICC case against Israel) worry about this? Why should the United States be putting immense pressure on Abbas to abandon his UN move, suggesting that it will cost him $200 million in development aid currently blocked in Congress, and more if Israel freezes the transfer of tax and tariff funds it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf? Isn’t Israel a law-abiding member of the international community, one of the great democracies of the Middle East?
            Well, no, it’s not. And this is what the world needs to know (not that it’s been any secret for the last 60 years, but the mainstream media, especially in the U.S., routinely buries this kind of “anti-semitic” information). The world needs to know that Israeli settlements—all of them, not just the ones President Obama convinced Netanyahu two years ago to “freeze”, and which Netanyahu has since started building again—are illegal. They are illegal specifically according to the very United Nations that Palestine is now seeking to join (actually it has been seeking full UN membership for years, and has always been blocked from full membership by, you guessed it, the United States.). In a little document called “Israeli settlements in the occupied Arab territories,” (easily searchable online) issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in April of 1996, the Human Rights Commission does the following.

1) It notes ‘with appreciation the report (E/CN.4/1996/18) submitted by the Special Rapporteur pursuant to resolution 1993/2 A of 19 February 1993, in which he recommends, inter alia, that theconfiscation of Palestinian-owned land and the construction or expansion of settlements should be halted immediately..
2) Reaffirms that the installation of Israeli civilians in the occupied territories is illegal and constitutes a violation of the relevant provisions of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949..
3) Reiterates its request to the Government of Israel to comply fully with the provisions of Commission resolutions 1990/1, 1991/3, 1992/3, 1993/3, 1994/1 and 1995/3 (in other words, the several times the UN has already “reaffirmed the illegality of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories”and with which Israel is in noncompliance)..
4) Urges the Government of Israel to abstain from installing any settlers in the occupied territories and to prevent any new installation of settlers in these territories.

            That seems plain enough to me. And what terrifies the United States and Israel and their allies is that it will be plain enough to the International Criminal Court and the whole world as well. As Francis Boyle, the renowned international lawyer and legal adviser to the Palestinian Authority for years, said today in an interview, observer status (and he made the point that Switzerland had observer status until about three years ago, so it’s not some flimsy or inconsequential status to have) will give the Palestinians the legal standing to bring the case he’s been urging them to bring for years to the ICC—the case against the illegality of the Israeli settlements. As anyone who reads can clearly see, the Israeli settlements are illegal, and such illegality is precisely what the ICC is meant to adjudicate. So the first case the Palestinians should bring, according to Boyle, is the case against the settlements. After that, it may also choose to bring the war crimes case against Israel stemming from its violations of international law in its previous (2008) invasion of Gaza. A UN report, the famous (by now infamous) Goldstone Report, in fact didfind evidence of war crimes, specifically that the Israeli military attacked civilians, hospitals, schools and individual homes in Gaza (see my blog on this, “Condemning Goldstone,” Sept. 26, 2011.)
            Of course, Israel is already fulminating and threatening to take “whatever actions are necessary” if the Palestinians should “use this platform for confrontation.” Which I guess means that the Palestinians should conclude that taking Israel to court would be considered a hostile act—something like firing rockets, perhaps. And perhaps they are right. Because what Francis Boyle said in his interview suggests that this legal track may now become the next step in the long Palestinian fight for justice. He called it “a legal intifada.” The problem for Israel, and the United States, is that though legal actions may be devastating in their effect, they cannot reasonably be called violent, or war-like, or what Israel likes to call an “existential threat.” Because isn’t that what imperial nations are always prating about—the rule of law? Well, yes, but not when the wogs want to use the law. Because when “they” use the law, they can become a threat to the reigning myth—the myth that Israel, along with its propaganda ally, has long perpetrated: that Israel is innocent of any wrongdoing, that it is only trying to defend itself, and that in doing so it always abides by international norms; and that it is those lawless Palestinians and other Arab or Muslim states who pose a deadly threat to its people’s existence.
            So if the people of the world—including the benighted and propagandized people of the United States—were ever to see, via the International Criminal Court, the truth about who the criminals actually are, then the Emperor’s clothes, hair, and every other pretense of civilization would surely vanish. Who knows what might happen then? With Palestine in the UN, we just might get to see.

Update, 11/29: the General Assembly voted 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, today to give Palestine observer status at the UN. The US and Israel voted "no," joined by the powerhouse nations of Canada, the Czech Republic, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Panama. 

Lawrence DiStasi

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