Thursday, February 7, 2013

Judicial Bias Against Israel

by Michael Curtis

There are never any surprises in the reports and declarations of United Nations organizations concerning the State of Israel. The most recent example of the UN's inherent bias is the report made public on January 31, 2013 of the six-month long inquiry into Israeli settlements by a panel of three jurists authorized by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

One must ask why the UN is wasting its time with a study and report on Israeli settlements when it is urgent for international organizations to be seeking to resolve the civil war in Syria. While the Israeli settlements are a genuine subject of controversy, in spite of criticisms by Palestinians and their associates in the UN, they have not claimed the lives of any Palestinians. The civil war in Syria, in contrast, has cost the lives of more than 60,000 people over the past two years, and resulted in the displacement and flight of hundreds of thousands of refugees from their homes. Yet the international community, and specifically the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly, has done little to condemn the continuing slaughter and violations of human rights by the regime headed by Bashar Assad and even less to take measures to end them.

Instead, an international group has once again spent time inquiring into and condemning the State of Israel. To the surprise of none except the most naïve, the report of the inquiry issued in January 2013, whose conclusions were predictable before it started the inquiry, enjoined Israel to stop expanding settlements and called on the Israeli government to withdraw all Israeli settlers from the disputed areas of the West Bank.

The panel took the position that private companies should stop working in the settlements if their activities adversely affect the human rights of Palestinians. It urged countries that are home to these business companies to ascertain that human rights are respected throughout their operation in the settlements.

The report held that the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer of population into occupied territory. Action of this kind can be regarded as war crimes which are subject to prosecution in the International Criminal Court (ICC) according to Article 8 of the ICC statute. The report, giving unsolicited advice, stated that if the Palestinians, having been admitted to the UN as a non-member observer state, now ratify the Rome Statute which established the ICC, they can bring charges against Israel "for gross violations of human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law" to the ICC.

In particular, the report held, the settlements were "leading to a creeping annexation that prevents the establishment of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state and undermines the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination."

About 250 settlements in the West Bank, in which 520,000 Israelis reside, have been established since 1967. That population is increasing much faster than the population of Israel outside the settlements.

It was surprising that the panel took six months to present their findings. The result was implicit in the mission given to the panel by the UNHRC in March 2012 "to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem." The terms of this one-sided statement did not mention the continuing terrorist attacks by Palestinians from Gaza and elsewhere against citizens of Israel.

The outcome of the report was thus totally predictable, partly because it was a product of the UN Human Rights Council whose whole history has been one of hostility to the State of Israel and also because of the composition of the panel. It consisted of three women jurists: Christine Chanet, a French human rights lawyer as the chair, Asma Jahangir, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and Unity Dow, formerly a judge of the High Court of Botswana.

Chanet's position was clear before the inquiry began. She is reported to have commented in July 2012 on the benefits that Israeli settlers obtained to the detriment of Palestinians. Chanet must be one of the few people in the world to have made the striking comment that "it was very difficult to have a real dialog with Israel." She appeared to be unaware of the intense and sometimes vituperative dialog displayed in Israeli political and social affairs, manifested most recently by the 32 political parties competing in the Israeli parliamentary election in January 2013.

Understandably, the members of the mission could not visit Israel or the disputed territories.

The UN Human Rights Council is one of most ludicrous bodies in the world. In recent years its 47 members have included such peace-loving countries anxious to uphold human rights as Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Sudan, Nicaragua, China, and Burma. These countries have ensured that nearly half of the UNHRC resolutions regarding specific countries are directed against Israel, thus making the organization the most continually biased international body against Israel. As a result of this bias its whole agenda is a distraction from the fundamental issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the continuing reluctance and unwillingness of Palestinians to enter into peace negotiations with Israel.

The January 2013 report is unhelpful for three reasons. First, as a minimum, it indirectly encourages international boycotts of products made in the settlements. Secondly, though supposedly a judicial body, it has entered the political arena. It strongly asserts a contentious unqualified political position: that the Israeli settlements represent occupation, rather than arguing that the fate of the settlements and the disputed territories has to be determined by negotiations. The UNHRC and the three-member panel inquiry paid no heed to the fact that Israel voluntarily withdrew 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank in 2005.

Thirdly, the very language of the report in speaking of the "magnitude of violations" by Israel, and of Israeli actions which are detrimental to the rights of Palestinians is in accordance with the thrust of the statements about Israel made for some years by the UNHRC. The repetition of this language at this time is particularly unhelpful in being confrontational, heating the political atmosphere, and thus hindering the possibility of peace negotiations.

Regrettably, the report has been issued and it is too late for the three-member panel to consider a more realistic appraisal of human rights violations. When even Mia Farrow, the film star and activist, can recognize and protest the absurdities of the UN as she did on January 29, 2013 in condemning the election of Sudan to become vice-president of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSC), we ought to expect more rational behavior on the part of UN bodies. Mia Farrow correctly found the election of a country, well known for its cruelty to women, to a body supposedly concerned among other issues with women's rights and the elimination of female genital mutilation to be "incomprehensible and unacceptable." Indeed, it is unusually incomprehensible and indeed ludicrous since the president of Sudan, Al Bashir, is wanted for genocide in the Darfur region of the country in which more than 700,000 civilians face starvation.

Can one expect support by human rights activists and declarations by the United Nations Human Rights Council for the position on this issue expressed by Mia Farrow or are they too concerned with the alleged iniquities of Israel to consider the issue?

Michael Curtis


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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