It was big news when the UN Human Rights Council published the results of an independent investigation last month on Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land, seen by some as opening the door for third-party states to take real action against Israel, such as holding it accountable under universal jurisdiction, banning settlement products or other measures.
But now, a source has revealed to The Electronic Intifada, Palestinian human rights advocates fear that the Palestinian Authority is about to throw away this major opportunity by sponsoring a UN resolution that falls far short of what these advocates think is necessary to ensure that words are translated into action.
The UN Human Rights Council began debating the report in Geneva on Monday, a session that was boycotted by the US administration of President Barack Obama who is currently visiting the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.
Concerns were first signalled in an overly-polite and diplomatic 14 March letter sent by 11 prominent Palestinian human rights organization to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas urging the Palestine Liberation Organization “to strive to ensure the full implementation of [the UN report’s] recommendations, especially those pertaining to the obligations and responsibilities of Third States, by promoting a strong resolution at the UN Human Rights Council.”
But this cautious public approach masks growing alarm among human rights groups confirmed to me by a Ramallah-based source with direct knowledge of the talks that have been going on behind the scenes between Palestinian Authority officials, human rights groups and diplomats from other countries.
The source asked not to be named because the source did not have permission to share this information received from his communications. It was my view that the information provided was credible and of such significant public interest and urgency that granting the request for anonymity was justified.
Why this report is important
While there have been countless UN resolutions and reports condemning Israel’s illegal and relentless theft of Palestinian land for Jewish colonization, what is significant about the latest Human Rights Council report is that it directly raises the issue of “third-state responsibility.” What this means in layperson’s language is that it urges other states to take actions to inhibit or reverse Israel’s ongoing violations.
The report says:
In a situation of prevailing impunity, the law on State responsibility for internationally wrongful acts, including third-State responsibility, is relevant. International criminal law enables the pursuit of individual criminal responsibility for conduct that amounts to international crimes.
This is also likely why the Obama administration, which is ardently committed to maintaining Israel’s impunity and immunity, boycotted the debate.
Even Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid took the view that the report paves the way for South Africa-like sanctions on Israel over its intransigent refusal to end its colonization of Palestinian land.
What happens next?
The UN Human Rights Council must now pass a resolution on the report, which could have the effect of either burying it – as effectively happened with the Goldstone report into war crimes in Gaza during Israel’s 2008-2009 assault that killed 1,400 persons – or could ensure that its recommendations are acted on and taken to the next step.
Currently the draft resolution that has been circulating states that the Council:
Requests the United Nations Secretary General to report on the implications of the Fact-Finding Mission’s recommendation to Member States to comply with their obligations under international law and to assume their responsibilities in their relationship to a State breaching peremptory norms of international law to the General Assembly at its 68th session of 2013.
Human rights organizations, including well-known Palestinian ones, have been pushing for this language to be changed to the following:
Requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit a report, detailing the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the implications of Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian People throughout the occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, and the implementation of this resolution to the Human Rights Council at its March session of 2014.
Subtle but important change
While the changes may appear subtle to the those of us not versed in the arcana of UN technical language, the difference is important as my source explained, especially about who has responsibility for moving the report forward. My source told me:
The reason we want these changes, and particularly this reporting mechanism, is that it will lead to (1) Further delineation of third state responsibility as it pertains to Israeli settlements … (2) Leads to reporting from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [rather than the UN Secretary General] on the implications to and implementation by states of this recommendation. (3) Thus, including these paragraphs will push our work on accountability forward.
According to the source, human rights organizations have been assured of support for such a change from the delegations from several states and typically African, Latin American, Arab and Muslim-majority states have supported whatever resolution the Palestinians put forward.
But those states, the source said, have historically taken the position that they “cannot be more Palestinian than the Palestinians.” This means it is up to the Palestinian Authority leaders who control the Palestinian UN seat to put forward a strong resolution.
Will Palestinian Authority miss another opportunity?
The problem, human rights advocates believe, is that the Palestinian Authority appears to be much more concerned about attracting support from EU states in order to embarrass the United States, which means offering a far more watered-down resolution.
My source said that human rights advocates learned from EU diplomats that Palestinian Authority representatives had been telling one thing to the human rights groups and another thing to the EU diplomats about how the Palestine Liberation Organization delegation in Geneva would vote.
The PA has, as yet, failed to give Palestinian human rights organizations a clear promise that it will propose a resolution containing the stronger language.
If the current draft containing the weak language goes through it may attract votes from EU states but it will mean the Human Rights Council report is killed off bureacratically which would be a victory for Israel, the Obama administration and other determined foes of Palestinian rights.
The Palestinian UN mission in Geneva did not respond to a request seeking comment.
PA history of undermining Palestinian cause at the UN
If the fears of Palestinian human rights groups are realized, what may happen in coming days is strikingly similar to the role the Palestinian Authority and its de facto ruler Mahmoud Abbas played previously in sabotaging two UN resolutions that could have helped the Palestinian cause advance in the UN.
As mentioned, the Palestinian Authority helped Israel and the United States fatally undermine the Goldstone report at the UN in 2009.
And in June 2010, documents leaked to The Electronic Intifada showed that the Palestinian Authority UN mission led by Ibrhahim Khreisheh colluded with European diplomats against Turkey in an attempt to pass a resolution neutralizing the UN Human Rights Council report into Israel’s attack on the Mavi Marmara.
Will this miserable history repeat itself, or will the Palestinian Authority learn the lesson and refuse to be an obstacle to real international action against the Israeli settlements it constantly decries?