Human rights defenders are urging members of the UN Security Council to adopt sanctions to give teeth to the resolution they passed last month demanding that Israel halt the construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
In a letter to their leaders this week, Shawan Jabarin, the director of the legal advocacy and human rights group Al-Haq, commended New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela for sponsoring UN Security Council Resolution 2334.
But Jabarin urged them to use the resolution as “an opportunity to move beyond mere statements to concrete and effective actions, including the imposition of sanctions against Israel for its continued violations of international law.” This would include banning the importation of Israeli settlement products into their territories.
While praising the resolution for confirming the illegality of Israeli settlements, Al-Haq notes that it “falls short in several respects.”
“Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights do not begin or end with the construction and expansion of the illegal settlement enterprise,” Jabarin writes, noting decades of Israeli violations including, “collective punishment, extrajudicial killing, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests and administrative detention.”
He urges members of the Security Council to cooperate with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which is currently conducting a preliminary examination of numerous war crimes allegations, including during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza.
Al-Haq legal staff have faced threats and harassment believed to be related to their work on the preliminary examination.
Jabarin also notes that the recent resolution “merely reiterates the Security Council’s previous demand that Israel cease all settlement activities,” but unlike earlier resolutions does not explicitly demand the dismantling of all existing settlements.
Echoing a warning given by this writer about the weaknesses of the resolution before it was passed, Jabarin adds: “the absence of such a call in the most recent resolution may be interpreted by interested parties as de facto legitimization of the existing settlement enterprise.”
Similarly, Jabarin writes that Al-Haq is “troubled” by the resolution’s references to various international peace initiatives that “equalize the roles and actions of Israel, the occupying power, and Palestinians, the occupied protected population.”
But regardless of what the text states, any bite the resolution has will come from actions by countries around the world.
“Declaration of war”
Israel has lashed out angrily against every member of the UN Security Council, but reserved particular vitriol for the four states that sponsored the resolution.
The Tel Aviv daily Haaretz reported that in the hours before the Security Council vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “let loose with sharp threats” in a phone call to New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully.
“If you continue to promote this resolution, from our point of view it will be a declaration of war,” Netanyahu reportedly said. “It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences. We’ll recall our ambassador to Jerusalem.”
McCully refused to back down.
These events have continued to reverberate in New Zealand.
Earlier this week, McCully’s Auckland district office was vandalized with graffiti calling him a “traitor” and a “Jew hater.”
McCully called the vandalism “regrettable,” but defended the decision to back the resolution.
“It is very difficult to get past the fact that it is long-standing New Zealand policy to support the two-state solution, to condemn incitement and violence, and to call for a halt to the settlements process,” McCully told The New Zealand Herald.
“We hope that a normal friendly relationship with Israel will resume soon,” the foreign minister stated.
Small country, big impact
But supporters of Palestinian rights think a normal relationship is precisely what is not needed.
Writing this week in the The New Zealand Herald, the country’s biggest daily, Janfrie Wakim urged that “New Zealand, as the Western country most identified with UNSC 2334, needs to show Israel there is a cost” if it continues to ignore world opinion and violate Palestinian rights.
Wakim, spokesperson for the New Zealand Palestine Solidarity Network, proposes that the country could refuse to accept imports or Israeli visitors from the occupied West Bank and could ditch the cooperation agreement signed last year between Israel and the New Zealand Film Commission.
“We can put a stop to a range of economic and academic collaboration between Israel and New Zealand,” Wakim adds.
With a population of under five million, New Zealand has a history of standing up to bigger powers.
Precisely because it is small, its politicians are more accessible and arguably more receptive to public campaigns. And if New Zealand shifts its policy, that could in turn influence the actions of other governments.
So activists in New Zealand may want to preempt any backlash by urging their government now to declare publicly – as have Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, the European Union and the United States – that boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activism is a free speech right.
In the 1980s, New Zealand angered the United States by declaring itself a “nuclear-free zone,” effectively banning visits to its ports by US navy ships – a policy that came about due to popular pressure on the government.
In the 1970s, New Zealand, along with Australia, took France to the International Court of Justice over the latter’s nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific.
New Zealand sued France again after French spies bombed the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbor in 1985, killing photographer and anti-nuclear campaigner Fernando Pereira.
And New Zealand campaigners can arguably claim credit for turning the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa into an international phenomenon with their mass protests and disruptions of the 1981 tour by the Springbok rugby team.
Among the measures she proposes, Wakim urges the government of recently appointed Prime Minister Bill English to instruct the New Zealand state pension fund, called the Superannuation Fund, to follow the lead of financial institutions in other countries by divesting from Israeli banks that finance settlements.
In 2012, the Superannuation Fund divested from several Israeli firms involved in the construction of settlements.
“And [Foreign Minister] Murray McCully can tell Netanyahu we don’t like countries declaring war on New Zealand for pointing out what international law is,” Wakim concludes. “He could tell him Netanyahu doesn’t need to send his recalled ambassador back to New Zealand until Israel behaves.”
Given the precedents, Israel has good reason to be worried when the New Zealand public stirs.