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Trump's administration and Israeli Apartheid will bankrupt UN morality Open in fullscreen

Ibrahim Fraihat

Trump's administration and Israeli Apartheid will bankrupt UN morality

UN official Khalaf said she stood by findings that Israel has established an Apartheid [AFP]

Date of publication: 27 March, 2017

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Comment: In the face of the US and Israel, UN Secretary-General Guterres must speak out and protect the morality of the UN, writes Ibrahim Fraihat.

Senior UN official, Rima Khalaf, resigned earlier this month, after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked her to withdraw a report concluding  that Israel imposed an "apartheid regime" on Palestinians.

In her resignation letter, she cited "powerful Member States" with "…little regard for international norms and values of human rights" as having exercised "vicious attacks and threats" against the UN and the Secretary-General.

Khalaf, United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), affirmed in her resignation letter that, "I cannot but stand by the findings of ESCWA's report that Israel has established an apartheid regime that seeks the domination of one racial group over another."

For those of us who have been following the subject closely, the ESCWA report did not produce any new discoveries, rather, for the first time, it stated the facts based on systemic research commissioned by a UN Agency.

The findings of the report are consistent with the definition of the 1998 Interntional Criminal Court Rome Statute that cites "the crime of apartheid" as "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."

Khalaf has shown the international community, Guterres, and the entire UN body a lesson in humanity

Israel divides Palestinians into four different categories (Palestinians inside Israel, Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, and then refugees outside), controlling Palestinian living terms and conditions, and holding continuous authority over their daily lives.

Surprisingly, the headlines around the report are not about the content itself, but rather the manner in which the report was published. "This is not about content, this is about process," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, as the report was published "without consultation with the UN Secretariat".

Further pressure from the powerful UN member states, with the backing of the Trump administration, should not be surprising to Guterres.

Just last month, the US administration blocked the Secretary-General's candidate for the Peace Envoy to Libya, Salam Fayyad, seemingly because of his Palestinian origin.

Guterres should follow the footsteps of Rima Khalaf's refusal to be complicit with Israel's human rights violations

For the Obama administration, Fayyad was, ironically a trusted official of the Palestinian Authority, thanks to his background as a former IMF technocrat and prime minister. He was known for building institutions and fighting corruption, despite political instability and Israeli control over the Palestinian territories.

Still, Guterres has yet to recover from the setback of the United States overturning the appointment of his envoy to Libya's peace process. Now, he finds himself caught up in a scandal, having to defend indefensible practices of Israel's Apartheid, to appease the Trump administration in the White House.

Guterres' record for defending refugees in his former position as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (2005-2015) should not be overlooked. But by supporting and appeasing a government with "little regard for international norms and values of human rights," the Trump administration and an extreme right Israeli government with a history of defiance of UN resolutions, do not lend much support to his validity as the UN Secretary-General. 

Read more: The 'A' word: Is Israel's censorship strategy sustainable?

Israeli practices in the Palestinian territories are increasingly recognised worldwide as those of an Apartheid state. Guterres now has the chance to distance himself and the UN from discrimination towards the Palestinians.

The Trump administration's favoritism towards Netanyahu's government, is unlikely to end anytime soon. Accommodating Trump's demands will waste Guterres political capital, and further undermine the UN's credibility, morality, and expected neutrality, specifically within the context of the Middle East and North Africa.

The UN has been struggling to rebuild its reputation in the region after the repercussions following the intervention in Yemen and in Libya, leaving both countries shattered and engulfed in civil wars. The UN cannot afford to leave a legacy of indifferences to the conflicts in the region, specifically protecting Israeli violations of human rights against Palestinians.

Many had high hopes for Guterres, after his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, left the UN paralysed - unable to react and respond to the Syria conflict; one of the most vicious civil wars of the 21st century.

Today, over 60 million people have become refugees, and in dire circumstances, they look to the new UN Secretary-General as a source of hope. Guterres should focus on advancing their cause, instead of yielding to pressure from the Trump administration to withdraw a "well-researched, well-documented UN work on grave violations of human rights".

The Israeli government will eventually have to face the consequences of its Apartheid mission in Palestine

Guterres' predicament is far from enviable. He will most likely have to address threats, intimidation and enormous pressure from the Trump administration and Israeli government.

He should however follow the footsteps of Rima Khalaf's refusal to be complicit with Israel's human rights violations and ongoing Apartheid in Palestine.

Khalaf has shown the international community, Guterres, and the entire UN body a lesson in humanity. She wrote in her resignation, "Not by virtue of my being an international official, but simply by virtue of being a decent human being, I believe, like you, in the universal values and principles that have always been the driving force for good in human history, and on which this organization of ours, the United Nations is founded."

Guterres may not have the political power to challenge the Trump administration, but he certainly - like Rima - must stand by the principles of humanity and "the virtue of being a decent human being", and refuse to bend to pressure.

It is his responsibility to insist on protecting the morality of the UN as a respected institution. 

The Israeli government will eventually have to face the consequences of its Apartheid mission in Palestine. If anything, resignations over UN positions will send a wakeup call to the international community to focus on reforms in the UN, securing Guterres a position - along with Khalaf - on the right side of history.


Ibrahim Fraihat is Professor of Conflict Resolution at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies

Follow him on Twitter: @i_fraihat

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab

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