Prawer Bill prompts calls to re-visit human rights clauses of UNGA Resolution 181:
Washington now says that the West Bank settlements are “illegitimate”. No doubt they figure this is a softer term than “illegal”. But for Israel, legality and legitimacy are closely tied together. And that is because it came into being in 1948 as a consequence of a UN resolution. Membership of the UN followed within months, in January 1949, when Israel’s top diplomats argued that the UN would lose its authority if it helped to create a country but then refused to give it membership.
The foundational resolution (UNGA 181) attached legally binding conditions to Israel’s legitimacy as a state. As its UN membership was associated with its statehood, that too must be bound to the same conditions. Otherwise, surely, the UN would lose all authority?
Some of these conditions were a detailed delineation of boundaries and borders (celebrated in this early stamp). These were promptly overturned under the cover of war, and were retrospectively rubber-stamped, with very few, if any, questions being asked.
But UN resolution 181 of 29th November 1947 that gave Israel the green light was about more than boundaries. It was conditional on the new state’s internal conduct and human rights. It said that: “No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants on the ground of race, religion, language or sex. All persons within the jurisdiction of the State shall be entitled to equal protection of the laws. The State shall be bound by all the international agreements and conventions, both general and special, to which Palestine has become a party. No law, regulation or official action shall conflict or interfere with these stipulations, nor shall any law, regulation or official action prevail over them.”
No time limit was put on this condition, and it seems that it was simply forgotten. Was any committee set up to monitor the new state? Was it ever held to account for these stipulations? Were its “laws, regulations or official actions” ever scrutinised or even checked on? If this resolution and its conditions have never been rescinded, do they apply today? Is any UN member country empowered to ask these questions? Can anyone ask them to ask these questions?
Israel asserts that it is a fully democratic and equal society. Its handy pocket catch-phrases “the only democracy in the Middle East” and “our Arabs are freer than those in Arab countries” are parroted ad nauseam by lazy and obedient media and politicians, as if they answer the fundamental question: does Israel match up to the rules and standards it was signed up to?
NGOs representing the legal rights of Israel’s “Arab” citizens have identified over 30 laws that discriminate against its 20% non-Jewish population — second class citizens who are treated differentially in housing and building permits, education, planning, family and marriage and travel, in their rights to free speech and freedom to organise politically, and the right to choose where to live; and much else. New laws, regulations and devices are constantly being added, introduced by lawmakers whose sole purpose in life seems to be to make life difficult for Israel’s Palestinians. Half of all adult Israeli Jews believe “Arab” citizens should have lesser rights. And now, sailing unimpeded through the Knesset, is the Prawer Bill: the most dramatic, pre-meditated, high-profile peacetime attack on a substantial section of the home population.
The Prawer Plan to dispossess some 40,000 Bedouin of their lands and forcibly move them into government townships akin to Canadian and American native reservations is an unprecedented acceleration of Israel’s ethnic cleansing in the modern era.
This is the first time Israel has coldly and openly planned mass forced population displacement, voted on in the Knesset. It has been compared to Apartheid South Africa’s Group Areas Act, which propelled the anti-Apartheid movement to international prominence.
The mass clearing of Bedouin citizens from their lands is a blatant sign that Israel has completely forgotten the conditions that were attached to its legitimacy. Should we not ask UNGA, the body responsible for Israel’s birth as a state, to investigate and take responsibility for the conduct of its protégé?
Israel got away with eliminating the Palestinian state that the same resolution, UNGA 181, also recommended. And it has also, to this day, got away with ignoring the provisions for equal rights.
Today we have a strong global movement for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions. Its three demands are, more or less in this order of prominence: End the Occupation, Right of Return of Palestinian exiles, and equal rights in Israel.
The popular emphasis on ending the Occupation has meshed in rather too easily with international diplomacy for two states, so many boycott campaigns focus on settlement produce or on companies involved in invasive West Bank expansion and infrastructure. The second demand, for Right of Return, has been distorted by the Palestine Authority and two-states negotiations into a “return” to the proposed Palestine statelet.
Meanwhile equal rights in Israel — which most clearly links back to the long forgotten 1947 conditions — has avoided the spotlight. Until now.
Recognition (of Israel’s “right to exist” and lately, to exist “as a Jewish state”) is one thing Israel cannot impose by military force, and that it desperately wants. Yet all the time it carries on behaving in a manner that must make us ask: have they, and the rest of the world, completely forgotten the UN’s conditions? Are they not in the slightest bit worried about being found out, investigated and stripped of their UN membership?
A call for Review would bring the usual riposte: why are you picking on us? Others are worse. You are singling out Israel because you hate Jews. Etc. So why not Review everyone? Israel’s impunity to ignore the conditions of admittance does nothing to maintain the UN’s stated standards — and that is bad for everyone.
The law to dispossess the Negev Bedouin of their homes and lands is in clear breach of the UN conditions. It is an entirely internal matter with no smokescreen of war or security, or argument about borders, or pending “peace talks”. Opposition is mobilising vigorously and urgently up and down Israel with strikes, demonstrations, resistance to demolitions, and re-building. A group of young Palestinians, Prawer Won’t Pass, say “We are a group of youth, united by our opposition to the continuous injustices facing the Palestinian people. We are united by our opposition to Israel’s policy, which continuously violates our rights as the indigenous people on this land. We believe that our rights cannot be forsaken and that through concerted, well organized and sustainable mobilization we can and will enshrine our inherent rights to our land. We refuse to be dislodged, displaced, disposed or abnegated from the source of our livelihood, our land. Our bond with our land is eternal; it is rooted, absolute and non-negotiable.”
Let’s support them. And let’s take it right to the top this time, so perhaps the Prawer Bill be the trip-wire that brings Israel to its senses?
See also UN Admission, Ours and Yours in MERIP by Jamie Stern-Weiner, which looks at the double standards in Israel’s 1949 arguments for admission to the UN and its arguments against the 2011 motions for the recognition and admission of Palestine. In 1949 they argued that their admission would advance the then Peace Process; in 2011 they said Palestine’s admission would set it back.
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