The Pan-Arab London daily, al-Hayat, editorializes today that President Obama’s vote against Palestine’s membership in UNESCO demonstrates that his 2009 Cairo speech was “empty words.” Obama’s forays into outreach to the Muslim world are crashing and burning as he adopts anti-Palestinian positions little different from those of his predecessors.
As for the far rightwing government of Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel, it announced that it was “punishing” Palestine for joining UNESCO. Since Israel isn’t Palestine’s parents, what he really means is that Israel is taking revenge. The vengeful measures consisted of building 2000 more dwellings for Israeli squatters on Palestinian land in and around East Jerusalem, and withholding from the Palestinians tens of millions of dollars a month in custom and sales tax revenue collected for the Palestine Authority at ports and checkpoints by the Israelis, which control them.
As I have asked before, if the Israelis are the good guys, why is it that their leadership so often sounds like a James Bond villain. (“No, Mr. Abbas, I expect you to drop dead.”)
Since the Israelis regularly announce new settlement building on Palestinian land in the West Bank, moreover, this “punishment” (“revenge”) is really just business as usual, and calling it punishment is nothing more than posturing.
Palestine declines to enter into further negotiations with Israel precisely because the Israelis are gobbling up the very land over which the negotiations would be held, so that the talks would really just offer a Palestinian fig leaf to Israeli grand larceny. The Palestinians can’t see why they should do that.
As for the customs revenue, the Israelis regular freeze those payments, and they have a third of the occupied Palestinians, in Gaza, under an ongoing blockade of civilians that prevents them from exporting their made goods and keeps most of them living in penury and on the edge of food insecurity.
In other words, if these measures are actually revenge, then the Israelis have been vengeful for many years toward the Palestinians.
Israel is also excluding UNESCO from that country, probably in a bid to prevent the organization from recognizing Palestinian sites as world heritage sites, strengthening the Palestinian claim to them and the territory on which they stand.
Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray argues that Palestine can now join the International Criminal Court. Murray writes:
“… the UNESCO membership is crucial recognition of Palestine’s statehood, not an empty gesture. With this evidence of international acceptance, there is now absolutely no reason why Palestine cannot, instantly and without a vote, join the International Criminal Court. Palestine can now become a member of the International Criminal Court simply by submitting an instrument of accession to the Statute of Rome, and joining the list of states parties.
As both the USA and Israel refuse to join the ICC because of their desire to commit war crimes with impunity, acceding to the statute of Rome would not only confirm absolutely that Palestine is a state, it would reinforce the fact that Palestine is a better international citizen with more moral legitimacy than Israel.
There is an extremely crucial point here: if Palestine accedes to the Statute of Rome, under Article 12 of the Statute of Rome, the International Criminal Court would have jurisdiction over Israelis committing war crimes on Palestinian soil. Other states parties – including the UK – would be obliged by law to hand over indicted Israeli war criminals to the court at the Hague. This would be a massive blow to the Israeli propaganda and lobbying machine.”
It is often said that the ICC cannot move against non-signatories. But since the Israelis are operating in Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza, they thereby open themselves to prosecution were Palestine to join the ICC.
The Human Province blog has a complete vote tally for the UNESCO decision. It turns out that Spain, France, Ireland, Austria, Finland and Greece in Europe voted “yes,” which is a pretty big set of defections from US leadership. And, the UK, Italy and Denmark all abstained, which given the way this vote worked, essentially supported the Palestinians.
“No” votes were Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sweden, United States of America, Vanuatu.
With all due respect to the island nations, they aren’t very important in world affairs. Germany, Canada and Australia are the only medium-sized countries here, while Sweden, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands are relatively small despite being wealthy. The Rejectionist states toward Palestine are no longer very numerous or weighty, and mostly they are just being arm-twisted by the US to give Washington cover so that it doesn’t look like the US is the only one standing against basic Palestinian human rights.
As for the fall-out for the United States, an informed reader wrote to remind me that if the Palestinians are welcomed into other UN bodies, the US could well lose substantial influence and have its interests adversely affected. He notes that the International Telecommunication Union allocates radio spectrum usage globally, “including the spectrum reserved for military and commercial use.” The World Health Organization is clearly important to the US for combating epidemics. The World Meteorological Organization is a matrix of information about weather that has agricultural and military implications. The World Intellectual Property Organization recognizes patents and copyrights worldwide.
These sorts of UN organizations, which are, whether Americans want to recognize it or not, important to the United States, could be forced to expel the US and cease sharing information with it if it does not pay its dues. Congress in the 1990s, under the influence of the Israel lobbies, passed a law forbidding the US government from giving money to bodies that recognize Palestine.
The upshot: Netanyahu’s talk about “punishment” (“revenge”) seems likely to inspire buyers’ remorse in countries like Sweden and Australia that voted against the Palestinians at UNESCO, and reinforces the very image of Israel as regional bully that led to the vote in the first place. Obama’s vote against the Palestinians has cost him significant political capital in the Muslim world. And, the US now could face a series of debilitating expulsions from a whole range of essential international organizations.
The US and Israel are experiencing these setbacks because both are de facto supporting Greater Israel expansionism, which is illegal in international law. Ironically, there are very unlikely to be enough Israelis actually to displace the Palestinians from the West Bank, and they are probably just paving the way for a one-state solution after a few decades of Apartheid that likely will result in boycotts of Israel.