Thursday, December 4, 2008

At the U.N.: Rallying around condemnation of Apartheid Israel.

"U.N. Assembly Head Hailed for Blasting Israel"

By Thalif Deen

On the Web at:

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2 (IPS) - The president of the General Assembly, Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, dropped a political bombshell last week when he lashed out at Israel for its repressive actions in the occupied territories, including the recent blockade of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

"What is being done to the Palestinian people seems to me to be a version of the hideous policy of apartheid," he told delegates, during a meeting commemorating the "International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People".

A senior U.N. official told IPS: "I cannot remember any Assembly president so publicly vocal in denouncing Israel."

D'Escoto damned both the Israelis and the United Nations for the plight of the Palestinians. "And he was on target," the official added.

"I believe," D'Escoto said, "that the failure to create a Palestinian state as promised is the single greatest failure in the history of the United Nations."

Nadia Hijab, senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, told IPS that D'Escoto's comments are a welcome reminder of the reality on the ground, and "a valiant attempt to hold the international community responsible for its posturing on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and siege of Gaza."

She said Father Miguel's "remarkable statement" carries more resonance given the silence of world powers.

"And his tenure still has nine months to go," said Hijab, of D'Escoto's stint as Assembly president, which expires in September 2009.

Addressing the Assembly last week, D'Escoto pointed out that it has been 60 years since some 800,000 Palestinians were driven out of their homes and property, becoming refugees and an uprooted and marginalised people.

The General Assembly, 61 years ago this month, adopted a historic resolution (181) calling for the creation of a Jewish State and an Arab State, he said.

"The State of Israel, founded a year later in 1948, celebrates 60 years of its existence," D'Escoto said, "Shamefully, there is still no Palestinian State to celebrate."

The New York-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) condemned the General Assembly for commemorating Palestine Solidarity Day and "deplored" D'Escoto's remarks which "compared Israel's policies in the Palestinian territories to South Africa's apartheid policies."

JCPA Chair Andrea Weinstein said: "It is terribly sad that the members of the General Assembly find it necessary to spend two days participating in programmes criticising a member states' existence."

It is even more "abhorrent", Weinstein said, that the Assembly's current president would seek to de-legitimise Israel by comparing its policies to those of apartheid South Africa.

D'Escoto has also come under attack for embracing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the General Assembly sessions in September.

Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev responded by calling D'Escoto an "Israeli hater".

Stephen Zunes, professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS: "As most of us who have actually visited the West Bank in recent years can testify, it really is an apartheid-like situation, with Jewish-only settlements connected by Jewish-only roads with Arabs allowed in only for menial labour while their communities -- divided by hundreds of Israeli checkpoints -- languish in increasing poverty and deprivation."

"Recognising this situation as it is and the critical importance of establishing a viable Palestinian state is not being anti-Israel, as an increasing numbers of Israelis themselves are recognising, but is simply a reflection of reality," said Zunes, who chairs the University's programme in Middle East studies.

Hijab told IPS that the Israeli occupation is now so dire that it has driven the most moderate of Palestinian leaders-- Salam Fayyad -- to speak out against European plans to upgrade their relations with Israel.

Fayyad, who is credited by the United States and Europe for his efforts to bring transparency to Palestinian financial transactions and security to Palestinian cities, said "the misery index in Gaza has never been higher" and that the world community is not telling Israel that there is a trade-off for internationally unlawful behaviour, she added...