Israel, the UN’s Sixth Committee and international law

Perhaps, in yet another demonstration of the increasing impotence of the United Nations, Israel recently took over the chairmanship of the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee.

According to the UN, the Sixth Committee “is the primary forum for the consideration of legal questions in the General Assembly”, which means that Israel is now chairing a committee dedicated to issues and questions of international law.

Israel’s chairmanship of the Sixth Committee should arouse consternation from those who value international legal norms.

This is because Israel has achieved a degree of infamy for its regular and decades-long flouting of international laws, and so the irony is not lost on people who are fully aware of Israel’s repeated violations.
Long-standing impunity

Israel has long denied millions of Palestinians their rights enshrined within international law under such agreements as the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Although voices of condemnation are increasing these days, since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the Nakba, Israel has been violating the rights of Palestinians with impunity.

After the Arab armies were decisively trounced by the Israelis in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel immediately occupied Palestinian territories and began constructing the first of many illegal settlements in order demographically to alter the Palestinian homeland.

These settlements have increased to the point where more than half a million Israeli-Jews now illegally occupy lands meant for a future Palestinian state.

Quite apart from Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which specifically prohibits an occupying force from transferring its own civilian population on to territory it occupies, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 446 in 1979 declaring that all Israeli settlements have “no legal validity”, though failed to enforce it.
The damage settlements cause is further compounded by the fact that the Nakba created 750,000 Palestinian refugees who were deported from their land.

These Palestinians and their descendants now number millions, yet they are either refugees in their own country or dispersed throughout the world.

This is a grave breach of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits forcible transfers and deportations of populations by an occupying power “regardless of their motive”.

Although Palestinians have rights under international law allowing them to return to their homes, Israel continues to refuse them this right, citing security concerns.
The reality is that Israel perceives them to be a demographic threat as millions of Palestinians returning home would mean that Arabs living in Israel, numbering about 1.5 million of a total population of eight million, would form a majority.

That would place Israel in an awkward position as it would have to live up to its claim of being the only democracy in the Middle East.

Use of disproportionate force

In a further contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has also adopted a policy of collective punishment.

It has become infamous for disproportionate and indiscriminate force being used against the Palestinians collectively, whether or not they are involved with Hamas.

Indeed, during the Operation Cast Lead that ended in 2009, Israel killed almost 1,400 people, mostly civilians.

A few years later, in 2014, Israel again targeted civilians during Operation Protective Edge, indiscriminately killing 2,100 Palestinians.
These are all war crimes, as Article 33 states that, “No persons may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed”.

While Israel’s violations of international law are bad enough, the ludicrousness posed by Israel’s chairmanship of this important committee is increased by the Israeli personality assigned to it, namely Danny Danon.

This is a person who is against the UN-sponsored two-state solution, is keen on “making the land of Israel whole” by annexing the West Bank, and a man who was feared by former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren as serving no other purpose than to make Israel look “more extreme”.

The fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks it is appropriate to appoint such a personality to head this highly critical committee perhaps shows Israel’s disdain for the UN and international law in general.
After all, how can a man who is so virulently opposed to all legally binding resolutions of the UNSC effectively engage on questions of the law?

Danon is not the only problem here as he is perhaps a product of Israel’s long-standing violations of international law since its foundation.

Before Israel can chair the Sixth Committee without making the entire affair seem like a farce, it should first adhere to all UNSC resolutions regarding human rights in occupied Palestine and other issues such as illegal settlements.

However, and judging by Israel’s recent announcement that it will construct 800 more homes in illegal settlements in occupied Jerusalem, it will be business as usual at the UN with zero accountability for Israel along the way.

Author: Tallha Abdulrazaq


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