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What use is UNHRC agenda item 7 if it is manipulated to serve Israeli interests?

July 3, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Yesterday’s debate at the UN Human Rights Council exposed how options for Palestinians are being depleted. Other than recurring statements from countries and non-governmental organisations about Israeli violence and the importance of keeping standing agenda item 7 — “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” — as well as a few statements accusing the body of anti-Israel bias, little was said that could be considered noteworthy.

On the other hand, the propaganda for and against agenda item 7 is serving to divert attention from Israeli violations and, as a result, deplete any chances of Palestinians regaining their rights.

Following the US withdrawal from the UNHRC last month, Western countries boycotted yesterday’s item 7 debate. The Jerusalem Post described the move as “a slim sign of continued success for the Israeli and US campaign to abolish the UNHRC mandate that requires a debate on Israeli actions against the Palestinians at every council session under agenda item 7.”

The two main narratives rest upon purported anti-Israel bias, which is disseminated by Israel’s allies, notably the US, and keeping agenda item 7 to highlight Israel’s violations. Both are simplistic in scope and serve a similar agenda due to the absence of commitment from the international community to end the colonisation of Palestine. Yesterday’s meeting was another superficial debacle, although the context within which the UNHRC is operating makes it dangerous for Palestinians.

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By basing Council meetings upon the misconception of ongoing violations which are never addressed beyond rhetorical condemnations and concerns, valuable time for Palestinians is being wasted. Israel, backed by the international community on several levels, including through the latter’s refusal to commit thoroughly to Palestine’s liberation, is free to achieve its aims by insisting upon a differentiation between its actions on the ground, and how it projects the same actions to the international community.

This differentiation is important in facilitating an understanding of how the international community processes Israeli violations and thus makes the colonial narrative predominant. Currently, attention is focused on whether the US decision will influence other countries to follow suit. Agenda item 7, which has lost much of its significance due to international support for Israel, has now been transformed into a debate about Israel in its favour, while the reason why it was enacted has been pushed aside, just as Palestinians have been marginalised for decades.

The show staged at the UNHRC yesterday was reflective of the international community’s stance on Palestine. With so many state representatives absent, it is possible to grasp the significance, or lack thereof, of the countries that did turn up. Placing the support of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela on a par, for example, is erroneous, given the former’s now overt ties to Israel. Venezuela, meanwhile, has insisted on advocating for the two-state compromise which limits Palestinian aspirations. Egypt downplayed the injuries and killings of Palestinians by Israeli snipers at the Gaza border, reducing the number to “scores”. Qatar warned against marginalising agenda item 7 as it would “embolden Israel to perpetrate more crimes against the Palestinian people”, yet it did not go any further than supporting UN resolutions on protection for Palestinians, which are another form of collaborative injustice masquerading as collective concern.

It might well be asked, from a Palestinian perspective, what use is standing agenda item 7 if, like all other international endeavours, its essence is constantly being manipulated to serve Israeli interests?

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.