Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has awarded the highest Palestinian honour to Rima Khalaf, a senior UN official who resigned on Friday amid pressure to withdraw a report that accused Israel of creating an apartheid state.
Local media reported the Palestinian president had spoken to Khalaf by phone and given her Palestine’s Medal of the Highest Honor in recognition of her “courage and support” for Palestinians.
A statement said Abbas “stressed to Khalaf that our people appreciate her humanitarian and national position”.
Khalaf stepped down from her posts as the UN undersecretary-general and executive secretary for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) after the report was removed from the ESCWA website.
The report accused Israel of imposing an apartheid regime that oppresses the Palestinian people. It also urged governments to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Hanan Ashrawi, an executive member of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the report was a “step in the right direction” and should be reinstated.
“Instead of succumbing to political blackmail or allowing itself to be censored or intimidated by external parties, the UN should condemn the acts described in the report and hold Israel responsible,” Ashrawi said in a statement on Saturday.
Upon resigning, Khalaf said: “It was expected that Israel and its allies will exercise pressure on the UN secretary-general to distance himself from the report and that they will ask him to withdraw it.”
A UN spokesman said the issue with Khalaf was not the content of the report, but a result of her failure to follow the necessary procedure before the publication.
“The secretary-general cannot accept that an undersecretary-general or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorise the publication under the UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself,” Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres, told reporters on Friday.
Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab said, however, it was “highly unlikely” that UN leadership was unaware of the report’s existence or its content prior to its publication.
“The curious thing here is that Al Jazeera and many other news organisations had been aware of this report for several days now,” he said on Friday.
Israel was highly critical of the report, likening it to Nazi-era propaganda. The United States also demanded the report be withdrawn.
Ofir Gendelman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s spokesman, said on Twitter that Abbas was waging “a diplomatic war on Israel” by announcing the award, describing the report as “libellous and false”.