UN official devises blueprint for Israeli accountability

A UN investigator says the world should consider cutting ties with Israel in support of Palestinian quest for statehood.

Illegal west bank settlement
A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the Israeli-occupied West Bank [File: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

United Nations – A United Nations investigator is drafting a series of steps the international community can take to deter Israel from building more settlements in the occupied West Bank and any efforts to formally annex the Palestinian territory.

Michael Lynk, an independent UN researcher, said the European Union (EU) and some world powers should consider cutting economic, political and cultural ties with Israel in support of the Palestinian quest for statehood.

“The international community has to look at the available menu of countermeasures that is commonly used to a wide range of countries involving gross human rights violations and has to decide what are the appropriate ones to consider to use with respect to Israel,” Lynk told Al Jazeera.

“The international community actually holds a lot of cards with Israel, and it has to say to Israel: ‘Your membership or privileges through bilateral or multilateral agreements with respect to your economy, political and cultural relationships are all going to be called into question and reviewed unless you show genuine attempts to unwind and undo the occupation’.”

The continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories is a hurdle to a future Palestinian state. Palestinians say peace with Israel can be achieved if they are given control of the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip as well as occupied East Jerusalem.

Lynk is on a week-long trip to meet Israeli and Palestinian officials and activists in Jordanian capital Amman to carry out research for a report he will submit to the UN’s Geneva-based Human Rights Council in October.

Lynk was holding meetings in Jordan because, as on previous visits, he was not granted access by Israeli officials.

He is the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory, meaning he probes the issue and publishes reports. In the past, his conclusions have been heavily criticised by the United States and Israel.

Lynk’s recommendations are not legally-binding. While his requests may seem overly ambitious, Palestinian activists could well see them as a useful alternative to a formal peace process that has largely ground to a halt.

Israel’s mission to the UN did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Speaking by phone from the Jordanian capital, Lynk told Al Jazeera that UN members should consider everything from cutting cultural ties with Israel to suspending its membership of the world body.

He emphasised the role of the EU, which accounts for some 40 percent of Israel’s external trade and could make the flow of Israeli goods and services to the 28-nation bloc contingent on policy shifts that help Palestinians.

The Canadian law professor also focussed on two UN-backed mechanisms designed to hold Israel accountable for human rights violations that appear to have ground to a halt under pressure from the US and Israel, he said.

Firstly, Lynk called for the speedy publication of a long-awaited blacklist of Israeli and international companies that profit from operations in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, which has been drawn up by the UN’s human rights apparatus in Geneva.

Secondly, he urged prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to hasten its preliminary investigation of allegations of rights abuses by Israel and Hamas on Palestinian territory, which began in 2015.

“Unless there is international pressure on Israel to do the right thing, Israel will continue to deepen and further entrench the occupation,” Lynk told Al Jazeera.

“I don’t know what the international community needs to come to the realisation that Israel is not going to unwind the occupation and permit Palestinian self-determination all on its own.”

Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 war. Its settlements are illegal under international law. Palestinians deem the outposts, and the military presence needed to protect them, to be obstacles to their goal of establishing a state. Israel disputes this.

In April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a pre-election promise to voters that he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he won another term in office – a move that is increasingly discussed by Israeli politicians.

His rhetoric was backed by US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who said that Israel has the right to annex at least “some” of the occupied West Bank.

According to Lynk, Israelis are confident because of support from US President Donald Trump, who has recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the US embassy there, and recognised Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.

Last month, a US-led conference in Bahrain designed to drum up investment in the Palestinian economy and pave a path to peace with Israel came under criticism, as no official delegation from either of the two parties attended.

Palestinians have rejected the US peace plan dubbed “deal of the century” – the terms of which have yet to be made public – saying they were not consulted.

That US peace initiative, hatched by Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, is “on life support”, said Lynk.

“We’re waiting to see what the Americans, presumably in November, will do … but unless the political part of the American peace plan adheres to a rights-based approach and international law, I think the plan is going to be dead on arrival and rejected,” Lynk told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera