Quarterly Updates for (16 Feb 2017 — 15 May 2017)

Emboldened by the new U.S. admin.’s pro-Israel rhetoric, the Israeli govt. ramped up its efforts to counter allegedly anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic programs at the UN this quarter. Their efforts yielded a range of results, and together served to further alienate Israel in the international community.

Despite intense Israeli lobbying, the UNHRC approved 4 resolutions with large majorities during its 3/24 session on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the 1st urged mbr. states to avoid ties with Israel’s settlements in the oPt; the 2d reaffirmed the Palestinians’ right to selfdetermination; the 3d concerned human rights in the oPt; and the 4th condemned Israel for violating the human rights of Druze residents of the Golan Heights. In response, Israel’s amb. to UN institutions in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter, said (3/24) that Israel rejected all 4 resolutions, and Netanyahu ordered a $2 m. cut to Israel’s annual funding of the UN. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said (3/29) that the money would be redirected to support development programs in countries that support Israel in international forums. Last quarter, Netanyahu had reduced Israel’s annual UN contribution by $6 m. in response to the passage of Security Council Res. 2334 on 12/23/2016 (see JPS 46 [3]). The retaliatory cuts left Israel’s projected 2017 UN contribution at $3.7 m., approximately a quarter of the $11.7 m. Israel disbursed in 2016.

The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) also passed (5/2) a resolution critical of Israel’s conduct this quarter. In the face of yet another Israeli diplomatic campaign, the UNESCO resolution, titled “Occupied Palestine,” reiterated the agency’s call to Israel to cease the “persistent excavations, tunneling, works and projects in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City”; to end its blockade of Gaza; and to lift its limitations on Palestinian movement and access to alIbrahimi Mosque in c. Hebron. Israel’s lobbying efforts were not entirely unsuccessful. Ahead of the 5/2 vote, Italy announced it would be voting “no,” marking a shift from its abstention on a similar UNESCO resolution in 4/2016 (see JPS 45 [4]). Also, Trump reportedly ordered U.S. ambassadors in UNESCO mbr. states to lobby against the res. (Times of Israel, 4/24). The res. ultimately passed 22–10, with 23 abstentions (the 4/2016 res. passed 33–6, with 17 abstentions). Before UNESCO’s executive board ratified (5/5) the res., Netanyahu ordered another retaliatory cut in Israeli funding to the UN, this time totaling $1 m.

A similar controversy broke out over a 3/15 report published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA). The report, titled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” concluded that Israel had “succeeded over the past decades in imposing and maintaining an apartheid regime that works on two levels,” according to a UNESCWA press release on 3/15. “First, the political and geographic fragmentation of the Palestinian people, which enfeebles their capacity for resistance and makes it almost impossible for them to change the reality on the ground. Second, the oppression of all Palestinians through an array of laws, policies, and practices that ensure their domination by a racial group and serve to maintain the regime.” It was the first time a UN agency had used the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, and it drew immediate criticism from both the Trump admin. and the Israeli govt. Under pressure, UN secy.-gen. Guterres pressured UNESCWA’s Exec. Secy., Rima Khalaf, to either rescind the report or resign. Following her resignation, the report was removed from UNESCWA’s website (see the full report at www.palestine-studies.org).

Finally, UNRWA announced (2/26) that it had suspended the chair of its employees’ union, Suhail al-Hindi, following Israeli complaints that al-Hindi had been elected to a leadership position in Hamas. “We have seen the latest communication from the Israeli authorities,” an UNRWA spokesperson said (2/26). “Before that communication, and in light of our ongoing independent internal investigation, we had been presented with substantial information from a number of sources which led us to take the decision this afternoon to suspend Suhail al-Hindi, pending the outcome of our investigation.” Al-Hindi denied any link to Hamas, but UNRWA parted ways with him regardless. A spokesperson confirmed (4/22) that al-Hindi no longer worked for the agency.

Also of note: the PA’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education suspended (4/13) ties with UNRWA over rumored changes to the textbooks used at the agency’s schools in the oPt. According to reports in the Palestinian press, the proposed changes included maps updated to exclude references to Palestinian cities inside Israel as Palestinian, and other revisions made to decrease hostility toward Israel. “UNRWA schools follow the curriculum of the host authority,” responded (4/13) UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness. “It is UNRWA policy to review, and where appropriate, to enrich, the official PA textbooks, curricula, and other learning materials used in UNRWA schools to ensure compliance with UN values and principles,” he added. The PA Education Ministry, for its part, said (4/13), “Any change to any letter [of the Palestinian curriculum] to appease any party is a betrayal of the Palestinian narrative and the right of the Palestinian people under occupation to preserve its identity and struggle.” PA PM Hamdallah met (4/17) with UNRWA comm.-gen. Pierre Krähenbühl to discuss the controversy. Krähenbühl “addressed recent public misrepresentations of the matter” and, according to an UNRWA statement released after the meeting, he reaffirmed UNRWA’s practice of reviewing new textbooks in host countries to “ensure consistency with UN values and international agreements.” Although Hamdallah and Krähenbühl reportedly agreed to a follow-up meeting, there were no further developments through the end of the quarter.