Related Quarterly Updates

Three UN General Assembly resolutions relating to the Middle East were voted on during this quarter:

  • A resolution calling for full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan was passed on 12/ 16. Israel and the U.S. were the only negative votes. There were 70 abstentions.
  • A resolution supporting the peace process was passed, also on 12/16. Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Libya voted against the resolution for its failure to refer to UNSC Res. 425.
  • On 12/23, a resolution reaffirming the Palestinian right to self-determination was passed with 147 in favor and two (U.S. and Israel) against; Russia and Norway were among the 19 abstentions.

On 2/28, at the request of the Arab states, the UNSC held the first of two debates this quarter on Israeli land confiscations but refused to take a decision.

The second meeting (5/15-17) produced a resolution demanding Israel reverse its 4/27 confiscation and calling continued expropriations a hindrance to the peace process (see Doc. A2). The U.S. blocked the resolution, giving its first veto since 1990. A last-minute Russian proposal for UNSC presidential letter reproving Israel was rejected by the U.S. as too strong and by the PLO as too weak.

While many Palestinian moves this quarter involved the UN (see “Recognition of Palestine” in the Palestinian-Israeli section above), in light of the broader regional unrest few actions affecting the peace process took place in UN bodies.

Goldstone Report

In a Washington Post op-ed (online 4/1, in print on 4/3; see Doc. A1), South African judge Richard Goldstone, head of the UN comm. investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during OCL (12/27/08–1/18/09), stated that “if I had known then what I know now,” he would have concluded that Gazan “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of [Israeli] policy” and would have given more weight to crimes perpetrated by Hamas (see Quarterly Update in JPS 154 for background). His statement reportedly came after intense pressure from Israel, pro-Israel groups, the Johannesburg Jewish community, and even family members (see John Dugard’s article in “Selections from the Press” in this issue). Of the 3 other experts who cowrote the report (British international law professor Christine Chinkin, Pakistani jurist Hina Jilani, and Irish peace-keeper Col. Desmond Travers), Jilani and Travers issued a brief statement on 4/1 defending the report as it stands. All 3 issued a statement on 4/14 denouncing Goldstone’s backtracking, saying that by yielding to intense outside pressure he was depriving the victims of justice (see Doc. A3).

Meanwhile, Netanyahu declared (4/2) that Israel had been vindicated by Goldstone and that the report should be officially nullified. On 4/3, he launched a diplomatic effort to convince the UN to repeal the Goldstone report formally, calling it libel. He vowed Israel would “act on the public-diplomacy front and on other fronts with the international community and the UN in order to demand the justice that is due to Israel.” By 4/7, Israeli MK Danny Danon (Likud) was in the U.S. organizing a team of pro bono Jewish-American attorneys to file a class-action libel lawsuit against Goldstone in New York District Court. The attorneys said that the plaintiffs (unspecified) would demand that Goldstone publicly apologize to the State of Israel and pay a symbolic amount of damages for the accusations he made in his fact-finding report. There was no evidence the lawsuit was filed, however. Meanwhile, the State Dept.’s spokesman said (4/4) that the Obama admin. noted “with great interest” that Goldstone had apparently come around to U.S. government’s assessment that there was never “any evidence that the Israeli government committed any war crimes, nor did it intentionally target civilians,” adding that Goldstone’s “retraction” revived concerns about an anti-Israel bias in the UNHRC.

The UNHRC said (4/2) it would continue to uphold the Goldstone Report as written, stating that Goldstone would have to submit a formal request signed by all of the committee members for the report to be withdrawn. Goldstone said (4/5) that he had no intention of asking the UN to rescind it. Israeli pres. Peres urged (4/8) UN Secy.-Gen. Ban to revoke the Goldstone Report during a one-on-one meeting at the UN headquarters in New York.

Meanwhile, the UNHRC met on 3/21 to receive the 2d report of a committee of independent experts mandated to assess the Israeli and Palestinian compliance with the Goldstone Report’s requirements. The committee concluded, as it did in its first report in 9/2010, that neither side had adequately investigated allegations that serious violations of international law were committed during OCL. Meanwhile, Amnesty International petitioned (3/7) the UNHRC to ask the UNSC to refer the investigation to the International Criminal Court for action if the committee’s final assessment reached this conclusion. The petition was signed by some 66,850 Amnesty members and supporters worldwide.

Other UNHRC Actions

UNHRC special rapporteur Richard Falk told (3/21) the council that Israel’s settlement building in East Jerusalem “can only be described in its cumulative impact as a form of ethnic cleansing.” The UNHRC at the time was drafting a res. condemning settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which passed on 3/25. On 3/24 and 3/25, another 5 UNHRC res. on Israel passed: (1) calling for a fund to compensate Palestinians who suffered losses during OCL; (2) noting the “grave human rights violations” by Israeli forces in the Palestinian territories and demanding that Israel end its occupation; (3) calling on Israel to end its occupation of the Golan Heights; (4) reaffirming the right of Palestinians to self-determination; and (5) denouncing the 5/2010 Gaza flotilla incident. The U.S. voted against all 6 measures.

In a statement marking the 2d anniversary since the U.S. rejoined the UNHRC, the State Dept. declared that the U.S. “maintains a vocal, principled stand” against “the Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel” and will continue “robust efforts” to end it.

Syria withdrew (5/11) its bid for a rotating seat on the UNHRC in light of domestic events. Kuwait was named to replace it as a candidate for the Asia bloc. The vote was set for 5/20.

For the first time since it was reconstituted 5 yrs. ago, the UNHRC appointed (3/24) a special investigator to look into human rights abuses in Iran.

Other Items of Note

On 2/24, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Robert Serry briefed the UNSC on the situation in the Middle East, urging the Quartet to make a serious effort to revive both the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian tracks—and even offer its own “concrete suggestions” for peace—arguing that resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict had become even more critical given the regionwide protests (see “The Quartet Considers Action” above).

On 5/14, UN Undersecy.-Gen. for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos began a 4-day visit to Israel and the occupied territories with a tour of the separation wall around Jerusalem. Noting that only 13% of land in East Jerusalem is available for Palestinian use, that it is already overcrowded, and that an estimated 86,500 East Jerusalem Palestinians face demolition of their homes for being built without permits, she called on Israel to halt “policies [that] lead to forced displacement of Palestinians from Jerusalem and from the rest of the West Bank” and to allow Palestinians to develop their communities. On 5/15, she visited Shaykh Jarrah and Silwan in East Jerusalem and met in Ramallah with PA Pres. Abbas and PM Fayyad. She planned to visit Gaza and meet with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv on 5/16 and 5/17.

Israel and the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) signed (3/7) an agreement for the establishment of a center within UNESCO (partially funded by Israel) devoted entirely to developing and promoting Holocaust education and combating its denial worldwide.

Though the upcoming 9/2011 UNGA session was of major interest this quarter because of the Palestinian statehood initiative, few actions affecting the peace process took place in UN bodies.

The UN issued (7/6) a report on the Nakba Day bloodshed on the Israel-Lebanon border on 5/15, concluding that Israeli troops “used direct live fire against unarmed demonstrators” and that “other than firing initial warning shots, the [IDF] did not use conventional crowd control methods or any other method than lethal weapons against the demonstrators,” calling Israel’s actions disproportionate and in violation of UN Res. 1701, ending the 2006 Lebanon war. The report, based on UNIFIL reports, dealt only with the marches on the Lebanon border, where the IDF killed 7 protesters and wounded 111 (see QU in JPS 160 for details).

For the first time since its creation in 12/1968, the UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in Occupied Territories gained entry (mid-7/2011) to Gaza, facilitated by the new Egyptian government via the Rafah crossing. Previously, the committee had been barred by Israel from entering any of the occupied territories—a restriction Egypt had observed, forcing the committee to interview West Bank and Gaza Palestinians twice a year in Cairo, Amman, or Damascus. On 7/29, the committee released a report expressing dismay at Israel’s “continuing disregard of its obligations under international law” and condemning Israel’s “oppressive restrictions imposed on Gaza” as having “the effect of collectively punishing the population.”

The Obama admin. formally confirmed (6/1) that the U.S. would not participate in the international gathering marking the 10th anniversary of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban to be held at the UN in 9/2011, as the meeting was expected to reinforce the original WCAR summit’s “ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism” toward Israel. Senior U.S. officials had suggested for months that the U.S. would boycott the conference but had not officially informed organizers (see QU in JPS 159).

In late-6/2011, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee condemned Israel over planned renovations at the Mughrabi Gate in East Jerusalem based on a complaint filed by Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, the UAE, and others. Israel expressed particular anger at Jordan, saying the kingdom signed an agreement with Israel endorsing the construction.

While the Palestinian statehood bid at the 9/2011 UNGA session was the major UN event of interest this quarter, a handful of other actions affecting the peace process took place in UN bodies.

UNESCO Membership for Palestine

On 10/5, UNESCO’s 58-member executive council voted (40-4, with 14 abstentions) to give the Palestinians preliminary approval to upgrade their status in the organization from observer (held since 1975) to full member. On 10/21, UNESCO’s 193-member general conference affirmed the decision (by a vote of 107-14, with 52 abstentions and 20 not present). In both cases, the U.S. opposed and the EU was divided; in the final vote, 11 EU states (including France) voted in favor, 5 (including Germany) voted against, and 11 (including Britain) abstained. Palestinian spokesman Ghassan Khatib called (10/31) the decision “especially important because part of our battle with the Israeli occupation” involves defining history and heritage.

According to the U.S. government, existing legislation (passed 1990, 1994) required the U.S. (which contributes 22% of UNESCO’s budget) to cut off all contributions to UNESCO (dues and voluntary contributions) if the Palestinians were given full membership in the organization without possibility of a presidential waiver. In the run-up to UNESCO’s 10/5 meeting, U.S. Secy. of State Clinton charged special envoy Hale to urge the Palestinians and Arab states not to pursue UNESCO membership so as to avoid a financing crisis for the organization; failing that, Hale was to press for a delay in the vote at the least until 1/2012 to enable the U.S. legally to send UNESCO the $60 m. payment scheduled for 11/2011.The pleas were rebuffed. After the 10/31 vote, the U.S., Canada, and Israel immediately cut off aid totaling more than a quarter of UNESCO’s budget. On 11/10, UNESCO suspended all new projects through the end of 2011 for lack of funds.

Palestinian envoy to the UN in Geneva, Ibrahim Khraishi, said (11/1) that in light of the landslide UNESCO vote, the Palestinians were examining the possibility of seeking full membership in the other 16 UN agencies and other international organizations within the next few weeks, starting with the World Heath Organization. While reiterating support for Palestinian statehood, UN Secy.-Gen. Ban Ki-Moon warned (11/3) the Palestinians that further efforts to join UN agencies were “not beneficial for anybody” and would lead to cuts in UN funding affecting millions of people. The Palestinians took no further action this quarter.

World Conference against Racism

On the sidelines of the UNGA session in New York, the UN held (9/22) an international gathering (called Durban 3) to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, which had given special focus to Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians. In total, 14 countries boycotted the meeting (Australia, Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, the U.S.), charging that WCAR meetings have promoted racism, intolerance, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust denial and have eroded freedom of speech and Israel’s right to exist. The same countries, excluding Austria, Britain, Bulgaria, and France, had previously boycotted the Durban 2 conference in 2009.

As noted above (see “Jordan Hosts Israeli-Palestinian ‘Exploratory Talks’”), after Israeli-Palestinian exploratory talks collapsed, UN Secy.-Gen. Ban made (1/31–2/2) a special trip to the region to meet with Jordan’s King Abdallah and FM Judeh, PA pres. Abbas, and Israeli PM Netanyahu to encourage the parties to continue the dialogue. He urged Israel to draft a package of goodwill gestures, including a settlement freeze, to offer in exchange for the Palestinians agreeing to resume direct talks. Ban also made (2/2) a brief visit to Gaza to inaugurate a UN-funded housing project. Relatives of Palestinians jailed in Israel tried to block his entry to the Erez crossing to protest his refusal to meet with them. During the visit, Ban called on Israel to maintain the cease-fire with Gaza and allow Gaza’s borders to open for trade. Later, he addressed the Herzliya conference, telling Israeli officials and analysts to “think carefully about how to empower those on the other side who wish for peace.”

With Palestine having achieved full membership in UNESCO last quarter (see QU in JPS 162), PA Tourism and Antiquities M Hamdan Taha stated (11/21) that the government’s next priority would be to seek world heritage status for the old cities of Hebron and Jericho. An application for Bethlehem was already in the works and was expected to have a better chance of approval now that Palestine has membership. The PA also planned to seek recovery of artifacts looted by Israel, increase funds for preservation and excavations, and use its status to force Israel to stop calling West Bank sites “Israeli antiquities.” On 12/13, PA Pres. Abbas and UNESCO Dir. Gen. Irina Bokova attended a formal ceremony to raise the Palestinian flag outside the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The Palestinians made no further efforts to gain membership in UN bodies this quarter.

On 12/20, after a UNSC briefing on the Middle East, 14 UNSC members came out in strong, united denunciation of the U.S. (without naming it directly) for blocking all criticism either of Israel’s new settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank or of escalating settler violence, as well as for threatening to veto any UNSC res. supporting Palestinian statehood. Immediately after, British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant read a statement prepared jointly by the UNSC’s EU members (Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal) calling recent Israeli settlement and settler actions “devastating” to the 2-state solution. Emphasizing that “the viability of the Palestinian state that we want to see and the two-state solution that is essential for Israel’s long-term security are threatened by the systematic and deliberate expansion of settlements,” which it called “illegal under international law,” the statement declared that the “mutually reinforcing objectives” of Palestinian statehood and Israeli security could not be achieved as long as settlement activity continues (see Doc. A1). Shocked by the tone of the statement, Israel denounced (12/21) the EU states for interfering in Israel’s internal affairs. Israeli FM spokesman Yigal Palmor added: “We felt that the European statement broke all the diplomatic rules. You aren’t meant to issue such a harsh statement by surprise, without prior consultation.”

The UN-affiliated International Criminal Court (ICC) rejected (4/3) a PA request to sign the ICC’s founding treaty (the Rome Statute), reaffirming that only internationally recognized states can join the court. The ruling meant automatic rejection of a PA request for the ICC to form a permanent war crimes tribunal to investigate Israeli actions during its 2008–9 Operation Cast Lead offensive against Gaza. The only recourse left would be for the UNSC to ask for a tribunal, which was unlikely.

The UNHRC on 3/22 approved 5 resolutions critical of Israel, including a resolution (approved 36-1, with 10 abstentions and the U.S. voting against) calling for a UN team to investigate how and to what degree Jewish settlements in the West Bank impinge on Palestinian rights. Israel denounced the resolution, vowing not to cooperate with the mission, severing (3/26) working relations with the UNHRC in protest, and accusing it of taking actions that “harm future chances of reaching an agreement though peaceful means.” The UN team was not dispatched this quarter.

On 6/29, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee approved (13–6) a Palestinian request to place the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on its list of world heritage sites at risk because of its urgent need for repairs. The U.S. strongly opposed the request, stating the church was not imperiled. Israel denounced the vote, saying: “UNESCO is motivated by political and not cultural considerations.”

Also of note: Former Israeli government attorney David Scharia was named (7/17) the UNSC’s chief counterterrorism lawyer, marking the first time that an Israeli has been appointed to a security post within the UN Secretariat.

On 8/27, the UN published a significant report, the headline of which claimed that the Gaza Strip would no longer be "liveable" by 2020 (see Doc. A1 in JPS 166) unless urgent action were taken to improve basic infrastructure like water, power, health, and schooling. Upon its release, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Maxwell Gaylard called for the end of the blockade and isolation of the territory. On 10/14, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry expressed alarm at attacks perpetrated by Jewish settlers against Palestinian farmers and farmland in the West Bank, citing reports of hundreds of destroyed olive trees during harvest season. Earlier in the quarter, Serry had warned (8/20) that the PA was losing legitimacy due to its inability to achieve political goals.

On 1/29, Israeli representatives failed to appear at a session of the UNHCR in Geneva that had been scheduled to review Israeli human rights practices under the organization’s ‘‘Universal Periodic Review Process,’’ to which all 193 member states are subjected. (Israel’s last review was in 12/2008). Israel was the 1st country to boycott its periodic review at the council, ignoring advice by the U.S. and other countries not to do so (1/24). Israel had cut ties with the UNHRC in March 2012 following the council’s approval of a fact-finding mission to investigate Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The findings of that investigation, which were published on 1/31 (see Doc. A5 in this issue), declared Israel’s settlement policy to be a contravention of the Geneva Convention and thus a potential war crime under the jurisdiction of the ICC. The investigators, led by French judge Christine Chanet, called on Israel to halt settlement expansion and withdraw all settlers. Israel’s Foreign Ministry rejected the report, calling it counterproductive and the result of a ‘‘one-sided and biased approach towards Israel.’’ Senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the report, saying that the Palestinians were encouraged by its ‘‘candid assessment of Israeli violations.’’

Two senior UN officials involved in the Israeli-Palestinian arena issued warnings this quarter. On 1/23, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry told the UNSC that the Middle East peace process had entered a critical period ‘‘in which concerted action will be vital if we are to salvage the two-state solution.’’ Later that same month, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator James W. Rawley expressed serious concern about the killing of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the o.t., decrying the use of live ammunition and calling for impartial investigations into specific incidents (1/30).

In 1/2013, the UN announced that it would investigate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) for targeted killings by the U.S., UK, and Israel. The UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson will lead the investigation, which will address 25 examples of attacks (1/24). Emmerson said in a statement that it was ‘‘ ... imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirements of international law, including international human rights law, international humanitarian law (or the law of war as it used to be called), and international refugee law.’’ Israel is not expected to cooperate with the inquiry.

On 3/18, a UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission formally presented its high-profile report on Israel’s West Bank settlements, released in 1/2013 (see Doc. A5 in JPS 167), at the UNHRC’s 22nd session in Geneva. The report— which describes the settlements as a ‘‘creeping form of annexation’’ and calls on Israel to immediately cease construction and ‘‘initiate a process of withdrawal’’—triggered heated debate; Nobel Peace Laureate David Trimble, among the interested outside parties (individuals and organizations) that participated, harshly criticized the conclusion. The U.S. refused to take part in the debate. Mission leader Christine Chanet, who presented the report, urged the international community to take action to cut economic links with the settlements, while Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the HRC that Israeli settler violence ‘‘continues to be perpetrated with impunity.’’

There were no significant developments this quarter concerning the peace process that involved the UN. In 4/2013, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry sounded (4/15) a warning on the occasion of Fayyad’s resignation that the former PM’s state-building agenda was now ‘‘at serious risk.’’

Israel’s conflict with the UN Human Rights Council continued this quarter, despite a letter (6/3) from Israel’s UNHRC Amb. Eviatar Maner, expressing his govt.’s intention to restore ties with the council. The letter spoke of “positively resolv[ing] all outstanding issues in Israel’s complex relationship with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms,” which media reports suggested that Israel expected assurances from the council that it would henceforth be treated “fairly.” Days later, however, UNHRC investigator Prof. Richard Falk presented (6/10) his latest report in Geneva that dealt, among other things, with “collective punishment” imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip and called for an inquiry into the torture of Palestinians in Israeli detention. Israel and the U.S. boycotted the debate, and in the aftermath of the presentation, the international law prof. was denounced for his alleged bias in separate statements issued by Israel, the U.S., and the EU.

Other UN agency officials also drew attention to the situation in the Gaza Strip, as well to the urgency of moving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward. On 7/23, for example, Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, warned that the Gaza Strip was facing a serious shortage in fuel and basic building materials due to border crossing restrictions and the Egyptian military’s crackdown on smuggling tunnels. Serry also warned (5/22) that the international community would be mistaken to ignore the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because of events in other parts of the region, such as Syria.

Israel’s 18-month long boycott of the UN Human Rights Council came to an end as Israeli officials including the dep. atty. gen. participated in the hearing held in Geneva on 10/29. Reports indicated that Israel’s decision was influenced by warnings from Germany that Tel Aviv risked a diplomatic backlash if it continued to stay away. During its appearance at the hearing, Israel faced accusations of discriminatory policies and breaches of international law. Israeli officials at the hearing accused the council of directing “disproportional and politically-motivated scrutiny” at their country.

Israel came under sustained criticism from UN officials this quarter. On 8/27, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed its concern about recent forced evictions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying that the Palestinian house demolitions could amount to a violation of international law. OHCHR also expressed concern over the killing of Palestinian civilians in West Bank refugee camps by Israeli forces. On 9/20, Dep. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process James W. Rawley, who is also UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the oPt, condemned Israel’s blocking of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians whose homes had been demolished in the Jordan Valley. Rawley described “the displacement of a whole Palestinian community” as “a very disappointing development at such a delicate moment where we look forward to positive measures on the ground.” A few days later, the OHCRH renewed (9/24) its criticism of Israel’s eviction policy, but this time highlighting the destruction of Bedouin-owned properties in the oPt and the proposed Prawer-Begin plan for the Negev.

In a briefing to the UNSC on 9/17, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry urged the international community not to neglect the peace process as it focused on other crises in the region. Serry welcomed the increase in work permits Israel granted to West Bank Palestinians but called settlement activity “counterproductive,” adding that Palestinian-settler clashes were “particularly worrisome.”

This quarter saw a major dispute between the UNRWA and the personnel that administers its programs in the oPt UNRWA had been facing a financial crunch for some time following the strain on its services placed by the crisis in Syria, and the heightened needs of its beneficiary population in Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank. On 11/19, UNRWA Undersecy. Gen. Jeffrey Feltman told the UNSC that due to a $36-million deficit, the agency would be unable to pay 12/2013 salaries to roughly 30,000 employees, including teachers and medical personnel. Two days later, the workers’ union at UNRWA organized a protest (11/21) outside the organization’s offices in Gaza.

By the start of 12/2013, the agency’s Palestinian employees in the West Bank had gone on strike (12/3), demanding a salary raise to put them on par with UNRWA employees in other areas of operation, and paralyzing health, education, and other services in West Bank refugee camps. Almost a mo. later (1/5), it was the turn of UNRWA’s Gaza employees, with the teachers’ union condemning the agency’s termination of employee contracts. As the strikes continued, including hunger strikes by 27 residents of Hebron, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nablus, UNRWA stated publicly that local agency employees were being paid more than 20% above equivalent salaries for PA workers. Pressure increased as popular committees in West Bank refugee camps also shut their doors and halted services (1/6) in protest against UNRWA policies and claims of funding shortfalls from the PA. On 1/8, Hamdallah met with UNRWA Commissioner Gen. Filippo Grandi to discuss the dispute, focusing on the urgent need to reopen schools, closed for over a mo. due to the teachers’ strike. Following the meeting, UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told reporters that Hamdallah agreed that the impact of the unions’ strikes on refugees had been devastating.

Protests continued throughout 1/2014, including violent clashes with PA security forces. Outside Jalazun and al-Amari r.c., youth blocked roads with burning tires and threw stones at PA forces. One large-scale confrontation on 1/12 ended with 100 demonstrators and 40 police officers wounded. On 1/15, Hamdallah held meetings with reps. of UNRWA’s employees’ union and refugee camp popular committees to discuss a letter from Grandi calling for a suspension of the strike and govt.-mediated talks. Meanwhile, public shows of support for the striking employees continued until the end of the dispute, including a thousand-strong demonstration in Ramallah on 1/27. Hamdallah’s 1/15 meetings set the wheels in motion for a process that ultimately led to an agreement (2/6) between UNRWA’s administration and its employees, and the 2-mos. strike ended the following day (2/7).

UNRWA expressed its gratitude to Abbas, Hamdallah, PA Minister of Labor Ahmed Majdalani, the PLO Dept. of Refugee Affairs, and the Camp Services Committees for helping to resolve the dispute. Neither side claimed victory following the end of the strike. Although the terms of the agreement were not published, Ma’an news agency reported that 53 employees who had been laid off in 12/2013 would be given fixed-term, renewable employment; West Bank employees would be paid the same as those in Gaza; and remaining issues would be dealt with by joint committees sponsored by the Ministry of Labor.

This quarter also saw a major dispute between Israel and the UN over a UNESCOsponsored exhibition that was canceled (1/17) at the last minute after protests from Arab states. “The People, the Book, the Land: 3,500 years of ties between the Jewish people and the land of Israel” had been organized by the Simon Wiesenthal Center along with the govts. of Canada and Montenegro, and set to open at UNESCO’s Paris HQ in 1/2014. UNESCO justified (1/18) the decision on the grounds that proceeding would damage the peace process. Netanyahu, however, condemned (1/19) the agency for indefinitely postponing the exhibition. After intense pressure, UNESCO backtracked and rescheduled (1/27) the event for 06/11.

UN officials issued what have become routine condemnations of Israeli policies in the oPt, with Rawley expressing (12/11 and 1/31) concern over the demolition of Palestinian structures in the Jordan Valley on more than 1 occasion (see “Demolitions and Confiscations”). Rawley also called attention to the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, saying (11/22) on the anniversary of Operation Pillar of Defense that “initial hopes for a significant improvement on the ground” had “not been realized.” On 12/17, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, briefed the UNSC on the latest developments in Israel and the oPt, describing Israeli settlement activity as undermining the chances of establishing a Palestinian state. He said both sides would need to take “bold steps” if 2014 was to be “a moment of truth regarding a two-state solution.”

On 3/28, during its 25th session in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council passed 5 resolutions pertaining to Israeli conduct. Four resolutions condemned Israeli treatment of Palestinians, including a wide range of issues such as settlements, discrimination, and house demolitions, and were passed 46–1 (the single nay cast by the U.S.). One res. condemned abuses against residents of the occupied Golan Heights. The 46 “yes” votes for the resolutions pertaining to the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip included 9 EU mbr. states.

Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were also heavily criticized by senior UN officials this quarter. On 3/21, Prof. Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories, told a news conference that Israel was pursuing the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and that settlement expansion and home demolitions were “reducing what prospects [the Palestinians] might have as the outcome of supposed peace negotiations.” On 4/8, the UN’s Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs in the Palestinian Territories James Rowley called for Israel to lift the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip and to reopen closed crossings. In a press conference in Gaza, Rowley noted that although 2013 was a quiet year in terms of military confrontations, Palestinians in the Strip have seen their quality of life only deteriorate. Rowley also urged Egypt to open the Rafah crossing for passengers, goods, and medical supplies. On 4/29, coordinator for the Middle East peace process Robert Serry told the UN Security Council that Secy.-Gen. Ban Ki-moon still believed a 2-state solution was possible, but that the opportunity would slip away if both sides did nothing to find a way out of the current “1-state reality.” During the meeting, Israel’s UN Amb. Ron Prosor and Palestinian UN Observer Riyad Mansour both expressed a commitment to peace and blamed the other side for the failure of negotiations to date.

One UN official in particular was active and vocal in the lead-up to Israel’s assault on Gaza. In early 6/2014, Robert Serry, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, joined other international leaders in welcoming the PA unity govt. Less than a week after the cabinet was sworn in, he met (6/8) with the 4 Gaza-based ministers in Gaza City to congratulate them and discuss “the many practical challenges ahead” and to reiterate UN support for the “govt. of national consensus.” Serry later criticized OBK, the Israeli security crackdown in the West Bank, and issued a statement of concern (6/20) that called for “restraint” and expressed the expectation that Israel would act “in compliance with international law and respect for the lives, dignity, and livelihoods of Palestinians.” In response to these candid positions, Serry briefly drew the ire of Israeli FM Avigdor Lieberman. According to the Israeli media (6/21), Lieberman threatened Serry with expulsion and accused him of transferring $20 m. in Qatari funds to Hamas authorities in Gaza. Serry rejected Lieberman’s claims, describing them as “crazy” and “baseless” accusations. A few days later, Lieberman indicated that no steps would in fact be taken to expel Serry, now that Israel’s message had been “clearly received in the UN” (6/24).

During the early stages of OPE, the UN was involved in repeated cease-fire efforts, through both the UNSC and the personal involvement of Secy.-Gen. Ban. As the offensive got under way, Ban condemned (7/8) rocket fire and urged Israel to “exercise maximum restraint and to respect international obligations to protect civilians.” Two days later, at an emergency meeting of the UNSC, Ban said he had been in contact with Israel, as well as Pres. Abbas, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the Arab League, the U.S., and the EU. It was thanks to UN efforts, and specifically Serry, that the 5-hour humanitarian “pause” in hostilities took place on 7/17. The next day, the UNSC held (7/18) an emergency meeting, and on 7/19, Ban was in the Middle East for several days of talks with regional actors, notably Qatar, Egypt, and Israel as well as Pres. Abbas and Secy. of State Kerry. Meanwhile, the UNSC held another emergency meeting at the request of Jordan on 7/20, urging all sides to respect international humanitarian law and agree to an immediate cease-fire. On 7/31, Kerry and Ban announced a 72-hour cease-fire agreed to by all parties, but it broke down shortly after it started on the morning of 8/1.

As the violence wore on, Ban’s criticism of Israeli tactics grew sharper. On 7/21, he condemned Israel’s killing of scores of civilians in the Shuja‘iya bombing as an “atrocious action.” And on 7/28, he raised concerns about the proportionality of Israel’s actions, saying that the destruction in Gaza had been described by some observers as a “man-made hurricane.”

There was even more anger, however, when the IDF struck UN-run facilities. On 3 separate occasions, the IDF shelled UNRWA schools (7/23, 7/30, 8/3), killing some 45 people, including 17 children. Describing it as “outrageous” and “unjustifiable,” Ban, as well as numerous other UN officials, condemned the 7/30 attack in particularly harsh terms.

Before the worst of the violence had even passed, the UNHRC took steps to begin accounting for the possible violations of human rights law during OPE. As it had in response to OCL in 2008–9, the UNHRC decided (7/23) to commission an inquiry into alleged war crimes in the oPt, in light of “widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms” arising from Israeli military actions since 6/13. (See document A2 for the full text.) The UNHRC adopted the res. in an emergency session by a vote of 29 to 1, with 17 abstentions. The U.S. cast the sole “no” vote. On 8/11, the UNHRC named the 3 mbrs. of the commission: Prof. William Schabas, a Canadian expert on international law as chair of the inquiry; Doudou Diène, a Senegalese human rights expert; and Lebanese-born British lawyer Amal Alamuddin, who immediately declined the invitation, citing “existing commitments.” As the quarter ended, it was still unclear who would replace Alamuddin. On 8/12, Palestine’s rep. at the UN, Ibrahim Khreisha, said that the panel would start working in the Gaza Strip in 9/2014, entering via Egypt since Israel had refused to cooperate. Israel’s Amb. to the UN Ron Prosor told his country’s army radio (8/13) that Prof. Schabas had a preexisting anti-Israel bias and that forming an investigatory comm. headed by the Canadian was “like inviting ISIS to organize religious tolerance week at the UN.”

As the quarter opened, UN Secy.-Gen. Ban Ki-moon condemned the breakdown of the temporary cease-fire on 8/19 “in the strongest terms.” Ban said that “the hopes of the people in Gaza for a better future and the hopes of the people in Israel for sustainable security rest on the talks in Cairo.” In the days that followed, Ban made a round of phone calls (8/22) to key leaders: Pres. Abbas, PM Netanyahu, Egyptian FM Sameh Hassan Shokry Selim, Secy. of State Kerry, Qatari emir Al-Thani, and Turkish pres. Erdoğan. When the final, full cease-fire went into effect on 8/26, Ban welcomed the announcement but stated that “any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence.” He also urged that Gaza “be brought back under 1 legitimate Palestinian govt. adhering to the Palestine Liberation Organization commitments.” He also called for an end to “the blockade of Gaza” and for “Israel’s legitimate security concerns” to be addressed. The UN subsequently assumed a significant role in the post-war arrangements, brokering a deal to enable reconstruction work in the Gaza Strip to proceed while satisfying Israeli concerns about reconstruction materials being diverted to Hamas. On 9/16, UN Middle East envoy Serry announced the agreement that entailed a strict, UN-enforced monitoring system, and gave the PA and the private sector a lead role in rebuilding.

An inquiry into attacks on UN facilities in the Gaza Strip during OPE became a contentious issue between Israel and the UN this quarter. Netanyahu and Ban met on the sidelines of the UNGA and clashed over the setting up of such an inquiry (10/2), with the Israeli premier asking for it to be postponed and claiming that Israel was being discriminated against, and the UN chief saying Israel had acted disproportionately. Soon after, the UN secy.-gen. was in the region, where he met separately with Netanyahu and PM Hamdallah in Jerusalem (10/13). The next day, he went to the Gaza Strip, met mbrs. of the unity govt., and toured some of the most devastated areas. Ban told reporters that the destruction he had seen was “beyond description” and that the shelling of UN schools “must be fully and independently investigated.” On 10/21, Ban told the UNSC that he would press ahead with “an independent board of inquiry” to investigate “the most serious” cases when “UN facilities sustained hits and many innocent people were killed.” Ban also told the council that while he understood “the security threat to Israel from rockets above and tunnels below . . . the scale of the destruction in Gaza has left deep questions about proportionality and the need for accountability.” Ban’s spokesperson later told reporters that the inquiry was a standard procedure implemented whenever there was damage to UN property or premises. On 11/10, Ban named retired Dutch gen. Patrick Cammaert to head the 5-mbr. inquiry board whose mandate was to cover “a number of specific incidents in which death or injuries occurred at, and/or damage was done to United Nations premises,” along with “incidents in which weapons were found to be present on United Nations premises.”

Also this quarter, Israel’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came under scrutiny at a session of the UN’s Human Rights Comm. in Geneva (10/30). Israel sent senior officials to submit evidence to the comm., an arena they view as less “biased” than the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The comm. urged Israel to investigate all alleged violations committed in Gaza during OPE, and told Israel to halt settlement construction and land confiscation.

Meanwhile, on 11/12, Israeli authorities denied entry to the panel mbrs. of the UNHRC inquiry, headed by Canadian international human rights and criminal law expert William Schabas. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon described the panel as having provided “its conclusions in advance.”


As OPE was still under way in the summer of 2014, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) commissioned an inquiry into alleged war crimes committed in Gaza but Israel had denied the commission entry (11/12) on the grounds of anti-Israeli “bias.” Tel Aviv’s efforts to undermine and discredit the commission continued this quarter.

In 1/2015, Israel’s permanent rep. to the UN in Geneva, Eviatar Manor, sent acting president of the UNHRC Joachim Rücker an official letter of complaint about the commission of inquiry’s leader, William Schabas. The letter alleged that Schabas had been paid $1,300 by the PLO for a consulting job in 2012, and Manor argued that he was inclined to overemphasize Israeli offenses during the Gaza conflict as a result. Before the news became public and as UNHRC looked into the potential conflict of interest, with officials in Geneva sending a request to the UN headquarters in New York for a legal opinion, Schabas resigned (2/2). In his letter of resignation, he cited a series of Israeli allegations of bias and said that he did not want to be a distraction from the commission of inquiry. Despite his departure, and Israeli PM Netanyahu’s subsequent calls for the inquiry to be shelved, the commission carried on its work and was set to deliver its report to the 28th session of the UNHRC on 3/23. On 2/3, U.S. jurist Mary McGowan-Davis took over Schabas’s position. McGowan-Davis was regarded as being more sympathetic to Israel largely due to her role in the UNHRC’s inquiry into possible war crimes during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008–9. At the time, and following her cooperation with the IDF, the U.S. jurist concluded that the Israeli army’s own internal investigations were properly conducted.

On the very same day that the Palestinians circulated (12/17), via Jordan, their initial draft res. at the UNSC, the High Contracting Parties to the 4th Geneva Convention (of 8/1949 and relative to the protection of civilians in time of war) met at a UNHRC summit to discuss the Israeli occupation in terms of international humanitarian law. Although the PLO had declared its adherence to all 4 Geneva conventions in 6/1982, Palestine was not an official signatory until 4/1/2014, when PA Pres. Abbas signed on to 15 international treaties and covenants as the U.S.-led peace negotiations were breaking down. After Switzerland, acting as depository for the conventions, accepted Palestine’s accession, Abbas, in concert with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League, called (7/22) for a meeting of the signatories. Two of these—Israel and the U.S.— lobbied against the proposal, arguing that it would politicize the Geneva conventions. Switzerland sent out invitations on 12/11, and the reps. of 126 signatories met and adopted a declaration by consensus calling on Israel to adhere to international humanitarian law in the oPt and to uphold the principles of the conventions. Israel, the U.S., Canada, and Australia did not attend the meeting.

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) passed a series of res. relating to the broader Arab-Israeli conflict and Palestine this quarter. At the conclusion of the assembly’s annual debate on the question of Palestine, mbr. states adopted (11/25) 6 res. related to the Israeli occupation and the Arab-Israeli conflict, with Palestine’s UN envoy, Riyad Mansour, thanking the delegates for their expressions of support. Then, the UNGA passed (12/2) a res., introduced by Egypt, calling on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons and to place its nuclear program under international oversight. Finally, the UNGA passed another 2 relevant res. on 12/19: one calling on Israel to pay Lebanon $856.4 m. in damages relating to an oil spill that IDF troops caused during the 2006 summer war and the other recognizing Palestinian sovereignty over natural resources in the oPt.

Other than being the chosen arena for the Palestinians’ pursuit of recognition and justice, the UN remained relatively uninvolved in Israeli and Palestinian issues this quarter. There were a few developments of note, however.

Outgoing UN special coordinator Serry initiated international efforts to negotiate a “reconstruction hudna” (see “Gaza Reconstruction” above) in Gaza and several UN bodies approved res. either critical of Israel or supportive of the Palestinians (see 2/26, 3/20, 3/27, and 4/27 in the Chronology for details). After replacing Richard Falk as special rapporteur, Wibisono delivered his first report to the UNHRC on 3/3, calling on Israel to investigate the killing of over 1,500 Palestinian civilians during OPE. He based his report entirely on interviews conducted in Amman and Cairo because the Israeli authorities barred him from entering the Gaza Strip. Serry’s replacement, Nickolay Mladenov, also came on board this quarter and called for increased Palestinian unity the day after his courtesy meeting with PA PM Hamdallah in Ramallah on 4/15.

The 28th session of the UNHRC concluded on 3/27 but the commission investigating possible war crimes committed during OPE did not deliver its scheduled report because of a delay incurred by the resignation the previous quarter of William Schabas, who had been entrusted with heading the investigation (see JPS 175). His replacement, U.S. jurist Mary McGowan Davis, asked (3/9) to delay the report’s presentation from the originally scheduled date of 3/23 to sometime in 6/2015. A spokesperson for the commission explained (3/9) that “these are complex issues. Weighing the facts and considering the legal questions that arise is something that should not be rushed under any circumstances.” UNHRC Pres. Joachim Rücker was supportive of the extension and no further delays were expected.

UN Reports of Possible War Crimes

Last quarter, Israeli allegations of bias caused the UNHRC’s commission of inquiry to delay the publication of its report into alleged war crimes committed during OPE. Further allegations dogged the commission this quarter, although it went ahead and published the report, sparking a minor conflict over its adoption and lending weight to the Palestinians’ efforts at the ICC.

The commission—U.S. jurist Mary McGowan Davis and Senegalese legal expert Doudou Diène—formally presented its report to the UNHRC in Geneva on 6/29 after releasing it to the public a week earlier (see Doc. A3). According to a press release announcing the report’s publication, the commission found “substantial information pointing to the possible commission of war crimes by both Israel and Palestinian armed groups,” and McGowan Davis clarified (6/22) as follows: “We do not talk in the report about evidence. What we have collected instead are witness accounts, submissions and other material that could point the way to a more thorough investigation” (see “War Crimes Charges at the ICC” above).

While it did not have the same impact as the earlier UNHRC commission report on Operation Cast Lead (2008–9), commonly known as the Goldstone Report (see Special Document File, JPS 39[2]), the UNHRC’s findings did prove controversial. Israel immediately set about trying to prevent the report from being endorsed by the UNHRC, and State Dept. spokesperson John Kirby said (6/23) the U.S. “challenge[s] the very mechanism which created it.” According to Israeli media (7/1), following consultations with U.S. and European reps. the Palestinians and their Arab allies softened the wording of the draft UNHRC res. to adopt the report, which had included provisions for new monitoring mechanisms. The UNHRC ultimately voted (7/3) in favor of the resolution, 41–1, with 5 abstentions, and the U.S. cast the lone “no” vote, as expected. The res. welcomed the special commission’s findings and called for the “implementation of all recommendations.” Noting the allegations of serious human rights violations during OPE, it deplored the “unprecedented levels of destruction, death, and human suffering caused” but fell short of explicitly naming names.

In an unrelated development that further exacerbated Israeli-Palestinian tension, UN secy.-gen. Ban Ki-moon circulated (6/8) the UN’s annual report on violations of children’s rights, known as the “list of shame” or “black list,” to the UNSC. U.S. and Israeli officials had lobbied for Israel to be excluded from the report, with Israel’s amb. to the UN, Ron Prosor, meeting with Ban’s special rep. for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, in early 2015 and Netanyahu calling the secy.-gen. directly. Both the Obama admin. and Republicans in the U.S. Congress weighed in as well, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) going so far as to say (6/3) that Congress would “reassess” the U.S. relationship with the UN if Israel appeared on the list. Ultimately, the official list failed to include Israel, the IDF, or armed Palestinian groups but the report did criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children and its conduct during OPE (see “Support for Palestinian Children in Congress” above, and Docs. R1, R5, and R6 in JPS 44[4]).

UNRWA’s Financial Crisis

In the words of Commissioner-Gen. Pierre Krähenbühl (6/15), UNRWA faced its “most serious financial crisis ever” this quarter as a result of escalating demand for its services and insufficient donor support. Krähenbühl indicated that the agency’s emergency appeals for Palestinian refugees in Syria and reconstruction in Gaza were only 27% and 30% funded, respectively, leaving Palestinians already enduring desperate situations even more vulnerable. Despite a few relatively small donations early in the quarter, UNRWA’s general operational fund (which includes employee salaries) still faced a $101 m. shortfall and the agency would be unable to continue its core operations beyond 9/2015 if donors did not respond to the deficit. Inter alia, that meant that the salaries of the 22,000 UNRWA education staff at its 685 schools across its areas of operation would not be paid, leaving around 500,000 Palestinian refugee children without education. As UNRWA officials repeatedly pleaded for more support throughout the summer, announcements of new funds slowly trickled in (see “Donors” below for other pledges of international support for the Palestinians). The U.S. (7/23) and EU (7/30) pledged $13 m. and around €2 m. ($2.2 m.) to the agency’s crisis response in Syria and to Palestinian refugees from Syria living in Jordan, respectively. In the final weeks of the quarter, the Slovak Republic (7/25), Switzerland (7/30), Saudi Arabia (8/12), the UK (8/12), and Norway (8/6) all confirmed pledges to the general fund, collectively paying down the deficit by $31.33 m. With the deficit still running at almost $70 m. at the end of the quarter, it was unclear if UNRWA would be able to open its schools at the start of the new school year in 9/2015.

There were a few noteworthy UN-related developments this quarter. On 3/24, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) approved, 32–0, with 15 abstentions, a res. condemning Israel’s settlements and calling for the creation of a “blacklist” of all Israeli and international firms operating directly or indirectly in Gaza, the West Bank, or the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. According to Haaretz on 3/24, the Palestinians advanced the res. with the support of Pakistan, Egypt, and several other Arab countries. The report stated further that the Israeli, UK, and U.S. govts. had been trying for several weeks to scuttle the measure, or at least have the “blacklist” provision removed. Ahead of the vote, a senior Israeli official said that the Palestinians might be open to removing the blacklist provision to secure the passage of the res. overall, but a senior Palestinian official denied this (3/24), saying the Palestinians were intent on keeping the provision in despite pressure from the U.S. and UK. In a similar incident later in the quarter, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed (4/15) a res. condemning Israel’s occupation in general; specifically calling on the Israeli govt. not to restrict Palestinian access to Haram al-Sharif; decrying Israel’s arrests of Muslim worshippers at the sanctuary; and deploring Israel’s sponsorship of archaeological excavations and public works in East Jerusalem. Israel criticized the res. harshly for weeks, complaining that it ignored Jewish claims to the site. Its complaints eventually drew a concession from the French govt. PM Manuel Valls said (5/11) that the res. was “clumsy” and “unfortunate,” and Pres. Hollande sent (5/11) a letter to the leaders of the French Jewish community saying that French support for the res. was the result of a “misunderstanding.”

Also of note: UNHRC pres. Choi Kyong-lim nominated (3/23) Canadian law professor Michael Lynk to succeed Makarim Wibisono, who resigned last quarter, as special rapporteur on the oPt (see JPS 45 [3]). Lynk was confirmed on 3/24.

Leading up to the 40th session of the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Comm. in Istanbul on 7/10–20, the Palestinians and Jordanians put forward a res. concerning Israeli violations at Haram al-Sharif (see “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” above for more on the violations). The draft accused Israel of “misconduct,” including “deliberate vandalism” at Muslim holy sites, and as it did not include any mention of Jewish ties to the site, the Israeli govt. mobilized against it. According to the Jerusalem Post (7/12), Israeli diplomats began pressuring France, the UK, and Germany in particular to oppose the res. Before the vote could take place, the comm. decided (7/17) to cut short the session in light of the failed Turkish coup on 7/15, pushing back a slew of World Heritage Comm. business to an ad hoc session on 10/24–26.

Also of note: Israeli amb. to the UN Danny Danon was elected to the Sixth Comm. of the UNGA in a secret ballot on 6/13, marking the 1st time an Israeli diplomat has ever taken charge of a permanent comm. at the UNGA. Because the Sixth Comm. focuses on legal questions, its program for the 10–11/2016 UNGA session was set to include work on “measures to eliminate international terrorism” and “the law of transboundary aquifers.”

UNRWA’s Financial Crisis

The union of UNRWA employees in Gaza staged another high-profile strike this quarter to protest job cuts, unfilled positions, unpaid salaries, and declining services. UNRWA officials maintained that there had been no reduction of services in Gaza, despite the agency’s ongoing budget struggles (see JPS 45 [1, 2]). On 11/21, after mos. of inconclusive talks between union officials and UNRWA reps., around 1,000 union mbrs. went on strike in Gaza City. Negotiators met again on 11/25, and the union announced (11/27) that it would suspend the strikes for 10 days and form a comm. to resolve persistent disagreements. UNRWA reportedly hired 200 new teachers and pledged to hire 200 more in 1/2017, according to union officials (11/27), but it was too little, too late, they said. On 12/15, they announced that the talks had failed yet again and that protests would escalate although there were no further reports of mass action in Gaza this quarter.

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

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.

The U.S. and Israel mobilized against 2 Palestinian-backed measures at the annual meeting of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Comm., which took place in Kraków, Poland, on 7/2–12. Despite their efforts, the comm. passed (7/4), by 10–3, with 8 countries abstaining, a resolution retaining the Old City of Jerusalem on the list of World Heritage Sites that are in danger and condemning “the failure of the Israeli occupying authorities to cease the persistent excavations, tunneling, works, projects and other illegal practices in East Jerusalem, particularly in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law.” Israeli officials roundly denounced the resolution, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called (7/4) it “another bizarre and irrelevant decision by UNESCO.”

A few days later, the World Heritage Comm. voted on a much more contentious measure. Earlier in 2017, Palestinian diplomats formally requested (1/30) that the Old City of Hebron be placed on the “List of World Heritage in Danger.” Registering a site on the list allows the comm. to provide special support from the World Heritage Fund, calls the world’s attention to a precarious situation, and triggers annual UNESCO visits to assess any changes. Due to the high number of Israeli violations at the site, the Palestinians requested (3/9) that their 1/30 application be fast-tracked and considered in 7/2017. In the lead-up to the comm. meeting, U.S. amb. to the UN Haley argued (6/30) that placing Hebron on the list would risk undermining the seriousness that such an assessment should have. “The Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is sacred to 3 faiths, is under no immediate threat,” she said. The Israelis, for their part, denied UNESCO’s request to send a delegation to Hebron to study the situation and secured enough support from the comm. to allow the vote to proceed by secret ballot.

Ultimately, 12 countries voted (7/7) in favor of the measure and only 3 opposed it (6 abstained). “Today, Palestine and the world, through UNESCO, celebrate Hebron as part of world heritage, a value that transcends geography, religion, politics, and ideology,” the PA’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced (7/7). Israeli PM Netanyahu called (7/7) it “another delusional UNESCO decision,” announced a $1 m. cut to Israel’s annual support for the UN, redirecting the money to fund a Jewish heritage museum in Kiryat Arba, a settlement nr. Hebron, and other projects around the city. The World Heritage Comm. vote brought to $9 m. since 12/2016 the sum total of retaliatory cuts to Israel’s support for the UN (see JPS 46 [3, 4]).


As the quarter opened, it had been more than a year since the UN Human Rights Council approved a resolution calling for the creation of a database, or “blacklist,” of companies that operate in Israel’s settlements (see JPS 45 [4]). UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad Al Hussein had already delayed publication of the so-called blacklist once in 2017, in part due to U.S. pressure, according to Western diplomats (Washington Post, 8/21), but he was reportedly intent on publishing it by the end of the year. In preparation, Al Hussein sent out a draft list to the govts. of countries where listed companies were based in 8/2017, seeking their comments by 9/1. According to a report in Haaretz on 9/28, Al Hussein sent similar letters to the listed companies themselves in mid-9/2017. Senior Israeli officials and Western diplomats said (9/28) that 150 companies were contacted, including approximately 30 based in the U.S. and 75 in Israel, including global firms such as Caterpillar,, TripAdvisor, and Airbnb.

As the end-of-year publication deadline approached, both the U.S. and Israel ramped up their efforts to scuttle the project.

They were likely motivated by the fact that the blacklist was already having an effect. Senior Israeli officials said (9/28) that the Office of Strategic Affairs at Israel’s Ministry for Economic Affairs had learned that several of the companies included on the draft list had already informed Al Hussein of their intentions not to renew contracts or sign new ones in Israel. “Foreign companies will not invest in something that reeks of political problems,” one Israeli official said (9/28). “This could snowball.”


At the end of the previous quarter, on 8/14, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced an indefinite suspension of intakes of new patients for ear, nose, and throat treatments, cold ailments, and childbirths at its hospital in Qalqilya, pending an investigation into the recent death of a Palestinian child at the facility. “Intense efforts to reform the Qalqilya hospital have not been successful in the past years and the Agency is no longer able to ensure that medical services provided in the hospital meet the required health care standards,” an 8/14 statement from UNRWA read. The PA Ministry of Health strongly condemned the suspension of services, calling (8/14) on UNRWA to keep the hospital open “as required by international laws and resolutions.” The suspension also sparked a wave of protests from the Palestinian public. For weeks after it went into effect on 8/21, Palestinians gathered outside the hospital for sit-ins and other demonstrations. Although UNRWA had not reversed its decision by quarter’s end, the agency repeatedly reaffirmed (8/21) its commitment to “delivering health and other services to Palestine refugees . . . including those residing in Qalqilya.”


The Israeli effort to undermine Hezbollah in the diplomatic arena took on a new dimension this quarter. Israeli officials were already calling for international attention to Hezbollah’s alleged arms stockpiling and its construction of a new weapons production facility in s. Lebanon, allegedly with Iranian support. In 8/2017, Israeli and U.S. leaders cited these issues in a campaign to alter the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), giving the 10,500-strong peacekeeping force more authority to police Hezbollah.

As the 8/31 UNSC deadline to renew UNIFIL’s annual mandate approached, UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Michael Beary rejected (8/23) the allegations that Hezbollah was stockpiling weapons, explaining that his troops had not come across any evidence to support the claims. In response, U.S. amb. to the UN Haley accused (8/25) Beary of ignoring the problem, and Israeli PM Netanyahu raised the issue of Hezbollah with UN secy.-gen. Guterres during a meeting on 8/28.

The UNSC ultimately renewed (8/30) UNIFIL’s mandate for another year with new language authorizing more joint border patrols with Lebanese armed forces and requiring UNIFIL to file “prompt and detailed” reports whenever its troops encounter Hezbollah roadblocks. Israel’s amb. to the UN Danny Danon welcomed (8/30) the decision, and Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs thanked the Trump admin. for its “leadership” in pushing for the change. It was later reported (9/5) that Russian diplomats were instrumental in countering the U.S. and Israeli efforts. They reportedly secured the removal of large portions of Israel- and U.S.-proposed text that would have expanded UNIFIL’s mission further.


On 10/12, a State Dept. spokesperson announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The announcement came 6 years after U.S. pres. Obama had presided over an indefinite suspension in U.S. support for the organization, triggered by a U.S. law barring support for UN agencies and bodies that admit Palestine as a mbr. (UNESCO voted to admit Palestine in 10/2011; see JPS 41 [2]). Explaining the withdrawal, the spokesperson cited (10/12) the $550 m. that the U.S. owed in unpaid dues and UNESCO’s alleged anti-Israel bias. Shortly after the announcement, Netanyahu praised (10/12) the move as “brave and moral” and pledged to withdraw Israel from UNESCO as well.

World Tourism Organization

The UN’s World Tourism Organization (WTO) announced (9/13) that a vote on the Palestinian bid for membership, which was submitted in 9/2016 and on the agenda for the WTO’s 9/2017 general assembly in Chengdu, was being delayed until the next WTO meeting due to be held in 2019. According to senior Israeli and U.S. officials on 9/13, the Palestinians decided to suspend their bid after U.S. officials insisted that it violated PA pres. Abbas’s pledge to refrain from unilateral moves at international forums (see “The PalestinianIsraeli Conflict” above).

After more than a year of lobbying by U.S. and Israeli diplomats, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) delayed publication of its blacklist of companies operating in Israel’s settlements in the oPt this quarter. The UNHRC had approved a resolution calling for the creation of such a database on 3/24/2016 (see JPS 45 [4]), and the head of UNHRC, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, repeatedly vowed to publish the list by the end of 2017. But pressure from the United States and Israel was apparently too great and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights refrained from disclosing the names, merely saying that the list included 206 companies domiciled in twenty-one countries. On 1/26, Al Hussein’s office explained to the UNHRC that the committee compiling the database had not yet contacted everyone on the list and for that reason they were withholding company identification, but they would release the information once all 206 companies were notified of their inclusion.

Also of note: the UNGA approved six resolutions condemning various aspects of the Israeli occupation on 11/29, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The UNGA has passed similar resolutions in previous years. New this year, the United Kingdom broke with its earlier practice and voted against a resolution calling on Israel to return control of the Golan Heights to Syria. “It is unnecessary and disproportionate,” a UK representative said, arguing that the measure did “little to advance peace or mutual understanding.”


Months after the United States and Israel pledged to walk away from the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by the end of 2018 (see JPS 47 [2, 3]), Palestinian, Israeli, Jordanian, U.S., European, and other diplomats reached (4/12) a compromise on a new resolution, titled “Occupied Palestine.” The resolution, which UNESCO then passed (4/12) by consensus, criticized Israeli actions in Jerusalem and Gaza, but left the strongest language under discussion to a nonbinding annex. They also deferred further action on Israel and the oPt to the subsequent UNESCO session due to be held in 11/2018.


While the United States was blocking any attempt to have the UNSC condemn Israel’s deadly response to the Great March of Return protests in Gaza (see “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” above), the Palestinians and their Arab allies were campaigning against Israel’s bid to win a seat on the council. Israeli officials declared their candidacy in early 2017 but did little in the way of campaigning until early 2018. In order to win one of the two rotating seats allotted to the Western European and Others regional group, Israel needed the support of two-thirds of the UN General Assembly in a vote set for 6/8. Especially after the surge of violence in Gaza, it was unclear if it would be able to overcome mounting opposition from the Arab states and the rival candidacies of Germany and Belgium.

“We are doing everything possible to convince as many countries as possible to block [Israel’s bid],” PA foreign minister alMaliki said on 4/12, two weeks after Israeli troops began killing Palestinian protesters in Gaza. “We believe we can, as Arab and Islamic states,” he added, indicating that they had already secured the support of several European countries. Three weeks later, the Israeli delegation to the UN announced (5/4) that they were suspending their campaign.


Trump’s punitive cuts to U.S. contributions to UNRWA last quarter created an “unprecedented financial crisis” for the Palestinian people, according to UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl on 3/5 (see JPS 47 [3] for more on the cuts). “If 525,000 students no longer have access to education, 3 million patients don’t have access to healthcare and 1.7 million don’t receive emergency assistance, we will see [a] catastrophic rise in insecurity.”

In an effort to address the new budget shortfall, the agency launched a fundraising campaign last quarter, dubbed “Dignity is Priceless,” and organized a donors’ conference in Rome on 3/15. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund transferred $30 million to UNRWA for its food aid program on 3/13 and Kuwait pledged $900,000 in early 2/2018 (see JPS 47 [3]), but UNRWA was still facing a deficit of $446 million, according to UN secretary-general Guterres at the 3/15 conference. Diplomats from ninety different countries collectively pledged approximately $100 million in new support, including $50 million from Qatar alone. Separately, the EU made (3/15) €82 million (approximately $101 million) available immediately. Krähenbühl said (3/15) that all of this support was “a start” and that the money would allow the agency to continue its core services at least through the summer. Although UNRWA received another $112.3 million in new pledges from Japan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Italy by the end of the quarter, it was still unclear if every UNRWA school would be able to open as planned in the fall.


As in recent years, the UN Human Rights Council adopted five resolutions related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during its thirty-seventh session in Geneva on 3/23. These condemned Israel’s settlements in the oPt as illegal; urged Israel to refrain from growing the population of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights; called for recognition of the Palestinian right to self-determination; called for “ensuring justice” against violations of international law in the oPt; and called for the preservation of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza. While the Palestinians supported the votes, Israel’s Foreign Ministry condemned the UNHRC as a “sham” and “a mockery of the noble purposes it pretends to represent.”

The U.S. tried and failed to stymie criticism of Israel’s assault on Gaza at the UN this quarter. After U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley failed (5/31) to gather enough support at the Security Council for a statement condemning Hamas’s rocket attacks, she vetoed (6/1) a Kuwaiti-backed resolution condemning Israel’s use of force against Palestinian civilians. The UNGA then adopted (6/13) a similar, Palestinian-backed resolution condemning Israel’s use of “excessive force” in quelling the ongoing protests in Gaza, with 120 votes in favor, 45 abstaining, and 8 opposed. Before the UNGA vote, Haley circulated an amendment to the draft resolution that would have condemned Hamas for its rocket fire and alleged diversion of humanitarian resources to its security apparatus, but again she failed to gather enough support.


On 5/18, the UNHRC convened to debate Israel’s assault on protesters gathering along the border fence on 5/14. Despite objections from the U.S. and Australia, the UNHRC approved a Pakistani proposal to establish an independent commission of inquiry to look into Israel’s use of deadly force to quell the protests, and to report back by 3/2019. Twenty-nine countries voted in favor of the proposal, which also condemned the “indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force,” while 14 abstained and only the U.S. and Australia voted against it.

A month after the vote, at the 38th session of the UNHRC in Geneva, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson announced (6/18) that, beginning in 2019, the UK planned to vote against all resolutions introduced under Agenda Item 7, the UNHRC’s dedicated and permanent mandate for issues relating to the PalestinianIsraeli conflict. “We share the view that a dedicated agenda item focused solely on Israel and the oPt is disproportionate and damaging to the cause of peace,”Johnson said, aligning the UK with the Trump administration’s position on the UNHRC. The day after Johnson’s comments, Haley announced (6/19) that the U.S. was going one step further and formally withdrawing from the UNHRC. “Earlier this year, as it has in previous years, the UNHRC passed five resolutions against Israel, more than it passed against North Korea, Iran, and Syria combined,” she said (see JPS 47 [4] for a breakdown of those five resolutions). “This disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the [UNHRC] is motivated by political bias.”


The UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee postponed, for a second time, a vote on two resolutions related to the old cities of Jerusalem and Hebron on 6/26, prompting Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama-Hacohen, to suggest that the Israeli government reconsider its pledge to withdraw from UNESCO by the end of 2018. “I was the first to recommend leaving the organization after the U.S. announced its withdrawal [on 10/12/2017], but now Israel must not ignore the new spirit emanating from UNESCO, and we need to reevaluate, in full coordination with the U.S., the question of leaving,” he said. Netanyahu then called UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay to thank her for the postponement and praise her for the fact that UNESCO had not passed any resolutions he deemed anti-Israel for a year. According to a senior Israeli diplomat (8/8), Azoulay invited Netanyahu to meet at some point in 9/2018 to discuss whether or not Israel would consider delaying or reversing its plan to withdraw from UNESCO. “Obviously, we welcome any constructive efforts in our foreign relations,” ShamaHacohen said of the invitation. “But the issue is complicated.”


UNRWA was scrambling this quarter to address the massive budget shortfall caused by Trump’s 1/16/2018 decision to slash U.S. support for the agency. By 6/2018, the U.S. had only disbursed $60 million to UNRWA (compared with $364 million in 2017), and the agency was “weeks away from painful cuts to its emergency assistance for Gaza and elsewhere in the region,” according to UN special coordinator Mladenov. UNRWA commissioner general Pierre Krähenbühl attempted to raise the minimum $250 million necessary to maintain basic services at the agency’s annual donors conference in New York on 6/25, but he was unsuccessful. UNRWA then laid off (7/26) 145 employees in the West Bank and 113 in Gaza. Another 584 full-time employees were offered part-time positions. Without any major new donor support, UN officials said (8/15) that it was unlikely that UNRWA schools across the Middle East would be able to open on time in 9/2018. “We are running on empty,” said (8/15) an UNRWA spokesperson. “We simply don’t have enough money to pay 22,000 teachers who in 711 schools provide a daily education for over half a million children.”

Although UNRWA was unable to secure enough new donor support to mitigate the $250 million shortfall, the agency did announce a number of new donations throughout the quarter. Most significantly, Qatar agreed to pledge $50 million to sustain UNRWA’s education services across the Middle East on 5/16. “This agreement aims to ensure that the provision of basic services to Palestinian refugees is not interrupted,” explained the director-general of the Qatar Fund for Development, Khalifa Bin Jassim Al-Kuwari. Separately, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation decided to establish a “Waqf Fund” to ensure “consistent and sustainable funding” for UNRWA at its summit in Istanbul on 5/18. Islamic Relief USA contributed $2.4 million to support 3,000 refugees in Gaza on 5/24. The Big Heart Foundation, a United Arab Emirates-based charity, gave $100,000 for UNRWA to provide health services in Gaza on 7/2. Austria contributed (8/10) €1 million (approximately $1.157 million) to support UNRWA’s activities in the oPt. Finally, China and Germany pledged (8/8) $2.35 million and €8.4 million (approximately $9.84 million), respectively, in additional funds for UNRWA’s food aid program in Gaza.

                On 17 October the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted to confirm the State of Palestine as the next chair of the Group of 77 and China (see Intra-Palestinian Relations). Then in November, in 2 separate sessions (11/17 and 11/30) the UNGA passed 12 resolutions in support of Palestine and 2 calling for Israel to end its occupation of the Golan Heights. A week later a U.S.-sponsored resolution condemning Hamas for firing rockets at Israel failed to gain the two-thirds majority it needed. The resolution, which was referring to the latest flare in violence earlier in November, did not mention Israel’s heavy bombardment of Gaza (see Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and Intra-Palestinian Relations). As the year was ending Palestinian officials announced that Palestine was initiating (26/12) its application to become a full member of the United Nations (UN), an application which probably will fail to pass the UN Security Council as the U.S. has veto power in that UN body (see Intra-Palestinian Relations).

                The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) announced (12/19) that due to a lack of funding it had to cut aid for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in 2019. Stephen Kearney, the WFP country director in Palestine, attributed the lack of funding to cuts by the U.S. The WFP announcement came 2 days after the UN and the Palestinian Authority (PA) had asked for $350 million in humanitarian aid for 2019. The WFP said that it needed $57 million to maintain its current levels for 2019. The WFP announcement also comes as the U.S. has slashed all funding for Palestinians including hundreds of millions for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) (see United States and Donors). 

                The UN’s judicial organ, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), received a complaint from the State of Palestine on 28 September over the U.S. move of its embassy to Jerusalem and its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The complaint, which argues that the U.S. is in violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, prompted the U.S. to withdraw (10/3) from the ‘optional protocol’ that allows states to seek arbitration in cases such as the one Palestine was bringing to the ICJ.

                For information on the U.S. and Israel pulling out of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and Marc Lamont Hill’s speech at the UN see United States. For information on PA president Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the UN see Intra-Palestinian Relations.

Group of 77 and China

                Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas arrived in New York on 14 January to take over the presidency of the Group of 77 and China at the United Nations (UN). President Abbas also met with UN secretary general António Guterres at the UN building, where they discussed recent developments in the occupied Palestinian territories. On 15 January, the PA foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said, also at the UN in New York, that Palestine would launch a bid to become a full member of the UN (for more on these developments, see Intra-Palestinian Dynamics).


Settler Violence

                UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov condemned the killing of a 38-year-old West Bank Palestinian by Israeli settlers on 27 January. He called the murder “shocking and unacceptable” and called for Israel to “put an end to settler violence and bring those responsible to justice.” 30 other Palestinians were wounded from the live ammunition the Israeli settlers used in killing the West Bank resident (for more on the incident, see Palestinian-Israeli Conflict). Later, on 29 January, the spokesperson for the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville denounced the settler attack, saying, “Israel, as the occupying power, is obliged under international humanitarian law to protect the Palestinian population from such attacks. Those responsible for settler violence must be brought to account.” Middle East Envoy Mladenov also said at the UN Security Council (UNSC) that the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon had not been given access to the tunnels Israel alleged to have destroyed and said to be built by Hezbollah (for more on Operation Northern Shield, see Israel; for more on Lebanon’s response to the Israeli operation, see Lebanon).


UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization

                Israel and the U.S. officially quit the UN cultural organ, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for what they allege to be “anti-Israel bias.” The 2 countries announced they were leaving UNESCO in October 2017 but the decisions did not take effect until 1 January. Israel’s grievances with UNESCO are based on their designation of Palestinian heritage sites as Palestinian and their criticism of the Israeli excavations under the holy sites in Jerusalem. Israel and the U.S. have not been paying dues to UNESCO since Palestine became a member of the organization in 2011.


UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

                It was reported on 20 January that Israel was set to close East Jerusalem UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools in 2020. The reporting stipulated that the schools would be replaced by schools run by the Jerusalem municipality. A spokesperson for UNRWA said that, “UNRWA’s existence in Jerusalem is not a gift from Israel. . . . There are bilateral agreements binding on Israel to respect the agency’s installations, jurisdiction and immunity in Jerusalem.” The Israeli mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat said in October 2018 that, “We [Israel] are putting an end to the lie of the ‘Palestinian refugee problem’ and the attempts at creating a false sovereignty within a sovereignty.” UNRWA provides schools for 3,000 Palestinian refugees in East Jerusalem.



                2 organs of the UN, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund and the World Food Programme (WFP), signed an agreement to secure aid for 6,000 of the most vulnerable families in Gaza. The aid will be provided on electronic assistance cards and can be used for blankets, clothing, hygiene kits, and school uniforms. The initiative is designed to prevent the spread of diseases as the population in Gaza becomes increasingly prone to outbreaks due to the high level of poverty. The agreement comes after the WFP announced that it would not be able to provide services for 27,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and that it was reducing its aid for another 165,000 in the West Bank and Gaza by 20 percent due to a lack of funding.


UN Security Council

                The spokesperson for secretary-general of the UN António Guterres said in a statement that Secretary-General Guterres was grateful for the work of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) and that he “further hopes that an agreement can be found by the parties to preserve the TIPH’s long-standing and valuable contribution to conflict prevention and the protection of Palestinians in Hebron.” Israel ended the TIPH mandate effective on midnight 1/31 (for more on the TIPH, see Israel). A statement drafted by Kuwait and Indonesia expressing regret for Israel’s unilateral decision to end the TIPH mandate at the UNSC was blocked by the U.S. on 6 February. The statement was brought up for discussion by the 2 countries at the UNSC and stated the importance of the TIPH’s “efforts to foster calm in a highly sensitive area and fragile situation on the ground, which risks further deteriorating.”

                On 21 March, U.S. president Donald Trump announced that his administration “fully recognize[s] Israel’s Sovereignty [sic] over the Golan Heights” via Twitter (see United States). The UNSC held an emergency meeting on 28 March following a request by the Syrian mission with support from France. At the meeting, 14 of the 15 members of the UNSC condemned the U.S. administration’s recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. However, no formal action was taken as the U.S. would veto a vote on the issue.

                Earlier in March, the UNSC discussed Israel’s deduction of the PA tax revenue (see Israel). Kuwait’s ambassador to the UN Mansour al-Otaibi said after the closed-door meeting that an “overwhelming” number of the 15 UNSC members opposed Israel’s unilateral deduction in the PA’s tax revenue.


UN Human Rights Council

                The UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) released a report on the Israeli response to the Great March of Return protest covering 30 March to 31 December 2018. Their investigation showed that 189 Palestinians had been killed in relation to the protest and that at least 187 of the Israeli-caused fatalities were illegal under international law. It also found that Israel’s use of lethal force to maim and kill protesters were impermissible as they were “neither necessary nor proportionate.” The report also stated that Israel killed 35 children, 3 “clearly marked paramedics,” 2 journalists, and 5 people with disabilities. The commission further stated that on several occasions where “protected groups” were killed, there were “reasonable grounds to believe that that Israeli snipers shot them intentionally.” The chairman of the commission behind the report said, “Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.” He added that, “These violations clearly warrant criminal investigation and prosecution.” The PA presidency issued a statement that the report “proves what we have always said, that is Israel is committing war crimes against our people in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank, including Jerusalem.” The statement further called on the International Criminal Court “to take immediate actions.” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the report, saying, “The council has set new records of hypocrisy and lies out of an obsessive hatred for Israel.” On 22 March, the UNHCR adopted the report in a vote where 8 countries voted against, 15 abstained, and 23 voted to adopt.

                The UNHRC also delayed, for a 3d time, publishing a database of companies doing business in Israeli settlements. The work on the database has been ongoing since 2016. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a letter to the president of the council that she needed more time to consider it, “given the novelty of the mandate and its legal, methodological and factual complexity.”

Demolitions in East Jerusalem

                The United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory Jamie McGoldrick called for an immediate halt to Israeli demolitions in East Jerusalem as demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures drastically rose in April (for more on the demolitions in East Jerusalem, see Palestinian-Israeli Conflict). 

Great March of Return wounded

                Humanitarian Coordinator McGoldrick also warned that a lack of funding for United Nations (UN) agencies working in Gaza is putting 1,700 Palestinians in Gaza at risk for amputations if they do not receive the necessary surgeries and rehabilitation. 29,000 Palestinians had been wounded during the protests at the time McGoldrick made his warning, 7,000 of which had been maimed by live fire. So far, 120 Great March of Return amputations have been made.

                The World Health Organization released a press statement on 12 April calling for the protection of health workers in Gaza as 446 attacks on Palestinian health workers were recorded since the beginning of the Great March of Return on 30 March 2018. These attacks have killed 3 health workers and injured 731. Israeli attacks have also damaged 104 ambulances, 6 other forms of health transportation, 1 hospital, and 5 other health facilities.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East

                UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East’s (UNRWA) commissioner general Pierre Krähenbühl defended UNRWA’s mandate after U.S. special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt said at a UN Security Council meeting that UNRWA should be dismantled and host countries should be providing UNRWA services. Krähenbühl said that only 2 countries—the U.S. and Israel—are working to dismantle UNRWA, but that UNRWA’s mandate is protected by the UN General Assembly.

Security Council

               At the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the United States (U.S.) blocked efforts by Kuwait, Indonesia, and South Africa to condemn Israeli’s demolition of 10 buildings housing 70 apartments in Sur Bahir, which overlaps East Jerusalem and Areas A and B in the West Bank. United Nations (UN) officials had called for Israel to halt the demolitions, which were carried out on 7/22.

               Later in the quarter, the U.S. blocked a UNSC statement drafted by the French delegation condemning “all violations of the Blue Line” after Israel and Hezbollah exchanged fire near the border. According to the UN diplomats, the U.S. blocked the statement because it objected to the “moral equivalence” between Israel and Hezbollah.



               In late July, a bombshell hit the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). A confidential report by the agency’s ethics office was leaked to several media outlets alleging that UNRWA commissioner general Pierre Krähenbühl had “engaged in sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and abuses of authority.” Others from the senior management team were also implicated. UNRWA has been in an extremely tough spot since the U.S. administration decided to cut all funding for the agency in August 2018. After allegations against Krähenbühl became public, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Belgium announced that they have halted any further contributions to UNRWA while the investigation of the UNRWA leadership is ongoing. UN secretary-general António Guterres said he would not comment on the allegations as long as the investigation was ongoing. By the end of the quarter, Commissioner General Krähenbühl was still in his position.

Israeli Settlements and Demolitions


               UN officials criticized the demolition of the 10 buildings in Sur Bahir (see above) and the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov condemned Israel’s decision to expand 4 Israeli settlements in the West Bank with 2,304 new housing units for Israeli settlers.

Quarterly Updates for (1 Jan 1970 — 1 Jan 1970)

On 3/28, during its 25th session in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council passed 5 resolutions pertaining to Israeli conduct. Four resolutions condemned Israeli treatment of Palestinians, including a wide range of issues such as settlements, discrimination, and house demolitions, and were passed 46–1 (the single nay cast by the U.S.). One res. condemned abuses against residents of the occupied Golan Heights. The 46 “yes” votes for the resolutions pertaining to the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip included 9 EU mbr. states.