Maureen Clare Murphy
The Electronic Intifada / October 16, 2020
In a new assault on accountability, Israel has stopped issuing visas to employees of the United Nations human rights agency OHCHR, Middle East Eye reported on Thursday.
Israel had announced that it was suspending ties with the UN body in February after it released a database of companies involved in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Now that the information is released, Israel appears to be making good on its promise to punish the UN body.
“Since June all requests for new visas have gone unanswered, with passports sent off for renewals coming back empty,” according to Middle East Eye.
“Nine of the organization’s 12 foreign staff have now left Israel and the Palestinian territories for fear of being undocumented there,” Middle East Eye added. “Among those is country director James Heenan.”
Denial of entry
Other UN officials like Nickolay Mladenov, the UN secretary-general’s Middle East peace envoy, however, continue to enjoy the warm embrace of Israel and its supporters – even as they attack UN human rights bodies and investigations.
The contrasting treatment of these two UN officials corresponds with their efforts – or lack thereof – towards holding Israel to account for its violations of Palestinian rights. It also reflects their divergent views of Palestinian rights as something to be protected, or as bargaining chips to be negotiated in talks with Israel.
Lynk applauded the release of the settlement business database, saying “sustained defiance by an occupying power will not go unanswered.”
He added that without the settlements, supported by the economic activity of Israeli and foreign companies, “the five-decade-long Israeli occupation would lose its colonial raison d’être.”
Mladenov gives regular briefings to the UN Security Council on the implementation (or lack thereof) of Resolution 2334, which calls on Israel to cease building settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Despite its relevance to his mandate, Mladenov has remained conspicuously silent on the UN settlement business database – both before and after its release. Nor has he spoken out against Israel’s denial of entry to his UN colleagues such as Lynk.
Mladenov’s calls for action are limited to urging non-specific steps “towards a negotiated two-state solution.”
In stark contrast, Lynk heartily welcomed the conclusion of the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor that there is a reasonable basis to investigate war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Mladenov has not.
Lynk has outlined Israel’s use of collective punishment to subdue Palestinians living under its military rule. He has called on third states to take countermeasures including sanctions “necessary to ensure the respect by Israel of its duty under international law to end the occupation.”
In contrast, Mladenov calls for the resuscitation of “dialogue among all stakeholders, with no preconditions.”
However, dialogue without accountability will only allow Israel to buy more time as it rapidly colonizes Palestinian land and violently represses all Palestinian resistance – as was the case under the past 25 years of the Oslo peace process paradigm.
Meanwhile, Palestinian groups working toward accountability are operating in an ever-shrinking space as Israel attempts to limit any avenues to justice.
Lawmakers belonging to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party have proposed broadening the state’s definition of foreign agents.
Israeli law “imposes a 15-year prison sentence against anyone who knowingly contacted a foreign agent without providing explanations for that,” as the Palestinian Human Rights Council notes.
At present, the law defines a foreign agent as someone acting “on behalf of a foreign state or terrorist organization” in a way that “might endanger Israel’s security.”
A proposed amendment to the law would replace “foreign state” with “foreign political entity.” The lawmakers proposing the amendment point to the Palestinian Authority and European Union – which are not states – as to why the language must be changed.
The Palestinian Human Rights Council stated that the amendment targets “organizations that cooperate with or receive support from the EU and the PA. It seeks to further curtail the work of human rights organizations through portraying our work as contacts with foreign entities.”
Israel has already enacted a law imposing stiff sanctions on those advocating boycotts of Israel or its colonial settlements in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.
Palestinian human rights groups have stated that boycott is the “main civil protest tool … to end the occupation.”
Israeli law also requires human rights groups based in the country that receive more than half of their funding from foreign states to disclose this in their publications.
Maureen Clare Murphy is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and lives in Chicago