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UN report: Apartheid label doesn’t go far enough

Jerusalem24 – A new report presented to the United Nations General Assembly during its 77th session in September says the label of “apartheid” alone as applied to Israeli practices against Palestinians fails to account for the settler-colonial nature of the state and the “inherent illegality” of the occupation.

Francesca Albanese, who took up on 1 May the post of UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, also writes in the scathing 23-page report that there can be no negotiated peace as there is no “conflict” in the first place, and Israel is the party which holds all the power.

Albanese also goes further than many of her predecessors in pointing out that the 1947 UN Partition Plan allocated land where “a native Palestinian Arab population had resided for millennia” for “largely European Jewish settlers and refugees from Europe” through “settlement and colonization”.

Israel’s “grave violations of international law”, she concludes, call for “an immediate withdrawal of Israeli presence […] so that sovereignty can be returned to and regained by the native Palestinian people”, and “render […] reparations necessary as a step toward justice and peace for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Another report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, presented to the UN a week before the Special Rapporteur’s, and which found that the occupation of the West Bank is “designed to ensure permanent Israeli control of the area”, drew the ire of Israel and the US, with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid blasting it as “distinctly antisemitic”.

Reframing apartheid through the lens of settler-colonialism

While the report says the apartheid label may be helpful in focusing attention on Israel’s system of domination and discrimination rather than “individual and decontextualized” violations, it does present some shortcomings, namely in bypassing the “critical issue” of the recognition of all Palestinians’ (including refugees’) fundamental right as a unified people to self-determination “free from foreign occupation, rule and exploitation.”

The apartheid framework also fails to address “the root causes” of Israeli discrimination against Palestinians, as well as Israeli animus (intention) in seizing land and displacing its native population – a hallmark, says the report, of a settler-colonialist enterprise.

“Dismantling the Israeli apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territory in particular, while necessary, will not automatically address the question of Israeli domination over the Palestinians, restore permanent sovereignty over the lands Israel occupies and the natural resources therein, nor, on its own, fulfil Palestinian political aspirations.”

Instead, the report suggests framing the issue through the lens of settler-colonialism as a complement to the apartheid designation.

The report lists Israeli depletion of Palestine’s natural resources, the fragmentation of its territory, the “intentional unlawful displacement” of its native Palestinian population, and the “imposition of settlers, settlements and settlement infrastructure in the topography and space of the Palestinians” as examples of settler-colonialism in practice.

The report also draws attention to the so-called 1967 Allon Plan, which articulated a formal vision of a unitary “Jewish state” from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea through the full annexation of the Jordan Valley and the creation of demilitarized Palestinian Bantustans in the West Bank.

“Developments on the ground bear testament to the execution of the Allon Plan, even if it was never formally adopted as an official policy.”

A map of the 1967 Allon Plan (R) juxtaposed with former US President Trump’s proposed plan (L). [Source: PASSIA; Wikipedia]
“In a tragic irony,” states the report, “Palestinians have experienced an entrenching settler colonialism at a moment in history when the rest of the world was slowly progressing towards decolonization.”

Extrajudicial executions as “an alternative to negotiations”

The report emphasizes the futility of negotiations, long-touted as an end goal in and of themselves by the international community, particularly as Israel’s protracted occupation continues to be addressed through three main, flawed approaches: namely, as a humanitarian issue to be managed; a “conflict” to be resolved through negotiations; and by offering economic development in lieu of a political solution.

“The proponents of these approaches seem to believe that the occupation will end when the parties, starkly unequal in power, are able to achieve a negotiated solution,” says the report.

“Failing to capture critical overarching issues concerning the Israeli occupation, these perspectives conflate root causes and symptoms, and focus on Israeli lack of compliance with international law as a siloed phenomenon rather than a longstanding structural component of the prolonged disfranchisement of the Palestinians under occupation.”

Israel has also neutered the chance for negotiations even further by stifling – and sometimes eliminating altogether – any form of effective “political existence and resistance”, claims the report, highlighting the killing of Palestinian political leaders and advocates, humanitarians, and journalists, as well as the imprisonment (and systematic monitoring through the use of mass surveillance software) of government or civil society representatives, human rights defenders, and teachers.

The report charges that Israel has used “targeted killings” – extrajudicial executions – “as an alternative political strategy to negotiations.”

Oslo: “Negotiating the illegal”

As an extension to the fruitlessness of negotiations, the report also blasts the continued entrenchment of the international community in propping up the Oslo Accords, which it says neither realized nor advanced the realization of Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

“Any interpretation of the Oslo Accords that negates the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people would render the Accords themselves questionable, if not invalid.”

The report goes one step further and questions the very validity of negotiations as an end to occupation, which is in and of itself inherently illegal.

“A breach of international law should not be subjected to negotiations, as this would legitimize what is illegal. Therefore […] the obligation of cessation of the occupation cannot in any way be conditioned on negotiations.”

A “paradigm shift”

Albanese is searing in her critique of former efforts to end the occupation and ongoing colonization of Palestine.

The report says the “humanitarian”, “political” and “economic development” approaches to resolving the occupation “normalize the occupation itself”, and contribute to “preventing the realization of the Palestinian right to self-determination [and] attempting to “de-Palestinianize” the occupied Palestinian territory, attempting to transform most of it into a permanent extension of Israeli metropolitan territory, with as few Palestinians as possible.”

“This behavior, reminiscent of a colonial past that the international community firmly rejected decades ago, has become more entrenched with the acquiescence of the international community and failure to hold Israel accountable.”

The report calls for a “paradigm shift”, with the international community deferring to international law as the only rationale for effectively ending Israel’s occupation and settler-colonial endeavors.

“This starts with the recognition of the current reality in the occupied Palestinian territory as that of an intentionally acquisitive, segregationist and repressive regime […] that can only be resolved by respecting the cardinal norm of peoples’ right to self-determination and the recognition of the absolute illegality of the settler-colonialism and apartheid.”

The report calls on Israel to abide by its obligation to withdraw “without conditions or reservations”, as per international law; to end its “settler-colonial occupation of Palestinian territory immediately and unconditionally”; and to make reparations for “its wrongful acts”.

“Exercising the right to self-determination in the form of a politically independent State in all of the occupied Palestinian territory would be a minimum requirement of justice for the Palestinian people.”

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