Palestinians challenge Israel at U.N.

NEW YORK, March 8 (JTA) — An old tradition is being revived at the United Nations: challenging Israel’s credentials. The Palestinians’ U.N. representative, Nasser Al-Kidwa, plans to introduce a U.N. General Assembly resolution later this month that would limit Israel’s U.N. credentials to its pre-1967 borders and give Palestinians the right to represent the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem. “We uncovered this scheme about a week ago,” said Arye Mekel, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. “This is another effort by the Palestinians, part of their ongoing campaign against the state of Israel.” Challenging Israel’s U.N. credentials was common practice in pre-Oslo days but resurfaced recently only in a failed attempt last year. Palestinians introduced the resolution in December but decided against bringing it to a vote due to weak support. The move comes as pro-Israel activists await an opinion by the International Court of Justice at The Hague on the legality of Israel’s West Bank security barrier. The pro-Palestinian faction at the United Nations sent the issue to The Hague. It also comes as Israel awaits its next trial: the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which opens a six-week session in Geneva on March 15. “Once again, the Palestinians will lead in using the commission to flog Israel,” said the American Jewish Committee’s executive director, David Harris, summarizing his recent meetings with key U.N. ambassadors in Geneva. The commission typically devotes one agenda item to Israel and another to the rest of the world. It generally passes a host of resolutions accusing Israel of human rights violations, ranging from extrajudicial killings to impairing Palestinians’ economic rights and freedom of movement. But this year’s meeting of the commission may be “business as usual, and then some,” Harris said — with an additional session possible on Israel’s security fence. Still, Harris noted that the commission chairman, Australia’s U.N. ambassador, Mike Smith, is a “refreshing change” from last year’s chair. Najat al-Hajaji, Libya’s U.N. ambassador, chaired the 2003 forum, where she did not condemn Palestinian rhetoric comparing Zionism to Nazism. In the meantime, Israel is hoping to stave off renewed attacks on its credentials. In diplomatic meetings, the Jewish state argues against mixing technical issues with substantive ones, which could open the floodgates for countries with border disputes. So far, Israel is getting a “fair and good hearing,” Mekel said. Most countries view the Palestinian move as crossing a red line, he said. The Palestinians’ Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations did not return JTA’s phone calls. One U.S. official lambasted the Palestinians’ move to challenge Israel’s credentials. “We have said over and over again that this is a futile effort,” the official said. They “should work with Israel to try to solve some of the friction and deal with some of the outstanding issues that need to be dealt with at the peace process.” Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs at B’nai B’rith International, said the move underscores a Palestinian strategy to circumvent the peace process and challenge Israel’s very existence. “The Palestinians are trying to get the U.N. to confer legitimacy to them as a state without going through a negotiated process,” she said. For example, she said, the Palestinians at the International Court of Justice argued for sanctions on Israel like those imposed on apartheid-era South Africa, which ultimately led to regime change. “The Palestinians are doing this in order to achieve a regime change in Israel from a Jewish democratic government to a Palestinian government,” she said. The move must be countered quickly, Harris said. Al-Kidwa “can’t be ignored because he pretty much has the Arab bloc in the palm of his hand,” Harris said. “He usually can deliver the 22 Arab League members — and that, of course, triggers the process that leads to the automatic majority too often.”

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