UNGA head accuses Israel of apartheid

On UN Palestinian Solidarity Day, D'Escoto calls for "campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions."

Brockmann 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Brockmann 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A top UN official has called for "concrete action" against Israel over the country's treatment of Palestinians. General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann said the international community should consider sanctions against Israel including "boycott, divestment and sanctions" similar to those enacted against South Africa two decades ago. D'Escoto, who told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview last month that he "loved" Israel but disagreed with its policies, reiterated in his speech Tuesday that he had "great love for the Jewish people." But he went on to say that the Holocaust and other historical crimes against the Jews didn't give Israel "the right to abuse others, especially those who historically have such deep and exemplary relations with the Jewish people." He pointedly added that he wanted to remind Israelis that despite "the protective shield of the United States and the Security Council," nothing could excuse the failure to establish a Palestinian state. "This central fact makes a mockery of the United Nations and greatly hurts its image and prestige," d'Escoto said. D'Escoto made no mention of rocket attacks into the western Negev. "Today, perhaps we in the United Nations should consider following the lead of a new generation of civil society who are calling for a similar nonviolent campaign," said D'Escoto, a Nicaraguan diplomat who currently holds the one-year presidency. "Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories appear so similar to the apartheid of an earlier era, a continent away, and I believe it is very important we in the United Nations use this term," he said. "We must not be afraid to call something for what it is." D'Escoto's remarks kicked off a two-day plenary session on the Palestinian issue ahead of the UN's annual day of solidarity with the Palestinian people, slated for November 29. On that day in 1947, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 on the partition of Mandatory Palestine. The session, in which envoys from Arab countries and around the world condemned the failure of the Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace agreement that would establish a Palestinian state, comes two weeks after a gathering in which heads of state from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Arab countries publicly expressed optimism about the current bilateral negotiations. Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told the Post she planned to send a letter complaining about d'Escoto's comments to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "To equate, to make a similarity between apartheid and the Israeli action in the territories is something we cannot accept," she told the Post on Tuesday. "Just two weeks ago there was talk of peace, with the moderates leading the way, and now it is the same old narrative." Shalev addressed the General Assembly earlier in the day and called on the body to reject the "yearly ritual" of "bashing Israel." "Will you continue adopting resolutions that are irrelevant at best, and damaging at worst?" she challenged her colleagues. In his remarks, d'Escoto called on Israel to end its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Earlier Tuesday, checkpoints had been opened to allow humanitarian supplies to reach UN facilities. Later in the day, Ban called for an immediate end to the blanket closure on Gaza, but also "unreservedly" condemned rocket attacks on the western Negev. Their comments followed a morning of debate before the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, at which the envoy of the Palestinian Authority read a speech from President Mahmoud Abbas accusing Israel of intentionally obstructing the peace process. In the statement, Abbas called for a guarantee of "the return of our land and the rights of our refugees, and the possibility of establishing a contiguous and viable state." "What we mean by a just and lasting solution, which will end the violence in this region once and for all, is not a partial solution that will create the fertile environment for a continuation of the conflict that is more intense and deadly and could spread in the region," Abbas wrote in the statement, delivered on his behalf by PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki. A South African envoy speaking at the session also raised the specter of apartheid, comparing conditions in the West Bank and Gaza to those of two decades ago in his own country. On Tuesday, Cape Town's Cape Argus newspaper reported that South African President Kgalema Motlanthe's name, signed as president of the republic, had appeared on a published petition protesting Israel's "colonial oppression" of the Palestinian people.