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Head of UN agency resigns over report that accuses Israel of imposing 'apartheid regime'

March 17, 2017 7:17 P.M. (Updated: March 19, 2017 7:34 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The head of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) has reportedly resigned over the publication of a report by the UN agency that concluded that Israel was guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” of imposing apartheid policies against Palestinians, and urged the international community to abide by its “legal obligation” to punish such discriminatory measures.

UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf said she resigned following pressure from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to withdraw a report, Reuters news agency reported Friday evening.

ESCWA, which comprises of 18 Arab states, had said it was the first time a UN body had clearly accused Israel of being an apartheid regime. “Aware of the seriousness of this allegation, the authors of the report conclude that available evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Israel is guilty of policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid as legally defined in instruments of international law,” an executive summary of the report read.

While the report garnered praise from Palestinians, Israeli officials were quick to denounce it, comparing it to Nazi propaganda and calling for Guterres to publicly reject it. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric later reportedly said that the report was published without consultation with the UN secretariat.

Guterres asked the commission to remove the report from its website, Reuters quoted a UN official as saying, and in a press conference in Beirut on Friday, Khalaf also told reporters the Guterres insisted on the withdrawal of the report.

"Based on that, I submitted to him my resignation from the United Nations," Khalaf reportedly said.

Nonetheless, Khalaf stood by the report, calling it the "first of its kind" from a UN agency that sheds light on "the crimes that Israel continues to commit against the Palestinian people, which amount to war crimes against humanity."

Meanwhile, Alaa Tartir, program director for Palestinian think tank al-Shabaka, had told Ma’an that the report was “very important, evidence-based, embedded in international law, and reflects the apartheid nature of the one-state reality in Palestine/Israel.”

Tartir said at the time of the report's publication that he was hopeful that it could bring about positive change after decades of military occupation and political stalemate.

“All these policy recommendations, if and when implemented, can be a game changer and will change the existing skewed power dynamics,” he said.

“Palestinian must make best use of the findings of this report and demand accountability mechanisms to ensure that the set of conclusions and recommendations are implemented and translated into political and legal actions.”

The report, which Khalaf had said had been prepared at the request of ESCWA member states, was no longer visible on the commission's website on Friday.

Palestinians, activists, and a number of intellectuals have increasingly compared Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory with an apartheid system over the years, and sought to use similar tactics as those that took down the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement founded in 2005 as a peaceful movement to restore Palestinian rights in accordance with international law has been largely influenced by the South African anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s.
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