Dec 23, 2019

UN anti-racism committee accepts Palestinian complaint against Israel

Palestinian protestor waves a flag in the West Bank. Photo: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in Geneva decided ten days ago to open an investigation into a Palestinian complaint that claims Israel is promoting apartheid policies in the West Bank, Israeli foreign ministry officials tell me.

Why it matters: The decision came several days before the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) took a step toward opening an investigation against Israel for alleged war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza. A determination about Israeli policies by the UN CERD will be deemed authoritative by international bodies such as the ICC.

The backdrop: In 2014, the Palestinian Authority joined the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which Israel is also party to. In April 2018, the Palestinians filed an official complaint against Israel to the UN committee and claimed Israeli policies in the West Bank are similar to apartheid in South Africa.

  • Israeli officials told me that right after the Palestinians joined the convention in 2014, Israel notified the UN committee that it doesn’t recognize their membership.
  • Therefore, Israeli officials say that when the Palestinian complaint reached the committee a year and a half ago, its members didn’t know whether they had jurisdiction to discuss it.

Between the lines: The Palestinian complaint was the first time ever that state or a state-like entity filed a complaint against another a member of the convention.

  • Israeli officials told me that in the 1980s, Syria sought to file a complaint against Israel, but that it was rejected by the committee because Syria didn’t recognize Israel.

Israeli foreign ministry officials told me the committee asked the UN legal adviser in New York for his legal opinion on whether it has jurisdiction to discuss the Palestinian complaint due to this unique situation.

  • Several months later, the UN legal adviser presented an opinion arguing that because Israel doesn’t recognize the Palestinians as being a party to the convention, the committee doesn’t have jurisdiction and the complaint must be rejected.
  • Israeli foreign ministry officials told me the committee disregarded the opinion of the UN legal adviser and decided on Dec. 12 that it has jurisdiction to investigate the Palestinian complaint.

What’s next: The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination will now begin a process of conciliation between Israel and the Palestinians and invite both sides for a hearing. At the end of the process, the committee will determine whether the Palestinian complaint was warranted and issue recommendations.  

  • Israel still hasn’t decided whether it will cooperate with the proceedings, but Israeli officials said that it most likely will not.
  • The Israeli officials told me: “It looks like a predetermined result and we are not sure there is any point in taking part in such a process."

Go deeper: International Criminal Court moves closer to investigation of Israel

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