Palestinian leaders on Saturday condemned the United Nations for scrapping an agency’s report that charged Israel is an “apartheid regime” guilty of “racial domination” over the Palestinians.

Published last week by the Beirut-based Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the report drew swift and vociferous criticism from US and Israeli officials, and led to the resignation of the agency’s director after the UN secretary-general ordered it removed from UN websites.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly called commission chair Rima Khalaf to congratulate her for resigning in protest at the UN’s rejection of her report, and to promise her the PA’s highest honors.

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi accused UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of giving in to politically motivated intimidation in rejecting the report.

“Instead of succumbing to political blackmail or allowing itself to be censured or intimidated by external parties, the UN should condemn the acts described in the report and hold Israel responsible,” Ashrawi said, according to the official Palestinian Authority news agency Wafa.

She praised the report as a “step in the right direction” which highlighted “the true reality on the ground which is one of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and military occupation.” She also demanded Guterres “undertake serious and concrete measures to hold Israel accountable for its persistent violations of international law and human rights.”

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki also condemned the UN’s deletion of the report.

“Shelving the report does not shelve the reality on the ground,” he said according to Channel 2.

Rima Khalaf in 2014 (YouTube screenshot)

Rima Khalaf in 2014 (YouTube screenshot)

After ESCWA, which comprises 18 Arab countries, published its report entitled “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” last Wednesday, the US demanded the document be removed from UN websites. “The United States is outraged by the report,” US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said in a statement.

UN chief Guterres initially distanced himself from the report, and later ordered it removed from ESCWA’s website.

ESCWA executive secretary Khalaf on Friday announced her resignation in protest of Guterres’s order.

“The secretary-general asked me yesterday morning to withdraw [the report]. I asked him to rethink his decision, he insisted, so I submitted my resignation from the UN,” Khalaf said at a Friday press conference in Beirut.

“We expected of course that Israel and its allies would put huge pressure on the secretary-general of the UN so that he would disavow the report, and that they would ask him to withdraw it,” Khalaf, who had also served as an under-secretary-general to Guterres, added.

Guterres accepted Khalaf’s resignation. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric explained to media in New York that “the secretary-general cannot accept that an under-secretary-general or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorize the publication under the UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself,” according to Reuters.

Israel ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon addresses the UN Security Council on January 17, 2017 (Courtesy)

Israel ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon addresses the UN Security Council on January 17, 2017 (Courtesy)

Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon and Washington’s ambassador to the world body, Nikki Haley, welcomed Khalaf’s resignation. Khalaf has long been criticized by Israeli officials for her perceived anti-Israel positions.

Danon said Guterres’s move was “an important step in stopping discrimination against Israel.” In a statement, Danon said “Anti-Israel activists do not belong in the UN. It is time to put an end to practice in which UN officials use their position to advance their anti-Israel agenda.” He added that “over the years Khalaf has worked to harm Israel and advocate for the BDS movement. Her removal from the UN is long overdue.”

US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley, who had demanded the report’s withdrawal Wednesday, said in a statement: “When someone issues a false and defamatory report in the name of the US, it is appropriate that the person resign. UN agencies must do a better job of eliminating false and biased work, and I applaud the secretary-general’s decision to distance his good office from it.”

ESCWA’s report said 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.”

Its authors concluded that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that systematically institutionalizes racial oppression and domination of the Palestinian people as a whole.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres shaking hands with new US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at the United Nations in New York, January 27, 2017. (AFP/Bryan R. Smith)

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres shaking hands with new US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at the United Nations in New York, January 27, 2017. (AFP/Bryan R. Smith)

The Beirut-based commission slammed Israel’s Law of Return, “conferring on Jews worldwide the right to enter Israel and obtain Israeli citizenship regardless of their countries of origin and whether or not they can show links to Israel-Palestine, while withholding any comparable right from Palestinians, including those with documented ancestral homes in the country,” as a policy of “demographic engineering” meant to uphold Israel’s status as the Jewish state.

The report further accused Israel of “practices” that have fragmented Palestinians, arguing that it is the “principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime.”

Richard Falk (photo credit: AP/Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi/File)

Richard Falk (AP/Keystone/Salvatore Di Nolfi/File)

The report was compiled by Richard Falk, a Princeton professor emeritus with a long track record of vehemently anti-Israel rhetoric who previously was the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Palestine, and by Virginia Tilley, an American political scientist who authored the book “The One-State Solution” in 2005.

Haley described Falk as “a man who has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments about Israel and espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories.”

Agencies contributed to this report.