WASHINGTON — A new United Nations report advocating a boycott of settlement products came under fire from an American Jewish group, which alleges the document “distorts reality” and is detrimental to the peace process.
The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which advocates pan-Arab economic partnership, calls in its recently published report for the boycott of settlement products and accuses Israel of undermining regional stability through provoking civil wars in Arab states.
According to the Israel-based Alternative Information Center (AIC), the report “calls to revive Arab integration based on the recommendations and proposals formulated during the Arab League summits, starting with a reduction of the tariff for transporting goods by 50 percent and the boycott of Israeli settlement products.”
AIC reported that the ESCWA executive secretary is urging both Egypt and Jordan, with whom Israel has a peace agreement, to boycott Israeli settlement products.
“Boycotting the settlement products will not hurt Arab countries, including the least advantaged like Egypt and Jordan,” executive secretary Rima Khalaf stated when she presented the report, “Arab Integration: A 21st Century Development Imperative,” last Tuesday in Tunis.
AJC Executive Director David Harris said in a statement that the report’s accusations against Israel are “a gross distortion of reality that helps neither the cause of peace or of regional Arab development.”
The official summary of the report complains that “Palestine is still under Israeli occupation which is based on settlement-building and substitution, in flagrant violation of international charters and resolutions. Israel’s violation is not limited to direct occupation of Arab land and its repeated attacks on neighboring countries” but rather “consists of policies that threaten the security of Arab citizens across the region.”
The report claims that it is Israeli policies that have led to regional conflicts, including the Lebanese civil war, “in an attempt to divide the region into sectarian mini-States.” It also says that Israel’s insistence on recognition as a Jewish state “propagates the concept of religious or ethnic purity of states, a concept that inflicted on humanity the worst crimes of the last century.”
Although it does not mention the Iranian nuclear program, the summary singles out “the Israeli nuclear arsenal” as a “growing threat to the security of the region as a whole” and condemns Israel as “the only country which has threatened to use nuclear weapons against Arab capitals, and has taken preparatory measures to that end.”
In comparison to this long excoriation of Israel, internecine conflict in the Arab Middle East, such as the civil war in Syria, is accounted for in a brief paragraph reading “Perhaps the most serious threat to Arab cohesion in recent years is that posed by cultural distortion. It has created sectarian and ethnic feuds which risk tearing Arab societies apart.” A second paragraph refers to a refugee crisis in the region, but does not specify the refugees’ origin, describing the cause as “a direct result of deteriorating Arab national security.”
The report advocates for a pan-Arab solution to the security – as well as economic – challenges faced by Arab states. It bemoans the fact that “weak Arab cooperation has produced a regional system incapable of defending Arab interests, development or the sovereignty of Arab countries.” Taking a stance common in mid-twentieth-century pan-Arabist literature, it continued that “the failure of Arab countries to adopt unified positions has made them acutely vulnerable to foreign interference.”
The AJC’s Harris said in response that “Israel has accepted the concept of a two-state solution, but achieving that outcome, in the interest of reciprocity, requires the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people just as Israel would recognize the future Palestinian state as the nation-state of the Palestinian people.”
Harris added that “Israel also remains committed to guaranteeing equal rights to all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike.”
Harris expressed regret that Khalaf praised the Arab Integration report’s blatant attacks on Israel.
“The UN Charter is clear that UN officials ‘shall refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organization,’” Harris said. “By acting on her prejudices against a UN member state, Under-Secretary General Khalaf has betrayed her fundamental responsibility as an international official.”
The United Nations itself seems to have embraced the pan-Arab premise of the report. The official UN media website wrote last week that “inclusive economic integration in the Arab region would create six million new jobs by 2020 and increase regional gross domestic product by three per cent,” and said that it was “arguing for a unified model like that of the European Union or other regional economic blocs.”
While neither the UN’s in-house reporting nor the press release put out by ESCWA explicitly cite Israel in their descriptions of the report, the ESCWA’s announcement says that “the report views the divisions within the Arab region as the result of inadequate policies and outside interference which, it charges, have damaged the unity created by the common Arabic language and culture.” The “outside interference”, however, has, according to the report been largely repudiated by “the Arab uprisings” which have “proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the heritage, language and history of the Arab people are and will continue to be irrepressible forces in the twenty-first century.”