Global Policy Forum

UN Secretariat Keeps Distance from Hamas


By Haider Rizvi

Inter Press Service
April 14, 2006

While those running the affairs of the United Nations seem ready to embrace U.S. and Israeli moves to boycott the Palestinian leadership, independent analysts and observers wonder if such an approach will produce anything but another cycle of violence and bloodshed.

Despite overwhelming support for the Palestinians in the U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council, U.N. officials are making it clear that they will no longer have unrestricted political contacts with the Palestinian Authority. "The situation before and after the election is not the same," Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told reporters Tuesday, adding that the new policy requires U.N. officials to seek permission from Annan before talking to the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Hamas, which came to power after a landslide victory in the recent Palestinian elections, is considered by the U.S, Israel and some European nations to be a terrorist organisation. Critics say the U.N. decision to boycott Hamas cannot be justified because neither the 191-member General Assembly nor the 15-member Security Council has ever passed any resolution declaring it a terrorist organisation.

"It's one thing for the U.S. to run roughshod on international legality. It's quite another thing for the U.N., our last hope for a world system based on rule of law, to consider following suit," says Nasser Aruri, author of several books and professor (emeritus) of political science at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth.

Annan's decision to maintain a distance from the new Palestinian Authority appears to be in reaction to Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel, but observers say that is unfair because Israel, which has violated a number of international agreements, has also never recognised Palestine and refuses to renounce violence against the Palestinian people. "We may not question the pursuit of immoral policies by the U.S. and Israel," says Prof. Aruri, "but the adherence of the EU and the U.N. to a variant of the boycott imposed on an elected Palestinian government, as well as a people battered by a brutal occupation, is surprising,"

Despite its decision to have restrained relations with Palestinian officials, the U.N. says it will continue its work related to humanitarian aid in the Occupied Territories. However, those closely watching the Palestinian situation say the cuts in aid by the U.S. and the European Union are already causing hardship for ordinary Palestinians. Palestinians who are registered with the U.N. refugee agency UNRWA are expected to get some food, although supplies are running out due to an Israeli blockade around Gaza and the rest of the Occupied Territories, according to humanitarian aid activists.

The Palestinian Authority owes salaries to some 150,000 civil servants, who together with their families account for one-third of the Palestinian population. Most of them have not been paid for weeks, and have no idea if or how they will be. "They are quickly slipping into poverty," says Nadia Hijab, senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Palestine Studies, an independent, non-profit Arab research organisation that is devoted to a better understanding of the question of Palestine. "What's even worse is the climate of fear and uncertainty among aid organisations because they do not know how far their staffers could go in dealing with the Palestinian officials who are liable for prosecution in the U.S."

On Friday, Oxfam, the international charity, slammed the EU for suspending aid worth 37 million dollars to the Palestinian government, saying the move would hurt ordinary people. "Whatever the politics of such a decision, it would be ordinary people who would suffer the consequences," the group said. "Cutting aid now would undermine already fragile local institutions."

In light of the mounting pressure from the West and the U.N., Mahmoud Zahar, the Palestinian foreign minister, reportedly sent a letter to Annan this week saying his government was committed to the two-state solution. "If Israel evacuates the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and recognises the right of return for refugees and dismantles the new wall, I can guarantee you that Hamas will be ready for serious steps, founded on justice and equality, in view of a permanent peace with the Israelis," Khalid Meshaal, a Hamas leader, told the French newspaper Le Figaro recently.

In Prof. Aruri's view, all of Meshaal's demands, contrary to those of Israel and its supporters, are grounded in international law. "Shouldn't the U.N. be the repository of international law and the anchor of international legality?" he asks. "The campaign against Hamas is essentially the latest phase of the onslaught against Palestinian rights."

So far, Hamas has failed to receive any positive response from Annan and his close aides, who many believe have come too close to Washington in deciding organisational matters that should have been guided by the relevant bodies of the General Assembly. Justifying the change in U.N. policy on the question of dealing with the Palestinians, Annan's spokesman told reporters Tuesday: "You had a different government that had a different policy."

In response, Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour expressed the hoped that the U.N. would act differently. "I have checked with those in the upper echelons. They said there is no change in policy," Mansour told IPS Thursday. The U.N. spokesman's office, however, suggested otherwise. "Yes, there is change in policy," insisted a spokesperson in response to Mansour's assertion.

On Thursday, the Palestinians took their case against increasing Israeli military attacks to the Security Council, but the U.S. rejected a draft resolution on the ground that it was "disproportionately" critical of Israel. Washington, however, has agreed on opening public debate about the proposal in the Security Council on this issue. Aware that such a debate would offer no legal recourse, the Palestinians are hoping to use the occasion to claim a moral victory. Requested by the Non-Aligned Movement, the meeting is expected to be attended by more than 100 countries.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on UN Involvement
More Information on Israel, Palestine, and the Occupied Territories
More Information on Land and Settlement Issues


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