Palestine: Time to Stop Buying Time

By Nadia Hijab and Diana Buttu

It is not a question of signing up to more international conventions, seeking another Advisory Opinion (which might not prove as favourable), or of going to the UN Security Council to seek an end date to the occupation only to face a US veto.

Rather, the PLO and/or Palestine would be far better advised to use existing available tools and demand that states uphold the law, in this case, by ceasing any assistance or aid to Israel in maintaining the illegal situation created by the Wall – and its associated regime – as well as ceasing any interaction with Israel that sustains its illegal settlement enterprise.

Another instrument secured by the PLO but insufficiently used because of fears of US-Israeli repercussions has been Palestine’s membership of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). As Valentina Azarov and Nidal Sliman argued in their Al-Shabaka Policy Brief, “Activating Palestine’s UNESCO Membership,” this can be used to assert Palestinian sovereignty over land and sea by invoking Palestine’s rights under, e.g., the 2001 convention on the Protection of Underwater heritage to establish control over Gaza’s coast and the Dead Sea.


UNESCO membership can also be used to compel third states and international actors to uphold their commitments to UNESCO international treaties and their obligations through domestic laws, for instance, with regards to the public display of illegally procured artifacts that had been unlawfully transferred outside of occupied territory.

As Azarov and Sliman noted, had Palestine been a member of UNESCO in 2010, it could have had standing in Canada’s courts to enforce a request to seize illegally imported cultural property.

Before Palestine was a full UNESCO member, PLO officials successfully used UNESCO as a venue to challenge Israel’s attempts to include the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Mosque of Bilal bin Rabah on its own heritage list. However, the PLO appears to be unwilling to offend the US by pushing further.battir world heritage


It delayed the completion of the process to have the landscaped terraces in Battir village added to the List of World Heritage in Danger. Instead, it took the efforts of others, including human rights lawyers, to secure a 2012 Israeli court ruling urging the rerouting of the Wall on the grounds of the vulnerability of its landscape. Based on this same argument, Battir finally won a place on UNESCO’s world heritage sites list in June this year after an emergency nomination.

The PLO needs to be much more effective in using these tools, especially the approach
of putting third states on the spot by showing them how their transactions with Israel’s settlement enterprise violate the law. And since Israel’s economic, social, and cultural systems are inextricably intertwined with those of the settlements, this would effectively lead to the isolation of Israel proper. States, especially Western European states, set great store by being seen to be upholding the law. For example, individual countries such as the United Kingdom started labeling products from Israeli settlements in 2009 so that customers could know what they were buying – although this was but a feeble, long overdue step in the right direction. More recently, many other countries have issued industry advisories regarding the risks of operating in settlements.


In 2013, the entire European Union (EU) amended its legislation and issued guidelines to exclude Israeli entities based or operating in illegal settlements from receiving EU funds – a potentially powerful step that received much Israeli push-back but achieved the ultimate result of ensuring that the EU and its member states uphold the bottom line in this sphere. What is needed is far more pressure by the PLO and Palestine on the EU and its member states to enforce a complete ban on all trade with settlements, as called for by the PLO’s own Negoatiations Affairs Department.

It is also past time for the PLO and Palestine to push for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. Indeed, more than 300 trade unions, political parties, and human rights groups across Europe called for the agreement’s suspension in November, arguing that Israel’s largely unrestricted access to European markets and participation in EU programs amounts to “material support to Israel’s violations of international law.”

Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, is an independent, non-partisan, and non-profit organisation whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law.


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