by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The United States is leading a behind-the-scenes effort to eliminate or shrink "outdated" programs and missions, ostensibly to cut costs and prune the UN's biennial budget.
As part of the new cost-cutting exercise, there is a proposal to either abolish or downsize UN programs and activities relating to Palestinians.
The proposal has triggered strong protests not only from the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations but also from the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).
The potential threats are against the UN Division for Palestinian Rights, which comes under the Department of Political Affairs, and two longstanding committees created by the General Assembly in the 1970s: the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in the Occupied Territories.
Ambassador Riyad Mansour of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine told IPS that there are moves in "certain quarters" to prod the UN Secretariat to take a "hostile position."
"The Secretariat has no role in this," he said, pointing out that the decisions on the mandates of the various committees are made by the 191-member General Assembly.
At a closed-door meeting of the 132-member Group of 77 (G77) developing countries last week, Mansour told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that there was "a conspiracy" to use the Secretariat to abolish some of the Palestinian programs.
"These programs should remain until Israeli occupation ends," he told Annan. He also said these programs are evaluated annually in "a democratic way" by the General Assembly. "We should not allow anyone to drive a wedge between the Secretary-General and the General Assembly," Mansour added.
In response to questions directed at him, Annan assured the G77 delegates that it is "up to you to decide what should remain and what should be eliminated."
"We have no intentions of putting Arab nations on the defensive," he added. "The Secretariat is not imposing anything on you."
A New York newspaper quoted U.S. Ambassador John Bolton as saying that the United States would oppose the adoption of the UN's two-year budget for 2006-2007 until and unless there were wide-ranging changes in management, including "the elimination of outdated missions."
According to one Arab diplomat, "this is a code word for Palestinian programs." He said the move to "shrink" the UN Division for Palestinian Rights and the proposal to eliminate or downsize the two committees dealing with Palestinian issues are being prompted by two countries: the United States and Israel.
According to the newspaper report, the UN Controller Warren Sach refused to identify specific programs or missions that are likely to be axed. Sach told reporters that the proposed $3.89 billion budget for 2006-2007 included $73.4 million for the reform of the world body, including the creation of new institutional bodies.
Besides cutting costs, the United States is also calling for a restructuring of the management, the creation of a new Peace Building Commission, and the establishment of a Human Rights Council. The budget cutting, if any, is to be directed primarily at Palestinian programs.
"I suspect financial considerations are the least of concerns producing such proposals," says Mouin Rabbani, contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report.
He said there has been a consistent Israeli policy going back more or less to the Jewish state's establishment by the United Nations that the world body should not concern itself with Palestinians, and especially not with their human and national rights.
"One of the clearest expressions of this policy has been Israel's systematic refusal to allow the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices in the Occupied Territories to even visit the West Bank and Gaza Strip," Rabbani told IPS.
This has largely passed without so much as an international whimper; the contrast with vociferous and muscular demands that a steady procession of Arab states comply with a slew of ever more intrusive UN demands is all too evident, he added.
"We now have the thoroughly bizarre situation of Syria being threatened with UN Security Council sanctions in order to compel its cooperation with an unprecedented UN investigation into the murder of a private citizen, Rafik Hariri, whereas the United Nations at the end of the day chose to not even investigate the actions of the Israeli military at the Jenin refugee camp in 2002," he added.
Israeli troops attacked the camp a week after a Palestinian bomber blew up a Passover feast. Civilians were among the dozens killed in the eight-day battle.
"And let's not forget that it's more or less established fact that Annan's predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, sealed his fate after publishing the UN report into Israel's attack on the Kana UN peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) encampment in Lebanon in 1996 -- a crime in which more than 100 civilian non-combatants were killed and which remains, and will remain, entirely unpunished," he said.
Naseer Aruri, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, said current attempts by the UN Secretariat to cut down or eliminate some of the programs relating to the Palestinians are part of an ongoing U.S.-Israeli inspired campaign to dismantle the international jurisprudence of the Palestine question.
"That jurisprudence embodies hundreds of UN resolutions, which define and enshrine Palestinian national and legal rights," he told IPS.
In 1975, by its resolution 3376, the General Assembly established the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People in order to promote international support for and assistance to the Palestinian people, in accordance with UN resolutions, said Aruri, author of "Dishonest Broker: The U.S. Role in Israel and Palestine."
He said the committee was mandated to recommend a program enabling the Palestinian people to exercise their inalienable rights to self-determination without external interference, national independence and sovereignty; and to return to their homes and property.
"These committees are being targeted in order to prevent them from fulfilling their mandate of promotion and protection of Palestinian national and human rights, in addition to exposing Israeli repression of Palestinians under occupation, described by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations as war crimes," Aruri said.
Rabbani of the Middle East Report said a key factor here is that it has, since at least the 1990s, also become official U.S. policy that the United Nations should simply disengage from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This was best exemplified by former U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright's letter to member states demanding the annulment of a slew of UN resolutions concerning Palestinian rights, and demands (since withdrawn) that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) simply be abolished.
"So in sum I'm hardly surprized by any of these developments. The only question this time around is whether or not such proposals will this time succeed where in the past they have largely failed," he said.
"Given the manner in which the United Nations is increasingly lining up with United States and Israeli policy positions in the Middle East, I would describe their prospects for success as better than ever," Rabbani said.
"The larger problem as I see it is that the United Nations has become an increasingly marginal and irrelevant factor in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not an insignificant observation, if the UN's historic role in this conflict and responsibility for its resolution is taken into account," he said.
Aruri said the aim of neo-conservatives in the administration of President. Bush, who share Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's world view, has been to equate armed struggle with terrorism -- hence the continuous assault on Palestinian rights in an effort to undo a half century of accumulated diplomatic achievements at the international and jurisprudential levels.
November 30, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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