Britain just made history at the UN, after laying down a ridiculous ultimatum

may ruling
Tracy Keeling

Britain just made history at the UN. In a first, it voted against a resolution on Israel out of step with European countries. It follows the UK laying down an ultimatum in March. It put the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) “on notice” and threatened to vote against every effort to create a free Palestine unless the council stopped taking so much action on the country’s occupier, Israel.

Britain is certainly carving itself a notable place in the world. But it’s not a position many Britons will be proud of holding.

Palestine Day

It was the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on 29 November. To mark the occasion the UN passed six resolutions related to Palestine and Israel. One of these called on Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war. The UK doesn’t officially recognise that Israel has any claim to the area for that reason. But it voted against the UN demand for Israel to give the area back. The UK representative called the resolution “unnecessary and disproportionate”.

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Britain also accused Syria of using the resolution to “deflect attention” from its brutal actions at home. And, without any sense of irony, the representative said:

The duty of the General Assembly is to draw attention to international humanitarian law violations, wherever they occur. This resolution risks discrediting that vital responsibility.

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Israel has committed numerous violations of international law and human rights during its 50-year occupation of Palestine and the Golan Heights.

Free Israel

This isn’t the only resolution, however, that Britain is unhappy with. The UK mission announced at an earlier session in March that the UNHRC is now “on notice” because of the “disproportionate focus” it’s placing on Israel. And it threatened to vote against all resolutions “concerning Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Syrian and Palestinian Territories” unless the country ceased being a “permanent standing item” on the UN agenda.

At that session, the UK also reminded the UN that justice should be “blind and impartial”. Quite. It should condemn injustice wherever it occurs. And so it’s right to criticise the Israeli occupation, where Palestinians live as second class citizens. Britain’s ridiculous ultimatum, however, and its vote on the Golan Heights, shows it’s unable to take its own advice.

Correction: This article was updated at 19.05 on 4 December. It originally suggested that the ultimatum was laid down on 29 November. It now clarifies that the UK made the ultimatum at an earlier UN session in March. The headline has also been changed to reflect this.

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