Ninety countries condemned Israel’s policies in the occupied West Bank on Monday, supporting a previous UN resolution. The resolution had been called for by the Palestinian Authority, asking UN member states to support an advisory ruling from the International Court of Justice.
The 193-member General Assembly voted 87-26 with 53 abstentions in support of the resolution on December 30, but a statement said the countries “reject punitive measures in response to a request for an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice”.
Israel frequently restricts the movement of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, in some cases sealing off sections of entire towns during military operations or closing roads, which critics say amounts to collective punishment.
So-called “flying checkpoints,” also cause long delays for Palestinians, who are often subject to strict security checks. Israel has been widely condemned for rigging the family homes of Palestinian militants with bombs following attacks, and filming the subsequent detonation, which activists also decry as illegal collective punishment.
Israel’s new hardline government responded on January 6 to the resolution, approving steps to penalise the Palestinians in retaliation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting of his cabinet two days later that the measures against the Palestinians were aimed at what he called “an extreme anti-Israel” step at the United Nations.
The government’s Security Cabinet decided to withhold $39 million from the Palestinian Authority and transfer the funds to a compensation programme for the families of Israeli victims of Palestinian militant attacks.
It also decided to deduct the amount of revenue Israel typically transfers to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority by a sum equal to the amount paid last year to families of Palestinian prisoners and those killed in the conflict, including militants implicated in attacks against Israelis.
The Palestinian leadership describes the payments as necessary social welfare, while Israel says the so-called Martyrs’ Fund incentivises violence.
The Security Cabinet also targeted Palestinian officials directly, saying it would deny benefits to “VIPs who are leading the political and legal war against Israel.”
The first Palestinian affected was Foreign Minister Riad Malki, who said in a statement on January 8 that he was returning from the Brazilian president’s inauguration when he was informed that Israel rescinded his VIP travel permit, which allows top Palestinian officials to travel more easily in and out of the occupied West Bank than ordinary Palestinians.
The statement was signed by representatives of Arab nations and the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Co-operation and 37 countries — 27 of them from Europe, including Germany, France and Italy, as well as Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.
Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour welcomed the statement of support, telling The Associated Press that “we exercised our democratic rights to go to the General Assembly in a peaceful way, a legal way, and put a question to the ICJ to seek an advisory opinion”.
“What is amazing about that statement,” he said, is that it was signed by some countries that abstained or voted against the resolution referring the question to the court.
“But to punish people for going to the General Assembly in an adoption of a resolution is something else,” Mr Mansour said. “That’s why they stood with us and opposed this policy of the Israeli government, and they are demanding a reversal of this decision.”
He predicted more countries will support the statement when the Security Council holds its monthly meeting on the Middle East focusing on the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict on January 18.
Agencies contributed to this report.