UNITED NATIONS - The president of
the General Assembly, Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, dropped a
political bombshell last week when he lashed out at Israel for its
repressive actions in the occupied territories, including the recent
blockade of humanitarian aid to Gaza.
"What is being done to
the Palestinian people seems to me to be a version of the hideous
policy of apartheid," he told delegates, during a meeting commemorating
the "International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People".
A senior U.N. official told IPS: "I cannot remember any Assembly president so publicly vocal in denouncing Israel."
D'Escoto damned both the Israelis and the United Nations for the plight
of the Palestinians. "And he was on target," the official added.
"I believe," D'Escoto said, "that the failure to create a
Palestinian state as promised is the single greatest failure in the
history of the United Nations."
Nadia Hijab, senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute
for Palestine Studies, told IPS that D'Escoto's comments are a welcome
reminder of the reality on the ground, and "a valiant attempt to hold
the international community responsible for its posturing on the
Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and siege of Gaza."
She said Father Miguel's "remarkable statement" carries more resonance given the silence of world powers.
"And his tenure still has nine months to go," said Hijab, of D'Escoto's
stint as Assembly president, which expires in September 2009.
Addressing the Assembly last week, D'Escoto pointed out that it has
been 60 years since some 800,000 Palestinians were driven out of their
homes and property, becoming refugees and an uprooted and marginalised
The General Assembly, 61 years ago this month, adopted a
historic resolution (181) calling for the creation of a Jewish State
and an Arab State, he said.
"The State of Israel, founded a year later in 1948, celebrates 60 years
of its existence," D'Escoto said, "Shamefully, there is still no
Palestinian State to celebrate."
The New York-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA)
condemned the General Assembly for commemorating Palestine Solidarity
Day and "deplored" D'Escoto's remarks which "compared Israel's policies
in the Palestinian territories to South Africa's apartheid policies."
JCPA Chair Andrea Weinstein said: "It is terribly sad that the members
of the General Assembly find it necessary to spend two days
participating in programmes criticising a member states' existence."
It is even more "abhorrent", Weinstein said, that the
Assembly's current president would seek to de-legitimise Israel by
comparing its policies to those of apartheid South Africa.
D'Escoto has also come under attack for embracing Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during the General Assembly sessions in September.
Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev responded by calling D'Escoto an "Israeli hater".
Stephen Zunes, professor of Politics and International Studies at the
University of San Francisco, told IPS: "As most of us who have actually
visited the West Bank in recent years can testify, it really is an
apartheid-like situation, with Jewish-only settlements connected by
Jewish-only roads with Arabs allowed in only for menial labour while
their communities -- divided by hundreds of Israeli checkpoints --
languish in increasing poverty and deprivation."
"Recognising this situation as it is and the critical
importance of establishing a viable Palestinian state is not being
anti-Israel, as an increasing numbers of Israelis themselves are
recognising, but is simply a reflection of reality," said Zunes, who
chairs the University's programme in Middle East studies.
Hijab told IPS that the Israeli occupation is now so dire that it has
driven the most moderate of Palestinian leaders-- Salam Fayyad -- to
speak out against European plans to upgrade their relations with
Fayyad, who is credited by the United States and Europe for his efforts
to bring transparency to Palestinian financial transactions and
security to Palestinian cities, said "the misery index in Gaza has
never been higher" and that the world community is not telling Israel
that there is a trade-off for internationally unlawful behaviour, she
Hijab commended the Assembly president for having the courage of his convictions to speak out against Israel.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, however, diplomatically distanced himself from D'Escoto's statement.
Asked for a response, his spokeswoman told reporters: "The
Secretary-General cannot comment on a statement by the President of the
General Assembly. The statement is his own."
"And the secretary-general made his concerns about the Palestinian
issue clear in his statement. I think his statement stands," she added.
The U.S.-born D'Escoto was ordained as a priest of the
Maryknoll Missionaries in the early 1960s. He graduated from the
prestigious School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York,
served for over a decade (1979-1990) as the foreign minister of
Nicaragua, and is currently a senior adviser on foreign affairs, with
the rank of minister, to the left-leaning Nicaraguan President Daniel
A gadfly who is forthright in his comments, D'Escoto also
recently blasted the heads of both the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund for skipping a key U.N. conference on Financing for
Development in the Qatari capital of Doha.
Without identifying the United States by name, he said the two Bretton
Woods institutions "are controlled by a member of the United Nations
who is anti-United Nations".
"It's a shame," he added.
At a press conference, he also said that President George W.
Bush came to the United Nations twice to address the General Assembly.
"But they did not even have the minimum politeness to acknowledge me -- not once but twice."
"He (Bush) spoke before the General Assembly, but he ignored
me. He was the only world leader to do that. But I still love him
anyway," D'Escoto added.
The Assembly president ranks higher than the secretary-general in the U.N. totem pole.
And at international conferences, it's the elected president of
the General Assembly, not the secretary-general, who represents the
U.N.'s 192 member states.