UNITED NATIONS (IPS) — The president of the General Assembly, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, dropped a political bombshell last week when he lashed out at Israel for repressive actions in the occupied territories, including the blockade of humanitarian aid to Gaza, which was partially eased on Thursday.
United Nations General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann
A senior U.N. official told IPS: “I cannot remember any Assembly president so publicly vocal in denouncing Israel.”
D’Escoto slammed 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 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 D’Escoto’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 marginalized people.
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 programs criticizing a member states’ existence.”
It is even more “abhorrent,” Weinstein said, that the Assembly’s current president would seek to de-legitimize Israel by comparing its policies to those of apartheid South Africa.
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 labor while their communities — divided by hundreds of Israeli checkpoints — languish in increasing poverty and deprivation.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 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.”
The U.S.-born D’Escoto was ordained a priest of the Maryknoll Missionaries in the early 1960s. He graduated from the School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York, served as the foreign minister of Nicaragua and is currently a senior adviser on foreign affairs to the left-leaning Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra.
The Assembly president ranks higher than the secretary-general in the U.N. totem pole.
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.