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What Sri Lanka’s elections reveal about the UN and the Palestinians

Even though Sri Lanka is a small and remote country, Israel can learn from it three important lessons about the UN and the Palestinians. The first lesson is that snap elections can backfire. Outgoing and ousted President Mahinda Rajapaksa called an early election for January 8, 2015, two years ahead of schedule. He was thought to be a shoe-in, yet he lost to his rival Maithrilpala Sirisena. Rajapaksa, who had been in power since 2005, made his wrong decision after consulting with astrologers. Benjamin Netanyahu, by contrast, did not evoke his horoscope when he decided to break up his dysfunctional coalition and also call elections two years ahead of time. But recent polls suggest that he might have shot himself in the foot, too. The second lesson is that the International Court of Justice (ICC) has a very selective way of investigating alleged war crimes. Just as the ICC announced last week that it would examine whether Israel has a case to answer for its 2014 military operation in Gaza, it became clear with the election results in Sri Lanka that the war crimes committed there will not be investigated by the ICC. Sri Lanka is admittedly not an ICC member. Yet the Court can apply its jurisdiction to cases referred to it by the Security Council. In other words, were the Security Council to decide so, Mahinda Rajapaksa could be put on trial at the ICC for his alleged war crimes during his violent repression of the Tamil rebellion in 2009. This, however, is not going to happen. Sirisena, who himself served as defense minister during the civil war, committed during the campaign not to seek the prosecution of his rival. The United Nations Security Council, as well as the Human Rights Council, do not seem to be interested in punishing those guilty of war crimes during the Sri Lankan civil war. This 25-year war, which ended in 2009 under Rajapaksa’s watch, is estimated by the United Nations to have resulted in 80,000 and 100,000 deaths. The war was fought between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils, who sought to establish an independent state in the northern part of the island. According to a panel of experts appointed by the United Nations Secretary General, 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan government between January and May 2009. Yet the UN Security Council does not seem to think that this gruesome figure justifies a referral to the ICC. Nor is the Security Council concerned by the continuous and brutal occupation of Tamil lands. The UN is admittedly trying to conduct an investigation, but it has been denied access to the country. The third lesson is that Mahmoud Abbas’ diplomatic and legal warfare against Israel depends on allies whose support cannot be taken for granted forever. Mahinda Rajapaksa was altogether an opponent of Tamil statehood and a supporter of Palestinian statehood. He reportedly killed 40,000 Tamils, called them terrorists, and prided himself on having prevented their independence. But the Palestinians, who did not seek statehood on his island, were a different matter altogether. As a young member of parliament, Rajapaksa was instrumental in opening a PLO embassy in Colombo in 1975. As President, he supported the 2011 Palestinian bid to become a UNESCO member state, as well as the 2012 General Assembly vote to recognize Palestine as a non-member observer state. With the electoral victory of Maithrilpala Sirisena, the Palestinians can no longer take Sri Lanka’s support for granted. Sirisena is more pro-Western than his predecessor. Maithrilpala Sirisena had developed close ties with China, a regional rival of India and a global challenge to the United States. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a staunch ally of Israel, has welcomed the victory of Maithrilpala Sirisena. While they play the victims at the UN, the Palestinians have actively supported Sri Lanka’s merciless repression of Tamil independence. In 2009, the Palestinian Authority (PA) raised money not only for the reconstruction of Gaza (following the 2008-2009 Israeli military operation) but also for the Sri Lankan government, which needed to refill its coffers after a costly war. As the Palestinian Authority has chosen the path of legal and diplomatic warfare against Israel, the Palestinians’ hypocrisy must be fully exposed together with the UN’s double standards. The recent election in Sri Lanka provides a perfect opportunity to do just that. Any astrologer would surely agree that doing so is less risky thank calling an early election.

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  • ד"ר עמנואל נבון הוא מרצה בבית הספר למדע המדינה, ממשל ויחסים בינלאומיים באוניברסיטת תל-אביב, ובבית הספר לממשל, דיפלומטיה ואסטרטגיה במרכז הבינתחומי הרצליה. הוא פרשן קבוע בערוץ I24News לחדשות חוץ. ד"ר נבון שימש בעבר כראש התכנית למדע המדינה ותקשורת במכללה החרדית בירושלים, כשותף מייסד של קבוצת נבון-לוי בע"מ (חברת ייעוץ לקידום פרויקטים חקלאיים ישראלים באפריקה), כמנכ"ל הרשת העסקית לשיתוף פעולה בינלאומי (עמותה להכשרת ראשי המשק הישראלי בתחום ההסברה), וכיועץ בחברת ארטיק (חברת ייעוץ המתמחה בהשגת מימון למחקר ופיתוח מן האיחוד האירופאי). נבון פרסם ספרים ומאמרים רבים בכתבי עת ובעיתונים מובילים, מתראיין באופן קבוע בכלי תקשורת בארץ ובעולם, ומרצה באוניברסיטאות ובקהילות יהודיות ברחבי העולם. הוא בוגר במנהל ציבורי מהמכון למדעי המדינה בפריס (Sciences-Po) ובעל תואר דוקטור ביחסים בינלאומיים מהאוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים.

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