A UN agency published a report on Wednesday accusing Israel of imposing an apartheid regime of racial discrimination on the Palestinian people.
UN Under-Secretary General Rima Khalaf said the report was the "first of its type" from a UN body that "clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people."
The report was published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).
The report said it had established on the "basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid."
"However, only a ruling by an international tribunal in that sense would make such an assessment truly authoritative," it added.
ESCWA released the report, Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid, at a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon.
The authors of the report concluded that "Israel has established an apartheid regime that systematically institutionalises racial oppression and domination of the Palestinian people as a whole."
According to the report, approximately 300,000 Palestinians who held the status of “permanent resident” of Israel in East Jerusalem, experience discrimination when it comes to access to education, healthcare, employment, residency and building rights.
They also suffer from expulsions and home demolitions, which serve the Israeli policy of “demographic balance” in favour of Jewish residents.
The report said the "strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people" was the main method through which Israel imposes apartheid, with Palestinians divided into four groups oppressed through "distinct laws, policies and practices."
It identified the four sets of Palestinians as: Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinians living as refugees or in exile.
Israel condemns report
Israel's foreign ministry likened the report to Der Sturmer, a Nazi propaganda publication that was strongly anti-Semitic.
Israeli UN Ambassador Danny Danon denounced the report, calling it a "blatant lie" and an "attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East."
ESCWA comprises 18 Arab states in Western Asia and aims to support economic and social development in member states, according to its website. The report was prepared at the request of member states, Khalaf said.
UN Spokesman for the Secretary-General Stephane Dujarric said the report was published without any prior consultation with the UN Secretariat.
"The report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general [Antonio Guterres]," said Dujarric, adding that the report itself notes that it reflects the views of the authors.
Authors are area experts
The report was authored by two area experts. Richard Falk is a former UN human rights investigator for the Palestinian territories and currently at UC Santa Barbara and Princeton University. Virginia Tilley is a professor of political science at Southern Illinois University.
Before leaving his post as UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories in 2014, Falk said Israeli policies bore unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
The United States, an ally of Israel, said it was outraged by the report.
"The United Nations Secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether," the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said in a statement.
Khalaf said that ESCWA hoped the report would inform further deliberations on the root causes of the problem in the UN, among member states, and in society.