Israel has indeed experienced international isolation. But something new is afoot.
On May 14, 2018, the Donald Trump administration relocated the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The relocation of an embassy in any country other than Israel would have elicited no more than a worldwide yawn. After all, there has never been controversy about any country’s decision as to where it will locate its capital. Israel is different. Why?
The Battle for Legitimacy
For the past 70 years Israel has been embroiled in a conflict with its Arab neighbors over the very notion of a Jewish state in the middle of the Arab world.
The international community — in the form of governments, nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations, journalists and others — has maintained an obsessive focus on Israel, one of the tiniest nations in the world. International actors of every stripe scrutinize and often condemn Israel. They wag their fingers disapprovingly at this little state and warn that Israel is internationally isolated, a malady that has put Israel on the road to disaster — so they say.
The naysayers cite many causes for this, but all stem from the notion that Israel is illegitimate. Israel has no right to “occupy” the West Bank; to impose a blockade on the enemy quasi-state in Gaza; or to claim sovereignty over the ancient Jewish city of Jerusalem. Increasingly they say Israel has no right to exist at all.
Anyone who reads news coverage of Israel may very well think, “The whole world is against Israel. So Israel must be in the wrong.”
In this post I examine one facet of “The Whole World is against Israel” phenomenon: international condemnation of President Trump’s move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
History and International Law
First, a bit of history. In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states: one for Jews and one for Arabs. The Jews accepted and celebrated. But Israel’s Arab neighbors, as well as the Arab League, rejected the partition plan and launched a genocidal war in which they threatened to “drive the Jews into the sea.” The Arabs lost, the Jews won, and Israel came into being.
Under the 1947 UN Partition Plan voted by the General Assembly, the contested city of Jerusalem was given neither to the Arabs nor the Jews. Instead, it was designated as a city to be governed under international auspices. Because of the Arab invasions of Israel, that never happened.
Those who oppose national embassies in Jerusalem cite the Partition Plan to argue that Israel has no legal right to Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem. They ignore the legal reality that, according to the UN Charter, votes of the General Assembly are advisory only and do not carry the weight of international law. The Arabs rejected the Partition Plan and spent the next 70 years waging wars against Israel. They say they have now changed their mind and will agree to partition after all—-at least for the time being, until they are strong enough to defeat Israel in a future war.
If the UN’s 1947 Partition Plan did not establish any nation’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, is there another legal act that did so? Yes.
In 1922 the League of Nations (the UN’s predecessor) approved the San Remo Resolutions which granted to the Jews the territory that is today Israel, the West Bank and Jordan. According to the League, this territory was to be the site for the re-establishment of a Jewish Home in Palestine. (The League gave Great Britain the option to divide this territory. Britain did so by ceding 78% of the territory—-the lands east of the Jordan River— to the new Arab state of Jordan.1) When the US established the UN in 1945, all provisions of the League of Nations—-including the San Remo Resolutions—-were adopted by the UN and today continue to be international law.
Jerusalem was within the territory assigned to the Jews, where it remains today. (From 1948 to 1967 Jordan illegally occupied the eastern section of the city.)
No UN action since then has changed this legal status of the ancient Jewish city of Jerusalem. (UN Resolution 2334, passed in December 2016, did declare East Jerusalem “occupied territory” but that vote was not taken under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, so it is not legally binding under international law.)
Thus, the US decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem is perfectly legal.
The Deep Bias of the United Nations
If Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is rooted in international law, and national embassies in Jerusalem are legal, why did so many nations vote against the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem?
The answer is that UN votes are politically motivated. They are not based on the history of the region, the legal status of territory, or any other rational basis. They are certainly not based on what is right or just. As the French president once remarked to an Israeli official, “Nations have interests.”
A large bloc of the 193 UN member nations consists of Arab and Muslim states or their allies, states dependent on Arab oil. Arab and Muslim nations oppose Israel no matter what it does. They oppose Israel based on religious and nationalistic motives and deep shame and resentment at the success of a small group of Jews in winning victory over the forces of Islam. Of course, the widespread belief that Israelis mistreat Palestinians adds to the shame and anger of these nations. But few, if any, truly care about the Palestinians. They have shown this time and again with their policies of excluding, oppressing and ethnically cleansing Palestinians from their own countries. (Jordan is a partial exception.)
According to the Israel advocacy organization, Stand With Us:
……Israel is increasingly the target of unbalanced double standards by the United Nations. Every year, the UN General Assembly condemns Israel with an average of 18 resolutions, in many cases using language from resolutions introduced every year since the 1970s. As the UN grew to 192 [now 193] members, it admitted autocratic, undemocratic countries that formed a majority voting bloc of 57 Arab and Muslim countries constituting the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and have maintained a united front in opposing Israel and consistently voting to denounce Israel and pass anti-Israel resolutions. They use UN organs to support Palestinian extremism and obsessively single out and denounce only one country: Israel.2
Israel is tiny and the Arab and Muslim worlds are huge. Arab oil wealth and the massive markets of Muslim countries have led many western nations, for reasons of commerce and energy supply, to side with the wider Arab and Muslim world against tiny Israel.
These dynamics have spawned a deeply flawed United Nations that is absurdly — often comically — anti-Israel.3 In describing the UN’s notoriously anti-Israel Human Rights Council, the Director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust commented,
The Council plays a leading role in the demonization and deligitimization of the Jewish state by the United Nations.
In its history, the Council has condemned Israel more often than any other of the 192 UN states. Comparative totals after this session’s program  tell the story: Israel-78 resolutions and decisions, Syria-29, North Korea-9, and Iran 6. As for Saudi Arabia, Russia and China, there’s nothing at all.
Think of it this way: 500,000 dead in Syria, forced starvation and mass torture in North Korea, systematic and lethal oppression in Iran, gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, and an elementary lack of basic freedoms affecting over a billion in Russia and China.
But at the U.N. Human Rights Council, little democratic Israel is the problem.4
The United Nations General Assembly, a body consisting of all 193 member states, has a similar anti-Israel record. Some commentators have complained that Israel works behind the scenes to lobby UN member states for votes. But it is absurd to single out Israel, given the constant horse-trading among nations for votes in the various bodies of the UN.5,6
New Winds are Blowing in Israel’s Favor
Israel has indeed experienced international isolation. But something new is afoot.
Over the past few decades Israel has become a powerhouse of innovation in a wide range of fields: internet technology, medicine, telecommunications, security, defense, water management and much more. Israel shares this know-how with the world. In turn, the world increasingly wants what Israel has to offer. And with the discovery of massive natural gas reserves off Israel’s Mediterranean coast, Israel is fast becoming a major world energy supplier. Jordan, Egypt and recently the Gulf Arab states look to Israel as a defense against Iran and radical Arab groups.
This has led many nations—-formerly hostile to Israel—-to become allies and partners. This is happening while the world increasingly abandons the Palestinians as a nuisance and impediment to regional stability and economic development.
Bottom line: If Israel ever was a pariah state, it is no longer.
- Zahran, M. Is Jordan the Hashemite-Occupied Palestine? Jerusalem Post, October 22, 2012. Retrieved December 27, 2017 from: http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Is-Jordan-the-Hashemite-occupied-Palestine
- Stand With Us Website. Exposing the UN. Retrieved December 27, 2017 from: https://www.standwithus.com/hottopics/exposeun/
- Kasnett, I. The Two Sides to the Arab Vote on the UN’s Jerusalem Resolution. Jewish News Service/JNS.org, December 26, 2017.
“ In 2017 alone, the General Assembly—including major human rights abusers such as Iran, Syria and North Korea—has adopted 21 resolutions against Israel, compared to six resolutions on the rest of the world combined…… a statistic from UN Watch, an organization that monitors bias at the world body, point[ed] out that between 2012 and 2015, the U.N. adopted 97 resolutions specifically criticizing an individual country—and Israel was the target of 83 of them.”
- Bayefsky, A. Say What?! UN Human Rights Council Declares Israel World’s Number 1 Human Rights Violator. Fox News Website, March 24, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2017 from: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/03/24/say-what-un-human-rights-council-declares-israel-worlds-no-1-human-rights-violator.html
- Beaumont, P. UN to Vote on Jerusalem Amid Accusations of Bullying by Trump. The Guardian. December 21, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2017 from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/21/un-vote-on-jerusalem-accusations-of-bullying-trump
- Neuer, H. Leaked Cables: Saudi Arabia and Russia Traded Votes for UNHRC Seats. UN Watch. June21, 2015. Retrieved December 27, 2017 from: https://www.unwatch.org/leaked-cables-saudi-arabia-russia-traded-votes-for-unhrc-seats/