The continued use of defamatory language is leading the UN down a dark path. In July 2019 the UN referred to Israel as an ‘occupying power’ or ‘occupying state’ on 19 occasions. The use of this term not only sets a dangerous precedent, but also sets an unrealistic standard for the Palestinian people.
Despite being incorrect, the use of the term ‘occupying’ to refer to Israel could become normalised in international law. The UN itself is not a source of international law, but it has been argued that it could form the basis of future customary international law. Afterall, where best to demonstrate a clear ‘general and consistent practice of states over time’ than an organisation whose core is the assembly of all (if not most) states.
Israel ‘the occupier’ becoming a norm should gravely concern the Jewish State. It is one issue that people disagree with Israel in opinion, but if they were to have a valid point that Israel is ‘illegal’, it would fuel any argument against the Jewish State. The ability to successfully denounce Israel on the world stage not only effects Israel itself, but also Jewish Communities globally. Generally, people tend to take their opinions on Israel out on Jewish communities, during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 there was a spike in anti-Semitism in the UK. Unless the UN opts to use softer language, the path ahead looks dim.
Further, the term ‘occupier’ sets a standard that is unrealistic. Branding Israel as an ‘occupying power’ fails to recognise the concessions Israel has made in the pursuit of peace, namely the 2006 withdrawal from Gaza. In not recognising these concessions, you ignore the fact that it has been the Palestinian Authority who has been the main opponent to peace in the region, not Israel.
Globally, nearly every other territory where two groups are pursuing the same land, that land is referred to as ‘disputed’, an apolitical and softer term. Using ‘occupied’ instead of ‘disputed’ connotes that one side deserves more, at the expense of the other. This accurately fits with the commonly chanted statement ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’. Where would this leave the only Jewish State in the world…landless! Whether you are pro-Israel, pro-Palestine or somewhere in between, surely, we can agree that there needs to be a future for the Jewish State, a future which requires a land to survive.
Let’s be real, the West Bank? That was Jordanian…Gaza? That was Egyptian. Both of these States have since entered into internationally recognised treaties with Israel, who are we to run contrary to these? Do the Palestinians dispute the current state of affairs? Probably. However, in its current regional state, it is not only defamatory, but damaging, to call Israel an ‘occupier’. No matter if you support a single-state, or a two-states, the term ‘occupied’ as opposed to ‘disputed’ severely debilitates the future of the Jewish State and peace, in addition to leading the international community down a dark path. Let’s stop before it’s too late.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ran Bar-Yoshafat, whose policy paper formed the basis of my research into the Israel and the United Nations, and whose supervision guided my development. His full policy paper, on bias at the UN, is available free for all from the Kohelet Policy Forum.