The UN Disqualified

The United Nations has long disqualified itself as a legitimate body to enact any resolution that condemns Israel.

Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted in December 2016, continues the hateful fiction that Israel deserves harsher condemnation than any other country. Never mind that Israel is home to a free press, an independent judiciary, open elections and respect for human rights. False characterizations of the Jewish state have been enabled by repressive regimes as well as by presumably-enlightened democracies. Time to end the charade.

The US failure to cast a veto permitted the resolution’s adoption. But its enactment also placed a spotlight on flaws in the resolution and on UN bias against Israel in general.

The December resolution says that the eastern part of Jerusalem—which contains the Jewish Quarter of the Old City (including the Western Wall of the Temple Mount)—is Palestinian territory. Accordingly, Jewish “settlement activity” there “constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” So, adding a bedroom in a housing area where Jews have lived and prayed for centuries is illegal? One need not be a fan of unbridled settlement expansion to appreciate the absurdity of this notion.

The Obama administration’s abstention drew harsh criticism from Israelis across the political spectrum and from mainstream American Jewish organizations. Both branches of Congress repudiated the resolution. The House declared that the abstention undermined long-standing US policy to oppose anti-Israel resolutions, “reversing decades of bipartisan agreement.”

Sadly, expressions of anti-Israel bias in the world organization have become habitual. In 2015, for example, the UN General Assembly adopted 20 resolutions castigating Israel and only three that criticized other countries. The 20 resolutions variously condemned Israel for damaging electrical and water systems in “Occupied Palestinian Territory;” called on Israel (the only country named in the resolution) to accede to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons; affirmed the right of Palestinians displaced in 1967 to return to their homes; deplored Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights; declared that Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, are illegal; expressed concern that the Golan Heights remains under Israeli military occupation; reiterated support for efforts to end the Israeli occupation; determined that Israeli laws, jurisdiction, and administration in Jerusalem are illegal and null and void.

The bias against Israel was expressed not only by the volume and variety of the criticisms but the size of the resolutions’ majorities. Most were supported by more than 150 of the UN’s 193 member states. Opponents typically numbered about a half-dozen members including the US, with another small group abstaining.

Similar imbalances occurred in other UN agencies. None is more striking than the Human Rights Council. The HRC is a body of 47 states elected by the General Assembly and ostensibly is “responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.”

On a single day, March 24, 2016, the HRC adopted six resolutions naming numerous purported Israeli transgressions. They ranged from abridgement of Palestinian social and cultural rights to construction of the security barrier that prevents terrorists’ entry into Israel. Several democracies joined with authoritarian states to support some or all of the resolutions. A partial list of supporters included France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Cuba, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.

The hypocrisy is astonishing. Israel was being judged by regimes with indisputably worse human rights records, and those regimes were joined in their denunciations by leading democracies.

The Obama administration’s failure to veto 2334 drew a backlash that, ironically, could prompt mitigation of the UN’s hypocrisy. A glint of the possibility arose from three revealing behaviors.

First, Israel’s relations with Arab states continue to improve even as Israeli-Palestinian issues remain unresolved. Israel has diplomatic ties to Egypt and Jordan, which have been strengthened by common security concerns. Similarly, shared worries about threats from Iran have led to informal, if often secret, cooperative arrangements with other Sunni Arab states including Saudi Arabia. These countries appear increasingly receptive to an accommodation with Israel.

Second, firm interventions by Prime Minister Netanyahu and an anticipated Trump administration proved at least partially effective. Egypt had been scheduled to introduce Resolution 2334 for a Security Council vote. After calls from President-elect Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Egyptian President al-Sisi postponed the vote indefinitely. Belatedly and on short notice, other countries submitted the resolution, which was adopted 14-0 with one abstention. Still, Egypt’s policy reversal demonstrated the potential effectiveness of pressure from a future Trump administration.

Third, criticism of the US posture regarding the resolution came from unexpected sources. Not only did bipartisan congressional majorities express disapproval, so did some of America’s closest allies. British Prime Minister Theresa May rebuked Secretary of State John Kerry for his disparagement of Netanyahu’s governing coalition. She rejected Kerry’s “attack [on] the composition of the democratically-elected government of an ally.”

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull criticized the UN resolution as “one-sided” and “deeply unsettling.” Vivian Bercovici, Canada’s recent ambassador to Israel, unsparingly described America’s failure to veto the resolution as a “betrayal of Israel.”

The confluence of these circumstances has heightened the chances that forceful US-led action could deter countries from further participating in anti-Israel bias. After the Security Council decision, a furious Netanyahu limited ties with embassies of the 12 countries that voted for the resolution and with which Israel has diplomatic relations. This could also be a step for a US administration that wishes to right a moral wrong.

As a superpower, the US also could employ more biting incentives toward unbiased treatment of the Jewish state. Beginning with a pronouncement of displeasure with an uncooperative country, actions could advance to downgrading bilateral relations, business exchanges, and policy cooperation. In the end, financial penalties could be levied including the denial of financial aid and trade opportunities, and withholding dues to the UN and its uncooperative agencies.

Of course, not every action by any state is beyond criticism. But the UN has proved itself entirely unfit to render judgment about Israel. Every fair-minded country should declare recognition of this reality and refuse to heed all such resolutions until the UN’s selective discrimination is ended.

About the Author
Leonard Cole is an adjunct professor of political science at Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey, USA, and of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, where he is the Director of the Program on Terror Medicine and Security.
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