Deconstruction Zone: The UN and the UAE deal
Sep 8, 2020 | David May
The United Arab Emirates and Israel took the historic step of normalising diplomatic relations. But you would never know how positive this development is for regional peace based on the United Nations’ tepid response, which focused on the Palestinians. The UN’s continued fixation upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict underscores how the international organisation, whose mission is to promote “international peace and security,” has become an overt champion of one side of a conflict and a detractor of another side.
This was not the first time the UN has promoted the Palestinian agenda to the detriment of regional peace initiatives. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat shocked the Arab world in September 1978 when he became the first Middle Eastern leader to sign a peace agreement with Israel. Three months later, in resolution 33/28A, the UN General Assembly condemned Egypt for bypassing the UN and for not resolving the Palestinian issue. The General Assembly followed up in December 1979 with resolution 34/65, which again argued that regional security, somehow subordinate to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, would deteriorate with an Egyptian-Israeli deal. Both resolutions drew heavily from reports produced by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
That committee is part of an infrastructure of pro-Palestinian institutions within the UN system. To be sure, Palestinians deserve international support. Even while their situation today, in part, results from decades of rejectionism by failed leaders who have openly engaged in terrorism against Israel and others, Palestinians need humanitarian assistance. However, the UN’s unconditional acceptance of the one-sided Palestinian narrative has served to unfairly malign Israel and harm prospects for peace.
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was created in 1975, in the same session as the infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution, which vilified the movement for Jewish autonomy. To this day, the Committee produces a steady stream of anti-Israel resolutions that the General Assembly rubber-stamps.
The UN created additional bodies to assist in the Committee’s work. The Division for Palestinian Rights, with an annual budget of nearly A$4 million under the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, serves as the Committee’s secretariat. The UN Information System on the Question of Palestine operates under the Division for Palestinian Rights as a pro-Palestinian propaganda arm. Tellingly, the UN has no other similar network of bodies devoted to promoting one people’s narrative.
But the UN’s pervasive anti-Israel bias does not end there. In December 1968, the UN created the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People, whose mandate is to investigate alleged Israeli abuses.
That UN committee is reminiscent of the UN Human Rights Council’s commissions of inquiry following Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. These commissions presumed Israeli guilt and were directed to focus only on Israeli actions. Indeed, the UN Human Rights Council has a rapporteur whose mandate exclusively calls for exposing Israeli crimes and not Palestinian ones. Systematic bias is hard to deny, as this flawed forum has produced about as many resolutions criticising Israel as resolutions criticising every other country in the world combined.
In recent years, the United States has begun to push back against these biased UN bodies. Other countries are beginning to express concern about the UN’s Palestinian bias too.
The United Kingdom has opposed all Human Rights Council resolutions presented under an agenda item dedicated to castigating Israel over the past few years [Ed. Note: so too has Australia]. And, recognising the discriminatory nature of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, Ukraine departed the committee in early 2020.
New possibilities are emerging in the Middle East. The UAE has broken the taboo of normalisation with Israel, while other countries, such as Bahrain, Oman, and Morocco, may soon follow. The UN should encourage this instead of promoting the false notion that Palestinian grievances should supersede support for peace and security efforts. When the UN encourages maximalist Palestinian demands, it makes regional peace less likely. System-wide changes are needed.