Australia/Israel Review

Editorial: An offensive UN offensive

May 23, 2023 | Colin Rubenstein

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gives his Nakba Day speech at the UN (Image: UN Photo/Screenshot)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gives his Nakba Day speech at the UN (Image: UN Photo/Screenshot)

On May 15, the day following the 75th anniversary of Israel’s establishment, the United Nations chose to endorse the Palestinian rejectionist narrative by convening the first-ever “Nakba (Catastrophe) Day” commemoration, under the mandate of the General Assembly. 

The Nakba is the term Palestinians use to refer to losing the war they and their Arab military allies launched to attempt to undo Israel’s establishment in 1948, a war which by its end saw the displacement of about 750,000 Palestinians.

However, Nakba Day is only 25 years old. It was the PR brainchild of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who was looking for a way to offset positive publicity surrounding Israel’s 50th anniversary. To this end, he chose as the date the day after Israel had been established on the Gregorian calendar. 

According to the false Nakba Day narrative, Israel’s creation itself caused the Palestinian refugee crisis, and this was always the intent of the Zionists. 

Yet in fact, UN General Assembly Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947, endorsed the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into two states, Jewish and Arab. The plan drew borders based on existing demographics, with the majority-Jewish areas assigned to the Jewish state and vice-versa. The Jews accepted the plan and began by preparing their institutions for statehood. The Arabs violently rejected it and launched a war of aggression, utilising the armies of five Arab states to try to prevent the Jews from exercising their right to self-determination anywhere in the Mandate. 

Israel won this desperate, existential war at the cost of around 1% of its total population being killed. The territory held by Arab armies, including the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, was ethnically cleansed down to the last Jew. On the other side, most Arabs inside the newly formed Jewish state fled the fighting, sometimes at the behest of their own leaders, though in some particularly strategic villages, the residents were expelled in the context of the Jewish state’s desperate war of survival. Around 156,000 remained and became Israeli citizens.

While it is understandable that Palestinians wish to mourn the displacements and losses they suffered in the 1948 war, even if they were ultimately caused by their own leaders, the UN has absolutely no business effectively having a day of mourning for the loss of a war of aggression launched against the UN’s own partition plan, in violation of the UN Charter, much less labelling that loss a “catastrophe”.

Fast forward to this year’s Nakba Day event at the UN. Ageing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas railed against Israel for a full hour, making hateful statements totally inimical to the international community’s consensus vision for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace. 

He denied any Jewish historical connection to Judaism’s holiest sites including not only the Temple Mount, but even the Western Wall.

Abbas also reversed reasonable comments he had previously made about the “right of return” to his original hometown of Safed – going all in on the Palestinian demand for implementing this legally baseless “right” in full, even though it is completely incompatible with a two-state resolution. 

Abbas, whose doctoral thesis promoted Holocaust denial and who was last year widely criticised for a speech accusing Israel of perpetrating “50 Holocausts,” also likened Israel to Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief. 

The PA leader also blamed the US and Britain for the Nakba, saying that Israel was created for their own “colonial goals” and “these countries wanted to get rid of their Jews.”

Abbas called for Israel’s suspension from the UN, claiming that Israel’s original membership in the UN was conditional on it accepting both a “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and the creation of a Palestinian state. Neither of these claims are true. Moreover, Israel had no role in the failure of Egypt and Jordan to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza between 1948 and 1967.

This ugly performance was completely unhelpful to the well-being of Palestinians. It’s a moral imperative to separate humanitarian compassion for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, who have been used as pawns by Arab leaders, with Nakba Day, a cynically politicised creation whose sole purpose is to undermine the legitimacy of Israel. 

The Nakba Day ceremony underscored how ridiculous the UN’s institutional anti-Israel obsession has become. There are two permanent UN committees devoted to nothing but demonising Israel and promoting the Palestinian cause, plus a “Division of Palestinian Rights” in the UN Secretary-General’s office and a new and completely unprecedented permanent inquiry against Israel in the UN Human Rights Council. Now there are also not one but two Palestinian “special days” set aside in this year’s UN calendar – in addition to Nakba Day, there is also the annual Day of International Solidarity with the Palestinian People (Nov. 29). The UN has no other “special day” to express “solidarity” with or commemorate the history of any other national group.

The Albanese Government deserves credit for having Australia join the US, Canada and dozens of other countries in steering clear of the Nakba Day spectacle. By declining to attend, Australia upheld its longstanding support for two states for two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, achieved through direct peace negotiations – meaning you cannot treat the establishment of one of those states as a crime and a disaster.

President Abbas’ speech, full of untruths and extremist claims, was a strong reminder why there is no two-state peace today. Negotiations are the only way forward toward peace, but Abbas’ speech demanded that the UN force Israel to concede Palestinian claims without negotiations – typical of a totally counter-productive Palestinian strategy over recent years of rejecting all talks and focussing instead on demonising Israel in international forums.

Abbas has called upon the General Assembly to make Nakba Day another permanent day to “commemorate the Palestinian plight.” For the UN, whose credibility is at an all-time low, one can only hope that Abbas’ vile speech caused enough embarrassment that the Nakba Day hate-fest will not be repeated.


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