While the conflict between Hamas and Israel begins to resemble a protracted war of attrition, the unhelpful and dysfunctional role that most of the United Nations’ organs have played in the unfolding drama is becoming clearer. Like so many times before, when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the UN has not been part of the solution, but rather part of the problem.
The UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) latest embarrassment, a sequel to the infamous Goldstone Inquiry that followed the 2009 Gaza War, is merely the most visible emblem of a systematic bias that extends throughout the UN organisational structure and has exposed itself in numerous ways during the latest conflict.
This lack of impartiality does not merely create problems for Israel by making it harder for Israel to defend itself, but it also undermines the stated goals of the UN as defined in its Charter: to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms worldwide.
In the current conflict, not only individual UN officials but entire departments have gone beyond generalised Palestinian advocacy to actually inject themselves into intra-Palestinian affairs. Disturbingly, through their recent actions, they have effectively backed the interests of the illegitimate terror group Hamas in Gaza over those of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and thus terror and warfare over direct negotiations towards a mutually respectful two-state outcome.
The UN’s actions in this conflict might almost be comical, if the effects weren’t so tragic. When rockets were “discovered” on July 17 and 22 in schools belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN simply called the Hamas-run Gaza police to take them away. On July 30, when rockets were found in a UN school for a third time, the embarrassed UN agency finally said it would bring in its own explosives expert to dismantle them, but it is unclear if this actually occurred.
UNRWA’s problematic stance on Hamas has been recognised by one of its chief funders – the United States. On August 5, a bipartisan group of members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to launch an independent investigation into UNRWA for a variety of questionable activities related to the current conflict and calling attention to UNRWA’s ties to Hamas. Hamas-affiliated incumbents hold 25 out of 27 seats on UNRWA’s workers’ union board.
The UN is also responsible for effectively laundering Hamas’ inflated civilian casualty figures through the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), which has uncritically parroted the numbers given to it by the Hamas-run Health Ministry, providing a veneer of credibility to many slanted news reports.
As for the news reports of damage sustained at UN schools being used as temporary shelters, including the unfortunate loss of innocent life, the UN has effectively placed itself at the centre of a smear campaign against Israel. UN statements downplayed the illegal tactic of Hamas firing from near UN buildings, ignored the possibility that Hamas weapons may have caused the damage, as Israel alleged in one case, and rushed to paint the attacks as deliberate “targeting” of civilians while alleging Israeli responsibility for war crimes.
As noted, we have seen this movie before back in 2009, when the UN produced the “Goldstone Report”. Today, the UNHRC hasn’t even waited for the war to end to begin its witch hunt by setting up a commission through a resolution which already declares Israel guilty even before inquiries begin. Moreover, perhaps burned by the experience of South African judge Richard Goldstone – who eventually dissociated himself from his own report when he came to realise that it was factually-challenged and intrinsically unfair to Israel – it has chosen a more reliably anti-Israel candidate this time.
Its selection, William Schabas, has an anti-Israel track record so blatant and extensive that even supporters of the Goldstone Report like the US lobby group J Street have said that he should be disqualified from heading such an inquiry. In 2012, he was a participant in the kangaroo court known as the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, where he famously said that he wanted to see “[Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu in the dock of the International Criminal Court” to be tried over the 2009 Gaza War. Of course, that war took place when Netanyahu was not in government – but Schabas appears to be the sort of legal expert who does not let mere facts get in the way of efforts to convict Israeli leaders.
He has used the term “our enemies” to describe Zionists, and already last year “convicted” Israel of “crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression” in public comments.
The deep-seated bias of the UN against Israel is nothing new – the 1975 Zionism is Racism resolution and its reincarnation at the World Conference Against Racism in Durban in 2001 come to mind as key landmarks over recent decades. Even so, matters appear to be deteriorating, not improving. Of course, Israel has persevered through worse times and it will continue to do so even in the face of the mindless hostility in New York and Geneva.
Ironically, those who will be most hurt by the UN’s folly are likely to be the Palestinians themselves, as they become more obsessed with trying to isolate Israel diplomatically in hopes of ultimately erasing Israel in its entirety.
Yet the only way to empower the Palestinian people is by making the compromises necessary for a realistic two-state solution – and the longer this is delayed by Palestinian unrealism and extremism, the more Palestinians and Israelis will have to endure tragedies like the Gaza conflict. Then, as now, the UN will continue to bear a considerable burden of responsibility for fomenting rather than alleviating the ongoing suffering.