Israel Palestine

Why the UN won’t save the Palestinians

Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians violates almost every article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Israel has even killed 92 UN staff in the current bombardment of Gaza, the highest number killed in any conflict.

Guterres followed this with another comment just days later in New York: “[The UN has] no power, no money, but a voice and a platform where people can bring together governments, civil society … and at least try to find ways to address the dramatic problem of our time”.

In other words, the United Nations is a toothless body that can produce statements, not action.

On 27 October, the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding motion calling for an “immediate and sustained humanitarian truce” between Israel and Hamas. The United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, among others, refused to support it. 

But like most UN motions on Palestine, it failed to call out Israel as the oppressor of the Palestinians, perpetuating the myth that Israel and Palestine are simply two warring states that must be brought to the table to negotiate a peace. 

Such motions are common in the UN General Assembly, but the conduct of the UN Security Council is even worse. The Council’s five permanent members—the USA, UK, Russia, France and China—have veto powers over all Security Council decisions. The US has used that power 46 times since the 1970s to block criticism of Israel’s conduct towards the Palestinians and neighbouring states. 

The UN is and always has been a political body, not simply a neutral arbiter of foreign relations. The most powerful nations see the UN as just another arena for their imperialist ambitions, each using the UN as ideological cover for their policies when they can. The US has succeeded in this several times: the UN gave its blessing to the first Gulf War in 1990 and the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. UN Security Council motions provided former US President George Bush with a justification for the 2003 Iraq war by falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 

But the US and other member states are not beholden to the UN; they simply ignore any motions and decrees they don’t agree with.

Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin once called the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, “a thieves’ kitchen” and “a lie from beginning to end”. He probably would have had similar choice words for the United Nations. 

The UN adopted the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948, the same year it green-lit the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. While the UN espoused the principle of national self-determination, it explicitly denied that right to the Palestinians. Craig Mokhiber called this the “original sin” of the UN when he resigned from his post as director of the New York Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights in October. 

In 1947, The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was created to oversee the formation of a new Israeli state on Palestinian land. It comprised people with little experience of the Middle East who were overwhelmingly influenced by the two major imperialist powers at the time: the US and the Soviet Union. Both were promoting a new Zionist state in the Middle East, hoping that in the long run it would serve their interests in the region. 

UNSCOP rejected outright the idea of a single democratic state over historic Palestine, which had been the demand of Palestinian representatives, deciding instead to bisect the country into two states—one Jewish and one Palestinian. 

The plan handed 55 percent of the land to Israel, where Jewish people would be a slim majority. The new Israel conveniently incorporated the best and most fertile land, including the coastal plain and the hilly eastern Galilee. In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Israeli historian Ilan Pappé shows that in 1947 indigenous Palestinians farmed almost all the cultivated land—only 5.8 percent was in Jewish ownership. The UN’s partition plan would therefore require the mass displacement of Palestinians. This is why, according to Pappé, the UN members who voted in favour of the plan “contributed directly to the crime that was about to take place”: the ethnic cleansing known as the Nakba (catastrophe). 

Despite the generosity of the UN towards the new state of Israel, the plan didn’t go far enough for the Zionist leaders. They appreciated that the “international community” had recognised a Jewish state in Palestine, but they rejected the limits of the UN-drawn borders. David Ben-Gurion, Zionist leader and the first prime minister of Israel, claimed in 1947 that the new borders “will be determined by force and not by the partition resolution”. After the Nakba in 1948, Israel ended up with 78 percent of the land. Zionist militias terrorised and massacred Palestinians, purging the inhabitants of a dozen ethnically mixed cities and destroying more than 400 Palestinian villages. The Zionists described their military operations of 1948 in clearly genocidal terms: Tihur (purifying), Biur (rooting out) and Nikkuy (cleaning). 

What was the UN’s response after its partition plan resulted in such a catastrophe? Did it backtrack, apologise or demand immediate reparations? No. In March 1949, the General Assembly happily admitted Israel, not Palestine, into full membership of the UN. 

Since 1948, the UN has cried countless crocodile tears for Palestine. But it has also whitewashed and aided Israel’s crimes. 

In his resignation letter, Craig Mokhiber outlines the myriad ways in which the UN has failed the Palestinians. “Key parts of the UN have surrendered to the power of the US, and to fear of the Israel Lobby”, he says. He points to the “disingenuous” so-called “peace process” that began in the 1990s. Overseen by the UN and “mediated” by the US, these talks delivered nothing for ordinary Palestinians; Israel never withdrew its occupation; it accelerated the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and tightened its stranglehold over Gaza. The “peace process” legitimised by the UN has contributed to the idea that Israel is the reasonable actor and that Palestinian organisations like Hamas are the only threat to peace. 

The UN slogan of a “two-state solution” only serves to cover up the reality that Israel is a racist ethno-state that has no interest in either coexisting with a Palestinian state or accommodating Palestinians within its own borders. In Mokhiber’s words, it is a state that is “colonising, persecuting and dispossessing an indigenous population on the basis of their ethnicity”. 

The UN can only ever represent the interests of the most powerful states within it, no matter how much its members and staff strive to be the upholders of human rights. The only real defenders of human rights today are the millions of ordinary people across the world standing with the people of Gaza. 

Courtesy Red Flag