July 20, 2005 | Jerusalem Post

Rethinking UN Reform

By: Newt Gingrich & Peter Oppenheim.

An important test for meaningful reform of the United Nations will be measured by whether there is a dramatic change in the way Israel, the only current functioning democracy in the Middle East, is treated. As we near the UN's 60th anniversary, Israel continues to be relegated to second-class status and denied the security protections afforded to others by the international body. The UN's commitment to its charter will not be demonstrated until Israel is treated with justice and equality.

America and Israel share a special bond because we believe in the same fundamental values: faith in democracy, strategic stance against terrorism, and commitment to peace in the Middle East.

The UN initially shared the same commitment to Israel when a 1947 resolution made its establishment possible. Since that time, however, its treatment of the Jewish state has been “a continuing case study of political manipulation, mistreatment and dishonesty.”

Last month, the Congressional Task Force on United Nations Reform presented its consensus report to Congress. The report stated that “Israel continues to be denied rights enjoyed by all other member states, and a level of systematic hostility against it is routinely expressed, organized, and funded within the UN system.”

The roots of these problems must be examined on two levels.

First, UN institutional failures have allowed the body to serve as a useful tool for legitimizing an anti-Israel agenda. The task force recognized that the UN cannot presume to be an arbiter of international human rights and justice when Israel is excluded from serving on any regional grouping in Geneva. This means Israel can never serve on the Security Council, an Israeli judge can never be elected to the International Court of Justice, and Israel cannot even vote on the makeup of the court.

Furthermore, the UN does not assess the human rights records of members as a prerequisite to serving on its Human Rights Commission. It is not surprising that without any mechanism to protect the commission from being manipulated by routine human rights violators, countries such as Cuba, Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe and Sudan have all served on the panel.

There is no legitimate basis for allowing a rogue dictatorship such as Syria to sit on the UN Security Council while the only current functioning democracy in the Middle East is denied representation. Likewise, there is no legitimate basis for allowing Sudan to stand in judgment of Israel's human rights record.

Second, the task force recognized that UN failures are most often the result of the efforts of the individual member states themselves, rather than its institutions. This inherent limitation is not subject to traditional “reform.” Any organization that has no democratic preconditions for membership and provides a platform in which democratic interests are combined with those of non-democracies will likely remain an imperfect institution.

Even democratic states will often sacrifice their fundamental values at the UN altars of false consensus and regional solidarity. For example, many European states have long-standing economic ties in the Middle East and Africa, which have only deepened with growing Muslim populations within their borders. When combined with the nearly one-third of UN members which are members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which has long been hostile towards Israel, some European countries have allowed their economic interests to override standing up for what is right and honest. The most disturbing example was when the General Assembly passed Resolution 2279, on the 1975 anniversary of Kristallnacht, declaring that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination…[and] is a threat to world peace and security.”

The first UN Chapter VII sanctions for terrorist acts were against Libya in 1992. This success has been a model for subsequent responses to the Taliban and al-Qaida since 9/11. UN members have, however, been unwilling to use these powers against terrorist groups in the West Bank and Gaza and against nations such as Syria and Iran which support and fund their criminal activities. Many of these states have found it easier to promote an anti-Israel stance that makes the UN's response to terrorist attacks against the Israeli people inconsistent and ineffective. It is no wonder then that of the 10 emergency special sessions called by the UN in its history, six have been about Israel. In contrast, none has been held on the genocide in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, or the continuing atrocities in Sudan.

Furthermore, many of these states have prevented the UN from adopting a comprehensive convention against terrorism and passing resolutions condemning homicide attacks against Israeli citizens. Certain Middle East countries insist that “wars of national liberation” and the ejection of “occupying forces” should not be considered terrorism and have blocked the adoption of a comprehensive definition.

Effective and deep reform can only result if there is a coalition of democracies, led by the United States, that want to create a new accountable, transparent, effective, and honest UN that would treat Israel with respect and equality, will stand up for Israel's right to defend itself, and will act effectively against state sponsors of terrorism.

Only a coalition of genuine democracies can explicitly and consistently reject any effort in the UN General Assembly, in special conferences and meetings, and in any UN organization to adopt rules, treaties and systems, which seek to legitimize an anti-Israel agenda.

Similarly, only a coalition of genuine democracies can move to adopt a comprehensive definition of terrorism that is not manipulated by the very states that are themselves supporting homicide bombers. The US and democratic nations must understand that this would legitimize the use of terror in Israel, as well as in Iraq, New York, London, Madrid and elsewhere.

The UN task force has made several recommendations regarding institutional equality for Israel, but the United States must lead in ensuring the fair treatment and protection of one of its most important allies and one of democracy's most steadfast defenders.

Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI. Peter Oppenheim assists Gingrich with policy research at AEI.



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