August 24, 2020 | Washington Examiner

United Nations not thrilled about Middle Eastern nations uniting

August 24, 2020 | Washington Examiner

United Nations not thrilled about Middle Eastern nations uniting

The United Arab Emirates and Israel took the historic step of normalizing diplomatic relations this month. 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 U.N’s continued perseveration about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict underscores how the international organization, 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. To uphold its mission fairly and justly, this must change.

This was not the first time the U.N. 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 U.N. General Assembly condemned Egypt for bypassing the U.N. 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 U.N. 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 U.N. 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 U.N’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. When the resolution passed, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Daniel Patrick Moynihan proclaimed, “A great evil has been loosed upon the world.” To this day, the committee produces a steady stream of anti-Israel resolutions that the General Assembly rubber-stamps.

The U.N. created additional bodies to assist in the committee’s work. The Division for Palestinian Rights, with an annual budget of nearly $3 million under the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, serves as the committee’s secretariat. The U.N. Information System on the Question of Palestine operates under the Division for Palestinian Rights as a pro-Palestinian propaganda arm. Tellingly, the U.N. has no other similar network of bodies devoted to promoting one people’s narrative, or to refuting that of another.

But the U.N’s pervasive anti-Israel bias does not end there. In December 1968, the U.N. 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 U.N. committee is reminiscent of the U.N. 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 U.N. 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 criticizing Israel as resolutions criticizing every other country in the world combined.

The U.N. also operates the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, a refugee agency devoted exclusively to the Palestinians. The agency maintains a broader definition for refugees than that of the U.N’s actual refugee agency, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, allowing an initial refugee population in the hundreds of thousands to balloon to well over 5 million by allowing descendants of refugees to claim this status. The Relief and Works Agency also indulges a fictional Palestinian “right of return” to Israel, which has emerged as one of the primary obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace, particularly as it has encouraged Palestinian obstinacy at the negotiating table. Remarkably, the Relief and Works Agency has three times as many employees as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and spends considerably more per refugee.

In recent years, the United States has begun to push back against these biased U.N. bodies. The U.S. cut funding to the Relief and Works Agency and left the Human Rights Council. The U.S. can do more, however. It should reduce its contributions to the U.N. by an amount proportional to America’s share of the budgets for the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Division for Palestinian Rights, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, and any other Palestinian-specific body. For example, the U.S. should withhold some $600,000, its share of the Division for Palestinian Rights’ budget.

Other countries are beginning to express concern about the U.N’s Palestinian bias, too. In recent years, the United Kingdom has opposed all Human Rights Council resolutions presented under an agenda item dedicated to castigating Israel. And, recognizing the discriminatory nature of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, Ukraine departed the committee in early 2020. To build on this, the U.S. should encourage committee members with close ties to Israel, such as India and Cyprus, to follow suit.

New possibilities are emerging in the Middle East. The UAE has broken the taboo of normalization with Israel, while other countries, such as Bahrain, Oman, and Morocco, may soon follow. The U.N. should encourage this instead of promoting the false notion that Palestinian grievances should supersede support for peace and security efforts. When the U.N. encourages maximalist Palestinian demands, it makes regional peace less likely. Systemwide changes are needed.

David May (@DavidSamuelMay) is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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