Again in 2021, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly passed 14 resolutions aimed at criticizing Israel (and supporting the Palestinians). [Source: https://unwatch.org/2021-2022-unga-resolutions-on-israel-vs-rest-of-the-world/] On every resolution, only a handful of countries (among them the USA, Canada and a sprinkle of small Pacific Islands) stood with Israel. Some others abstained.
They debate the SAME (or nearly the same) motions every year, and all of which relate to Israel’s repeated violations UN General Assembly resolutions.
- Condemning the settlements
- Affirming Palestinian right to self determination
- Rejecting Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem
- Support for Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA)
Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the UN General Assembly has passed more resolutions criticizing Israel than ALL OTHER STATES COMBINED!!
The Palestinian justification: “Israeli human rights abuses are well documented”
For Palestinian activists and human rights supporters around the world, the answer is obvious.
Israeli human rights abuses of Palestinians are flagrant and well documented.
Reports from a wide range of organizations including the UN, the International Court of Justice, Bt’selem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, leave no doubt that Israel’s actions deserve condemnation. Repeated reports from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories have highlighted abuses in the West Bank, in Jerusalem and in Gaza. Even Israeli organizations like the Association for Human Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Breaking the Silence are critical of Israeli actions. So it’s not surprising that the UN is vocal in its condemnation.
The Israeli response: “This is Israel bashing. Why only Israel? It’s anti-semitism.“
Israel’s defenders are indignant. “Why so much focus on Israel when there are many other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere whose human rights abuses are at least as bad as those in the West Bank?”, they ask. ”Surely Saudi Arabia’s public floggings and beheadings, Egypt’s feared prisons and Jordan’s secret police deserve as much criticism as Israel.”
Furthermore, point out Israel’s supporters, many of the countries voting against Israel are themselves serial human rights offenders. So why the double standard?
The underlying suspicion of course, sometimes stated, sometimes only hinted at, is that the UN applies a double standard, perhaps revealing an underlying antisemitism.
Yet there are other reasons for this special focus.
The global south view: “It’s European colonialism”
There are 193 member states in the United Nations. Three quarters of them were still colonies in 1947 when the decision was made to give part of Palestine to European Jewish refugees to form a state of their own. They were not members of the UN at the time. The global south does not feel any responsibility for the Holocaust, nor does it share the European guilt. The UN General Assembly today is the biggest forum where the global south gets to present its anti-colonial case to the world. It sees Israel as a prime case of European colonialism and feels justified in opposing it.
The UN perspective: “Israel has obligations to the UN and the UN has obligations to the inhabitants of former Palestine”
As the UN General Assembly stated a year ago:
“The United Nations has a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until the question is resolved in all its aspects in a satisfactory manner in accordance with international legitimacy.”https://undocs.org/en/A/RES/75/23
Israel has a relationship to the UN unlike that of any other state. It was created by the UN. UN General Assembly resolution 181 proposed carving a new Jewish state out of historic Palestine. Israel quickly embraced UN resolution 181. Its own Declaration of Independence cites UN 181 as recognition of its right to exist.
While giving 55% of historic Palestine to the new Jewish State, resolution 181 also included provisions for the protection of minorities inside each of the two new states. These included:
- “No discrimination of any kind shall be made between the inhabitants on the ground of race, religion, language or sex.”
- “All persons within the jurisdiction of the State shall be entitled to equal protection of the laws.”
- “No expropriation of land owned by an Arab in the Jewish State (or by a Jew in the Arab State) shall be allowed except for public purposes.”
But while Israel adopted the part of the UN proposal giving it a Jewish state, it ignored many of its specific provisions. In defiance of the UN proposal it:
- Seized much more land than proposed in the partition plan (78% (v. 55% of historic Palestine)
- Took over Jaffa and seized West Jerusalem
- Expelled over 750,000 Palestinians
- Confiscated their property
- Destroyed over 400 villages
- Prevented refugees from returning
- Restricted the civil rights of the Palestinians who remained in Israel
It rapidly became clear to the international community that Zionist forces had no intention of respecting most of the UN’s provisions. In fact, by Independence Day, Zionist militias had already seized more land than had been allotted under the UN plan and had driven out over 350,000 Palestinians.
The UN General Assembly responded by voting another resolution (194) in December 1948 affirming that those refugees have the right to return and to compensation.
When Israel sought membership in the UN a few months later, the UN was divided on whether Israel should be admitted at all. But Israel promised to respect all relevant UN resolutions and under US and European pressure it was admitted to the UN in 1949. It still refuses to do so.
As Kofi Annan said in remarks on leaving the UN, this is a painful and festering sore for the UN.
“The failure to achieve an Arab-Israeli peace remains for the UN a deep internal wound as old as the organization itself, (…) a painful and festering sore consequently felt in almost every intergovernmental organ and Secretariat body.”
“No other issue carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge affecting people far from the zone of conflict.”
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Interventions (2011), p. 254
Conclusion: both principle and posturing
The repeated UNGA votes condemning Israel and supporting the Palestinians are not based on the claim that Israel is the worst abuser of human rights in the world. There are others which are just as bad or perhaps worse.
Nor is it because the whole world is anti-Semitic. Many of the countries which vote to support Palestinian rights have never had any significant Jewish communities.
The fundamental reason is that Israel, a UN member, continues to ignore the commitments it made to the UN when it was admitted in 1949, and repeated UN warnings about the occupation of 1967.
But there is also a significant element of political posturing. The annual spate of UN resolutions on “The Question of Palestine” gives the global south a forum for brandishing their opposition to the effects of European colonialism. Even some rather reactionary regimes, like Saudi Arabia and the other Abrahamic Accord states voted to support the Palestinians in the UNGA resolutions.
Politics is often a mixture of principle and posturing. But if Israel continues to ignore UN resolutions, it can expect mounting frustration in the international community and a continuation of world criticism every year at the UNGA.
NOTE: This article originally appeared in Mondoweiss.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.
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