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Neutrality and Israel-Palestine Peace

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 1/04/2016 Allan Gerson

Trump's vow to be "neutral" in a potential Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation set off a firestorm among the presidential candidates, each outshining the other in expressions of fidelity to Israel. Lost in the brouhaha, however, was the far more important issue: what would they to do to stop the UN's role in impeding peace?
As to neutrality, successive US administrations have already charted a bipartisan course. Despite strong US ties to Israel, being neutral is to be preferred in actual negotiations. Thus the US would restrict itself to bridging differences. But being neutral is definitely not to be preferred in the face of the UN's blanket bias towards Israel, one that impedes a negotiated solution.
Yet the realization that the UN is a large part of the problem, not the solution, is absent in the presidential debates. Not surprisingly, therefore, the candidates avoid taking a position on what measures they would take if successful in their quest for the White House.

But the problem is too big to ignore. Each can take a page from what America's current US UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, recently reaffirmed. Speaking on February 15, 2016 she concluded that, "Israel is just not treated like other countries." Jeane Kirkpatrick at the UN was less diplomatic; she characterized the UN's behavior as one of a "gang-bang."
Her successor, General Vernon Walters, with whom I also served, bristled at the phrase "Nazi- like practices" cavalierly used to describe Israeli actions. When he first heard these words at an informal UN Security Council session, he rose to his feet and said "Gentlemen, I fought in WWII and I know what the word Nazi means, and so should you. You should be ashamed of yourself". Startled by his spontaneous remonstrations, the other delegates withdrew their support of a pending resolution.
Now, 35 years later, it is common to laud the progress that has been made since that time. Reference is often made to the repeal of the noxious 1975 General Assembly "Zionism = Racism" resolution. Recent UN Security Council resolutions on terrorism are cited as expressions of universal condemnation.
But, sadly, it is mostly smoke and mirrors, at least as far as Israel is concerned. One need only take note of the fact that embedded within the UN Secretariat, its executive organ, is its Division on Palestinian Rights. It devotes all its attention to promotion of the Z = R resolution as if it was never rescinded, pinning on Israel the equivalent of the Yellow Star designated for Jews by the Third Reich.
If this depiction sounds hyperbolic, the reader should consider the words of Ambassador Power on February 15th: "So in the General Assembly, every autumn there are resolutions that are brought on human rights situations and other challenges around the world, and every year there is one resolution brought, directed at President Assad and his regime and some of the horrible crimes he has committed against his people. Against Israel, again, and there are legitimate criticisms that one can make and you hear us make criticisms of settlements and other aspects of Israeli policies. On Israel, around the same time there is one on Syria, there's 18 on Israel. ...And so part of our posture in New York is dedicated to trying to ensure that the criticisms of Israel are about policies and not of the existence of the state itself, which is what it still feels as though a lot of that criticism is motivated by. ...".
The list is long of grievous state human rights abuses beyond Syria's responsibility for the death of 250,000 civilians. North Korea's slave labor camps, and Iran's record number of hangings of dissidents are just two that come to mind. Yet any condemnation of their conduct, if there is any, will be outmatched by resolutions condemning Israel by a factor of at least 18 to 1.
What more damning proof is there that the UN, founded on the hopes of ushering in world peace by a generation determined to prevent a recurrence of the scourge of hatred that led to World War II, has lost its integrity. What would the UN's founding fathers have said at the spectacle of UN Secretary-General, Ban ki-Moon, attending sessions of the UN Secretariat's Division on Palestinian Rights as its honored guest? Or his reluctance to say a negative word about the Division, nor about the UN's Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People whose agenda the Division implements. Or the Secretary-General's failure to ever make mention of the fact that the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has only one state inscribed permanently on its agenda for annual condemnation - Israel?
Most recently, the UN's two pro-Palestinian entities have focused their energies on a new front: supporting through various UN international conferences the BDS -- Boycott and Disinvestment in Israel -- movement There, Israel is likened to the pariah state of South Africa during the apartheid era.
With such support, why would any Palestinian want to negotiate directly with Israel when the UN can be counted on to whittle away Israel's position without need for any reciprocal Palestinian move? Clearly, the UN's championship creates a dis-incentive for the Palestinian Authority to ever enter direct negations with Israel.
The result, going beyond any individual practices that may cry out for condemnation, is the institutionalization of bias against Israel which in fact leads to the perpetuation of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. To be sure, the US has voiced its opposition to the UN's behavior. It has withheld any financial contributions to the two UN pro-Palestinian entities. But we must face the fact that these entities, established in the wake of the Z = R resolution, have only grown in strength over the last 35 years. The US has been a lone voice in opposition, and has never brought the Europeans and others along.
Now it is urgent that the presidential contenders clarify what they can do to deal with the UN as the source of the problem. How would they take the lead in a unified front that would begin by eliminating the two UN Palestinian entities? Only then can the UN be a partner for promoting Middle-East peace rather than hindering it, for reducing violence rather than exacerbating it.
Allan Gerson is former Counsel to the US Mission to the United Nations, 1981-1985, and Senior Fellow on International Law and Organizations at the Council on Foreign Relations. He practices law in Washington DC.

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