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Blackmailing the UN is not an option for civilised states

Image of the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland on 2 February 2017 [Mustafa Yalçın - Anadolu Agency]
Image of the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland on 2 February 2017 [Mustafa Yalçın - Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s decision to cut its annual contribution to the United Nations is mean-spirited and infantile. After committing itself to pay $11.7 million to the international organisation in 2017, the Netanyahu government has decided to slash $2 million from that sum, in addition to the $6 million that was cut in January, in retaliation for the UN criticising some of its policies.

Even if Israel were to withhold its entire contribution, the impact would make hardly a dent in the ability of the UN to continue its functions. What is at stake, however, is not so much the money involved but the principle, which is a very simple one; if you are a member of a club, or play a game, you must adhere to its rules. Repeated infringements will lead to expulsion and possibly a fine or ban.

It is appropriate, therefore, for us to see whether or not Israel has adhered to the UN Charter, which is a requirement for membership. Let’s put to one side the fact that Israel’s membership of the UN was in the first place conditional upon it allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their homes; that has not been allowed to happen. Has it, moreover, implemented the many resolutions which call upon it to respect Palestinian human rights and end its colonial-settlement enterprise in the occupied territories? Far from it, and yet Israel expects and demands neither reprimand nor disciplinary measures. Instead, it behaves like a spoilt brat playing football who finds himself on the losing side despite cheating and breaking the rules, and so moves the goalposts; when that doesn’t work, he picks the ball up and runs crying to his mama. In Israel’s case, it heads for Washington.

Read: US slams UN Human Rights Council over ‘bias against Israel’

Like an over-indulgent parent, the US is as blameworthy as Israel. It has encouraged Israeli infractions by bullying and threatening the UN for what it calls a “bias” against the Zionist state (an allegation echoed by Britain, unsurprisingly). Why should any member state and organ of the world body turn a blind eye to Israel’s contempt for international law and UN resolutions? Would they be fulfilling their own obligations to the UN Charter by maintaining a dutiful silence while Israel continues to defy the international will? Do those who back the United States and its wayward protégé Israel not believe that putting minors on trial in military courts, for example, and waging a relentless campaign of collective punishment of civilians such as house demolitions and travel restrictions are simply the wrong things to do, never mind illegal? All of these practices by Israel are well documented by UN agencies as well as human rights groups, including reputable Israeli organisations such as B’Tselem and the Israeli Committee Against House demolitions (ICAHD).

Now that Israel has shown its hand and demonstrated that it is incapable of acting like a normal member of the family of nations, the UN has no other option but to enforce its own rules. Under Article 19 of the Charter, a member state can lose its vote in the General Assembly (GA) if it has been in arrears in the payment of its dues in an amount that equals or exceeds the contributions due for two preceding years. If the offending state can show that conditions beyond its control contributed to this inability to pay, an exception may be allowed. Needless to say, in this instance Israel has chosen wilfully not to pay. Thus, it is well within the right of the GA to suspend Israel’s voting right once the stipulated period has elapsed.

There is also another, more punitive, measure which the GA could consider: the South African option. In 1974, the then president of the General Assembly, Abdelaziz Bouteflika (now the president of Algeria), ruled that South Africa should be barred from participating in the work of the UN General Assembly. His ruling was upheld in the assembly by 91 to 22 votes after three permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, France and the US — blocked the move to expel apartheid South Africa under Article 6 of the Charter.

Read: UN days of bashing Israel are over

By cutting its contribution to the UN, Israel is acting dishonourably and irresponsibly. The move has all the features of an attempt to blackmail the world body; the UN must either maintain Israel’s self-assumed exceptionalism, allowing it to continue to act with murderous impunity, or face the loss of its contribution towards the organisation’s considerable running costs.

Like it or not, the UN remains the only global multilateral institution dedicated to maintaining peace and security and fostering cooperation between nations for the common good. It is by no means a perfect organisation, but it can only be as strong as its member states want and allow it to be. If they are weak and susceptible to blackmail, intimidation and bullying, then there is no future for the United Nations. On the other hand, if they agree to uphold its rules and principles, the world will surely be a safer, fairer and better place for this and future generations.

It is important, therefore, not to succumb to Israel’s blackmail by allowing it to perpetuate its reign of terror in occupied Palestine. The sensible, humane and very obvious option is for the UN to insist on a level playing field for all of its members — rules, regulations and adherence to the Charter included — from which all nations can realise their full potential. That is the option for all civilised states to take; blackmail isn’t.

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