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The UN should take a lead from the global BDS movement

September 22, 2017 at 9:38 am

Activists come together during a pro-BDS rally [Kate Ausburn/Flickr]

Among ongoing outrageous actions and in defiance of international law, Israel’s Habayit Hayehudi party has just approved a plan for annexing the remaining occupied Palestinian territory “while either facilitating the exit of Palestinian residents or allowing them to remain but without voting rights.” This is by no means a surprise, nor is it simply a reflection of so-called right-wing or extremist factions in the Israeli government. It is an explicit articulation of the unconscionable Zionist ideology upon which the state of Israel is founded.

Israel is now in control of all of historical Palestine; it is armed to the teeth, including nuclear weapons; and the only way that it can exist as a self-declared Jewish state is by continuing to dispossess, oppress and discriminate against the Palestinians. Members of the indigenous population who are still managing to hold on to their property are being pushed into smaller and smaller enclaves or displaced within Israel; six million refugees and exiles, meanwhile, are kept out while Jews from around the world are encouraged to “settle” — a euphemism for “colonise” — the land of Palestine.

Public debate about Israel today is finally opening up to issues that go to the heart of the state’s perceived legitimacy, its Zionist ideology and its constitution as a “Jewish state”; by extension, these are issues that are central to Palestine’s liberation. Moreover, there is a whole body of international law meant to check and regulate criminal activity by nation states such as that in which Israel is involved; its violations of such laws make a long list. And yet, when it comes to Israel, the US and its allies continue to find it impossible to hold it to account on the basis of the laws that they themselves have enacted and, generally speaking, abide by.

Not many people know that enforcing international humanitarian law is enshrined in section of the US Department of Defence Law of War Manual. It is called the “golden rule” principle: Do unto others as you would have done to you. “It is not necessarily relevant who violates the law (friend or foe) or what specific provision is violated,” writes Tripp Zanetis. “Any violation undermines international adherence to the law and this directly impacts the safety and wellbeing of our military forces.”

Read: War on BDS is now a war on American democracy

The United Nations was formed after World War Two as an inter-governmental organisation to resolve international conflicts, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war… to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights… to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours… [and] to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest.”

Unfortunately, though, under the banner of peace, the UN has had a hand in creating injustice and conflict, because essentially it is run as a political organisation. A case in point is Israel. The common representation of Israel’s birth is that the UN created the state; that the world was in favour of this move; and that the US administration supported it. All of these assumptions are demonstrably incorrect. In reality, while the UN General Assembly recommended the creation of a Jewish state in part of Palestine, that recommendation was non-binding and never implemented by the Security Council. Furthermore, the General Assembly passed that recommendation only after Israel proponents threatened and bribed numerous countries in order to gain a required two-thirds of the votes.

Post-WWII, when more and more countries were decolonised (the Jewish colonisation of Palestine is the only active colonial project remaining in the world today), 80 former colonies joined the UN (see The United Nations and Decolonisation), reshaping the organisation. However, the power structure in the UN works against democratisation. As permanent members of the Security Council, China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States use their individual veto power to maintain their foreign policy interests, either singly or collectively, and they control the international order.

Here is a brief outline of how the United States has used its veto power:

  • The United States did not exercise its first UN Security Council veto until 1970, on a resolution regarding Southern Rhodesia, which is present-day Zimbabwe.
  • Since then, it has used its veto 79 times, with more than 40 related to issues in the Middle East.
  • The majority of these have been resolutions that have criticised the Israeli government or failed to condemn armed Palestinian factions in the same language as that being used for Israel.
  • It used its last veto to block a resolution that would term Israeli settlement activity in Palestinian territory “illegal” and demand a halt to all such actions.

The five major powers were granted permanent membership in the UN Security Council after WWII because they were “major powers among victorious allies and predominant actors in international relations. They were active in the negotiations that led to the adoption of the UN Charter which established the organization.” (See On what basis was Security Council permanent membership granted?) Since that time, it has been business as usual — to the victors belong the spoils — despite the resounding words of the UN Charter.

Image of the anti-BDS meeting at the UN headquarters on 30 March 2017 [WorldJewishCong/Twitter]

Image of the anti-BDS meeting at the UN headquarters on 30 March 2017 [WorldJewishCong/Twitter]

These countries also contribute significantly in monetary terms to the UN system, with the US, as the only superpower, leading the way. To reform this system, you need nothing less than a revolution. Or you can try to join it, as Japan aspires to do. Unlike China, Japan is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council and has long resented paying much more for the organisation’s upkeep than China and Russia, despite the fact that the latter two states enjoy far more influence as a result of their permanent member status and accompanying veto power. The sting in the tail for Japan is the fact that Beijing has been the single biggest opponent of a permanent Security Council seat for its regional rival.

In the meantime, China’s proposed 2017 four-point plan on Palestine/Israel with a focus on the economic is “undermining Palestinian efforts to change the status quo.” It is not clear yet, though, whether this is a major departure along a new track that challenges US hegemony and European passivity. “Or is China simply pursuing its own economic interests in the guise of peacemaker?”

It is true that what the UN and its subsidiary agencies (UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNRWA and UNSCOP, to name but a few) have “resolved” and published on Israel/Palestine since the UN General Assembly Resolution on the Partition of Palestine (1947) — the Conciliation, Status of Jerusalem and Right to Return (1948); the Permanent International Regime for Jerusalem (1949); the Security Council resolutions on principles of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East (1967, 1973); etc. — fills volumes. However, these are all currently worthless.


Witness, for example, the fate of the report commissioned by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). It concluded that Israel practices an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole. The decision by the UN Secretary General to remove this report “points to the criminalisation of the United Nations.”

It is long overdue for the UN to take a lead from the global grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s breaches of international laws and conventions. In doing so, it must enforce the implementation of its own resolutions and reports by employing sanctions against Israel and its government, and those companies and individuals who benefit from the occupation of Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.