The US has often failed to live up to its own ideals but never before has it systematically rejected long-standing values which, in the eyes of many, has made the country great. Domestically it’s passed another milestone towards decline by ripping children from the arms of their parents and putting them in fenced enclosures. The President – a self-styled dealmaker no less – has broken every deal and surrendered the US’ position as the leader of the ‘free world’.
Yesterday the US withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Coming on the back of the US embassy move to Jerusalem, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and withdrawing from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), it seems there is nothing the current US President would not do for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a key backer of his campaign, Sheldon Adelson.
Explaining America’s reason for the withdrawal, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley denounced the 47 member body for its “chronic bias against Israel”. Her main gripe is with Agenda Item 7 which deals with Israeli abuses in the Palestinian territories. The focus on Israel is a permanent item in council meetings. The UK and Australia have also voiced their opposition to Item 7 without ever threatening to withdraw from the council, which in fact dedicates only a small fraction of its time during meetings to discussing Israel.
While Israel’s permanent inclusion may seem anomalous there are perfectly good reasons why that is the case. The organised international community has a unique set of responsibilities with respect to Palestine. The focus on Palestine is unlike any other place in the world and it goes back to the establishment of the Mandate after World War I. The international community further entrenched itself into the affairs of Palestinians through the 1947 UN partition plan which overrode the norm of self-determination. The UN bears special responsibility for the suffering imposed on the Palestinians, which explains a number of decisions it took concerning the plight of the Palestinian people.
Following the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians – more than half the Palestinian population – from their homes by Jewish Paramilitary groups, the UN’s first decision was to set up the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a humanitarian organisation dedicated to Palestinian refugees. It also set up another institution known as the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP). The first served the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians and the second tried but failed to facilitate their return and compensation that was entitled to them under international law.
Having failed to solve the question of Palestine during the early years of the conflict, the plight of Palestinians remained a key issue in their agenda. Israel’s colonisation and further entrenchment of its occupation into Palestinian territory only heightened the international community’s concerns over the plight of 11 million people living either under a brutal regime or as refugees around the world.
National liberation movements in the 1960s and 1970s, which saw the UN as a site for protest against Western imperialism had come and gone. While issues concerning Namibia, South Africa, Cape Verde, Vietnam, Laos and others have in one way or another been resolved, the Palestinians, after nearly a century, are no closer to realising their just historical rights.
The claim that the UN is biased against Israel has no merit. Despite the international community’s failure to make Israel comply with international law and end the longest occupation in modern history, it is Israel that receives favourable treatment from the US and many other mainly Western countries. It’s revealing that the claim of bias is related totally to the number of resolutions passed against Israel and not to whether international denunciations of Israel are substantively well founded.
Complaining that the UN spends too much time discussing Israel when far worse human rights violations are being committed elsewhere is no different to complaining about the international community’s focus on Apartheid South Africa and when far greater crimes against humanity were being committed elsewhere.
Certain conflicts over the past 50 years – South Africa, Israel/Palestine, Algeria, Vietnam – have for a variety of reasons grabbed attention, especially for those on the left. There is no moral ambiguity over these cases. Colonisation, occupation and racism are just plain wrong not to mention illegal. Because of the anti-colonial struggles and civil rights movements of the past, there thus exists a near-reflexive response when states – such as Israel – employ the tactics of the pre-civil rights era in the post-colonial age.
The best way for Haley to insure her beloved Israel does not get singled out, as she claims, at the UN is for her to help end the occupation. Attacking the messenger is just another desperate attempt to divert attention away from the fact that Israel and the US are not interested in ending the occupation. Instead of asking why the UN has paid too much attention to Israel, a more appropriate complaint would be to ask why the UN has repeatedly failed to hold Israel to account for its many crimes and produce a sustainable and just peace after all these years.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.