The UN is changing its narrative about the coronavirus cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. A few months ago, this cooperation was politicised by the UN within the context of diplomatic negotiations. Rather than focus on the pandemic and the additional hardships it places upon Palestinians due to yet another form of security coordination, the UN, taking its lead from Israeli officials and international diplomats, touted the cooperation as an example of how future negotiations could be conducted. Needless to say, the PA was expected to cooperate in any negotiations, thus eliminating the "both parties" rhetoric which featured prominently in this context, blatantly reinforcing Israel's colonial agenda.
As the virus spiked again in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, briefed the UN Security Council on the current situation. He took into consideration the virus spread, the economic downturn and the forthcoming Israeli annexation of territory in the occupied West Bank.
Clearly, the UN is concerned about the suspension of security coordination, or parts of it, the extent to which cooperation has been halted being ambiguous. Mladenov has been careful to frame the repercussions within the coronavirus context, yet emphasised "the steps taken in response by the Palestinian leadership" with regard to annexation. Once again, Palestinians are purportedly to blame for any retaliation against colonial violence, even though the PA, typically, started out with grandiose rhetoric about opposing Israel only to return to what the international community demands of it: negotiations prioritising Israeli demands.
In Mladenov's words, the pandemic and its repercussions have "exposed the unsustainability of the occupation and the need to update agreements that define the relationship between the two sides in the interest of peace." Not really. Besides the inaccuracies inherent in this statement, colonisation is unsustainable and the UN should know that; there is no need for a pandemic to highlight what is already blatantly obvious. Exploitation, however, remains the UN's most vital tool. If, in the first outbreak of the virus, the context helped to promote the negotiations discourse, this time round it will serve as a shield for the UN to act as if it is discovering for the first time what is clearly defined in international law and academic research, not to mention bolstering international and Israeli impunity.
According to Mladenov, opposing annexation is not enough. The way forward, he told the Security Council, rests upon preserving "the prospect for a two-state solution, increase the chances of meaningful negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and protect these efforts from spoilers, radicals and extremists." The last part of his statement is open to interpretation, unless Mladenov is referring to opponents of the two-state compromise. However, the most telling part of this rhetoric is the way that the UN is advocating the normalisation of annexation by insisting, yet again, that the two-state paradigm is the only way forward. It is pertinent to ask, therefore, in what practical and political ways does the UN oppose annexation, bearing in mind that it advocates for a process that gives Israel exactly what it needs for further colonial expansion?
When it comes to Covid-19 and colonisation, the UN is surpassing its usual duplicity.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.