Thursday, August 21, 2014
Israel, the scapegoat of a hostile, impotent UN | i24news - See beyond
Operation Protective Edge put the United Nations into a time machine that screeched to a halt in the 1970s. It was a period scorched in the memory of Israel's diplomatic history as one of the hardest, most humiliating and painful periods the country ever experienced in the UN arena in New York. The signing of the first Oslo Accords softened hostility towards Israel, opening wide the cracks in the wall of isolation that surrounded it and started a new era of relative comfort and reconciliation in the organization’s attitude to Israel.
The war in Gaza will be remembered, however, as the event that triggered a significant shift in Israeli-UN relations. For Israel, it is a shift that does not promise good tides, to say the least. As far as the UN is concerned, the war shattered the barriers of diplomatic speech/ When it comes to the war in Gaza and Israel's perceived blame for its results, all politeness and restraint has disappeared from the political jargon.
Official statements published recently by senior UNRWA officials, speeches delivered at the UN emergency session held two weeks and statements commonplace in private conversations with veteran diplomats, paint a picture of a UN that has returned to its old ways regarding its long-time member state, Israel. Resurfacing are patterns from the 1970s, where displays of hostility and alienation of Israel were at their peak.
The atmosphere at the UN in recent weeks recalls the days when the Israeli ambassador was a persona non grata and diplomats were careful not to be seen conversing with him in public. The mood towards Israel at the organization's headquarters brings to mind the celebratory mood in the time that Yasser Arafat was welcomed at the UN |General Assembly as a hero, delivering a speech with a pistol holster on his hip; or the time the UN approved by majority the notorious decision that equated Zionism with racism.
Make no mistake. Even on regular days, the UN is no friend to Israel. It is accepted as a member state and previous attempts to question its membership have ceased. But nations such as Libya (under the reign of Muammar Gaddafi), Syria with its oppressive ruler, Lebanon with a government that includes Hezbollah representatives and Sudan -- whose president is wanted by The Hague for war crimes -- have all been members and even presidents of the security council. Israel, one of the oldest member states in the organization, was never selected for the security council.
To understand this radical hostility towards Israel one must understand two aspects: First, the difficult images and reports from Gaza -- the turning point in the organization’s treatment of Israel came when media outlets all over the world published pictures of destruction caused by air force and artillery bombardments. The change was accelerated Friday three weeks ago, following the report on the bombing of the UNRWA school in Rafah, that according to the UN was the sixth school to be bombed by the Israeli army. Even Israel's most stalwart defenders in New York lost their cool and joined in the fiery rebukes.
The criticism eventually morphed into the anti-Israeli fiesta that we witnessed two weeks ago at the emergency session of the UN Conference. Representatives of 50 countries spoke at the meeting. Most of them gave poisonous, hateful speeches against Israel without even briefly mentioning Hamas's role in the conflict. But it was not only hostility towards Israel that fed the diatribes. The conference was also venting its members' frustration and rage at the helplessness that the international organization has been displaying in other crises and armed conflicts taking place across the globe. The organization cannot put an end to the continued slaughter of civilians in Syria. The security council was shown in its full weakness failing to react adequately to the crisis in Ukraine. The UN watches as a scared, powerless observer on the barbarism of Islamic State terrorizing thousands of civilians in Syria and Iraq. The UN once again showcases its impotence, and Israel is the scapegoat.
The emergency conference was in fact a dress rehearsal for the diplomatic attack that Israel can expect at the yearly General Assembly that will open in New York at the end of the next month, where more than 100 heads of state will convene. The team that the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva formed to investigate the Israeli army's actions in the Gaza Strip will file its conclusions in March 2015, but its first drafts were already published before they even set foot in the region. Last week, the UN secretariat sent out a message that included data on the destruction that Israeli bombings caused in Gaza. This week, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published a map and satellite photos of Gaza that included a full report of damaged buildings. All that remains is for the UNHRC team to confirm both documents and add a paragraph that blames Israel for the destruction.
What remains unpublished are the results of a meeting and a conversation held last week between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a group of heads of Jewish organizations. The Secretary-General stunned them when he did not hesitate to say that Israel is at fault for what he defined as an “unproportional response” to rockets and missiles fired by Hamas.The Secretary-General also defended the appointment of Professor William Schabas as head of the UN probe and rejected claims that the team will publish conclusions biased against Israel. “There is nothing to worry about,” he said. “The team’s report will express no prejudice against Israel.”
I remain skeptical.
Shlomo Shamir, for 40 years the Haaretz correspondent in New York, is an expert on the US Jewish community and its organizations.