United Nations Report
Signs Indicate Less Fawning to Chutzpah By U.N., Quartet Officials
By Ian Williams
ISRAEL’S POSTURE as a heavily armed victim is preposterous in face of the evidence, of course, but it has been remarkably successful in the mainstream U.S. media, totally successful in Washington, and almost as effective in Europe since the 9/11 attacks, when Ariel Sharon adroitly conflated Israel’s battle to hold down the Palestinian territories with Washington’s “war on terror.” Given the current demonization of Hezbollah and Hamas, it is worth remembering that the first victims of this mischaracterized vendetta were in fact Sharon’s old enemies: Yasser Arafat, Fateh and the Palestinian Authority.
The West seemed not to learn from this experience just how expedient Israel’s definition of terrorism is, and has not challenged this constant expansion of “terrorist” to any opponent of Israeli policies.
However, chutzpah can be a banal form of hubris, and it has its penalties. Although its experience of the last few years may have led Israel’s leaders and diplomats to assume that no one would ever be so rude as to point out the profound difference between their promises and their performance, there are limits. After renewing its commitment to cease settlement expansion as its part of the so-called “road map,” Israel’s explicit announcements of new building in the occupied territories seem to have caused the various partners in the Quartet to take a reality check.
Even U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has appeared a bit miffed with the Israelis. The others, however, have been more explicit and have taken the opportunity to remind Israel about the inherent illegality of the settlements—let alone the breach of its solemn word over expanding them.
It takes time, but occasionally the truth does surface. A British diplomat complained to me that in 2006, when Margaret Becket was foreign secretary, the U.N. mission had been asked to show British disapproval of Israeli tactics during the Lebanon war without actually saying anything outright, for fear of offending Britain’s current equivalent of AIPAC, Labour Friends of Israel, which had increased enormously in power under the Blair premiership.
So it is with relief that one could hear new British Ambassador to the U.N. John Sawer speak some truth against the developing dogma in European capitals and the U.N. that Israel can do no wrong. (One must note that the British, who were at the receiving end of the terrorist activities of the political antecedents of Likud, should have been the last to be suckered by Israel’s recent conversion to “anti-terrorism.”)
At the March monthly Security Council meeting on the Middle East, which in contrast to some previous perfunctory events gave the subject some time, Sawer explicitly said, “Israel should freeze all settlement activity, including the natural growth of existing settlements. The UK considers that Israeli settlement building anywhere in the occupied Palestinian territories is illegal under international law. This includes settlements in both East Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Admittedly, even under Blair, the British had never explicitly or implicitly repudiated that longstanding position. Nevertheless, let us say, it was not actually restated very often. Sawer’s words were an implicit, and understated, rebuke to the American position on the settlements, which has morphed from admitting their illegality, to finding them “unhelpful” under Clinton, to promising that some of them can be annexed under Bush.
Indeed the ambassador also welcomed the Yemeni attempt at dialogue between Hamas and Fatah, implicitly repudiating the American-Israeli strategy of fomenting conflict between the two. These are small but significant signs that the Brown government is distancing itself from the Blair policy of complete subservience to Israel and the U.S.
Others on the same path of rediscovery of their principles and reality include U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, who started his term broadly accepting an American view of the concept. Confronted with Israeli lack of faith, however, he has become a quick learner. Exasperated U.N. officials, notably in UNRWA have had to deal with the Israeli actions. When UNRWA states that “Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the knowledge, acquiescence and—some would say—encouragement of the international community,” the secretary-general has no option but to listen, and be deeply concerned.
B. Lynn Pascoe, his (American) under secretary-general for political affairs, also added a stark statistic—which, without comment, objectively contradicted Israeli claims to unique victimhood. “In total,” he told the Council, “124 Palestinians, including 36 children, had been killed and 359 injured in Israeli operations. Thirteen Israelis had been killed by Palestinian militants, including four children, and 55 injured.”
While his report condemned Hamas rocket attacks, it continued with its indictment of the effects of the occupation, referring to the “580 Israel Defense Forces-imposed obstacles” blocking roads in the West Bank, and that the “levels of restriction had steadily increased each year since 2005, in both quantity and character, and were at the root of the Palestinian economic decline.”
Added Pasco: “Israeli settlement activity had continued in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, during the reporting period. Tenders and construction permits for hundreds of housing units had been announced this month. Construction continued on many settlements and related infrastructure, such as roads for settler use. The Israeli government had stated publicly that settlement expansion in East Jerusalem would continue.”
He also reiterated that “all settlement activity in East Jerusalem or elsewhere in the West Bank” is against international law, and pointed out Israel’s failure to meet its commitments under the road map, and its continuing construction of the wall despite the World Court decision.
Pasco even had the temerity to report that Israel had violated Lebanese air space no less than 222 times in the previous week, which constituted a “serious breach of Lebanese sovereignty and the Blue Line, and undermined the credibility of Lebanese national institutions and UNIFIL.”
Ban’s conclusion to the Security Council laid out that “Peace would be achieved within the agreed framework: an end to the occupation that had begun in 1967, based on the foundations of the Madrid Conference; the principle of land for peace; Security Council resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 (2002) and 1515 (2003); and the Arab Peace Initiative. That framework would lead to an end of conflict, the creation of a Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel, and a comprehensive regional peace.”
That road map is very different from the obscuration of the official agreement and Israel’s unilaterally declared conditions on it. Indeed, instead of fostering Palestinian acquiescence and a PA signature ripping up international law and U.N. resolutions, Ban’s “agreed framework” explicitly restates them and implies that apart from minor territorial adjustments, any solution must be based on the pre-1967 boundaries. Since Washington has constantly tried to obscure and downgrade those decisions, Ban has, in his own quiet way, made considerable progress by restating them.
Ban also will have to deal with the continuing campaign against the new U.N. Human Rights Council. Israel and its supporters are even more infuriated than they were before with the appointment of Professor Richard Falk, a professor of international law at Princeton, as the Council’s special investigator of Israeli behavior in the territories.
Falk replaces South African John Dugard, a veteran anti-apartheid activist whose acuity in comparing apartheid South Africa with Israel in the territories really upset Israeli supporters, from whom the truth traditionally raises the loudest cries. While Dugard had the support of his government, however, Falk is unlikely to get Washington behind him.
An outspoken critic of Israeli behavior, the minor details of being American and Jewish did not protect Falk from furious objections from Yitzhak Levanon, the Israeli ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva. “Someone who has publicly and repeatedly stated such views cannot possibly be considered independent, impartial or objective.” he charged. Of course Israel and its supporters would not really be satisfied with anyone but Alan Dershowitz, who has yet to find an Israeli action he cannot support.
Ian Williams, a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations, is working on a book about U.N.-Haters in the U.S., and has a blog at