Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September-October 2008, pages 34-35

United Nations Report

Playing Favorites

By Ian Williams

One can see why pro-Israeli congress­persons take a regular tilt at UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Its latest report, Prolonged Crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory: Socio-Economic Developments in 2007, available online at <www.unrwa.org>, dispassionately outlines what the occupation is doing to the Palestinian people. “The real average unemployment rate in the oPt in 2007 remained amongst the highest in the world at 29.5 percent,” it reported. “When adjusted to account for the sharp increase in unpaid absentee workers in Gaza during the second half of the year, joblessness in Gaza between July and December 2007 reached an unprecedented high of 45.3 percent. At 46.1 percent, rates were slightly higher for refugees in Gaza.”

The reason the difference is so marginal is clear. While some refugees came to camps, for residents of Gaza the camp came to them. The Strip is one long camp—or ghetto.

In Gaza, the report continued, “the number of households below the consumption poverty line continued to grow, reaching 51.8 percent for the year as a whole.”

Take more than a million dispossessed people with justifiable historic grudges, confine them to a small space, starve them, and give them plenty of spare time to nurse their anger, with frequent raids and air attacks in case they get apathetic, and no sociologist would have much difficulty predicting the outcome.

Then persuade your international circle of useful idiots to condemn “terrorism” and give you a free pass for your own behavior. That is pretty much what has been happening with the U.S. and its allies at the U.N.

Years ago in a Liverpool dockside pub that continued serving behind closed doors after hours, a friend and I pulled off a man who was savagely beating his wife, and threw him outside. And one of his friends chipped in, “she was a bit cheeky, you know.”

This automatic identification with the perpetrator and attempt to suggest moral parity between the offender and the victim is very reminiscent of Washington’s support of Israel.

That is why, in some contexts, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad could have been the target of an AIPAC firestorm for his temerity in expressing “deep” concern over the “continuing Israeli settlement activity,” which he accused of having “a negative effect on the atmosphere surrounding the negotiations” in the region.

Israeli Abassador Dan Gillerman behaved as if the U.N. were his home court.

However, in the context of a threatened U.S. veto of the resolution sought by the Arab states to condemn Israel’s announcement of more settlement building, Ambassador Khalilzad is assured of a free pass from AIPAC. The Israel lobby behemoth knew, after all, that no resolution that isolated or singled out the perpetrator would be allowed. Nor would there be any repetition of the heroic days of James Baker and President George H.W. Bush, when Israel was told that U.S. aid could not be used to build what the White House and State Department then correctly identified as illegal settlements.

The American position has since eroded: the settlements are “unhelpful,” or have “a negative effect.” Of course, Israel pledged both to the U.S. and the Quartet as well that it would stop settlement expansion. Nevertheless, it has learned that it no longer need fear the robust response of its biggest—and indeed, almost only—unequivocal backer.

Israel can break its word with impunity; so far, the worst penalty it has had to pay has been a deepened furrow on Condoleezza Rice’s brow. It does make one wonder. Here is the world’s only superpower, the military, economic and diplomatic backstop for Israel, and Israel can thumb its nose, or worse, at will.

In 2001, Israel was the subject of international censure from the entire global community for its incursions into “self-ruled” Palestinian territory. Mesmerized by the “War on Terror,” the British, Canadians, Australians and the Europeans all now join in condoning or ignoring almost daily IDF operations that, before 9/11, each would have been the occasion for an emergency Security Council meeting.

One of those both responsible for and benefiting from this sea change in sentiment was Dan Gillerman, Israeli ambassador to the U.N. since 2003, who called former U.S. President Jimmy Carter a “bigot.” The U.S. State Department felt it had no option but to register a protest with Israel (even if the White House itself may have had some stronger epithets in mind), but in his round of farewell interviews, played up across the American and Israeli press, Gillerman said he had not heard a word directly from either the U.S. or Israeli government about it.

The adulatory press was in some measure justified on professional grounds. Previous Israeli permanent representatives to the U.N. tended to behave as if they were an uninvited guest at the party—as, of course, they were. Instead, armored with the war on terror and the tacit blessing or connivance of the major powers Gillerman behaved as if the U.N. were his home court. He certainly made it such, haunting the 38th floor, where the Secretary General works, and advising on U.N. operations in a way that even permanent members would have blushed at.

A Progressively More Foreful Ban

However, even Gillerman’s diplomatic charms could not cover for the misdeeds of the country he represents, and Ban Ki Moon’s statements on settlements and Israeli behavior have become progressively more forceful. Of course, he has little option. The body of U.N. decisions and international law dating from the 1947 partition resolution to the 2004 International Court of Justice opinion on the separation wall quite clearly shows Israel to be in violation both of specific resolutions and the general principles of international law—quite apart from its own commitment to the Quartet, which the U.N. secretary-general heads.

So, we have Ban Ki Moon, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and many others clearly and unequivocally saying that the plans for more settlement building are illegal and destructive of the (increasingly mythological) peace process. Washington says “unhelpful” and uses its veto to stop any censure of Israel, while wondering why it cannot get unanimous support to condemn Iran, or the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe.

Speaking of condemnation, the U.S. delegation abstained on a resolution to extend the mandate of the peacekeeping force in Darfur—ostensibly because the British had included palliative language in the preamble mentioning African concerns about the timing of the charges against Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and promising a discussion.

Mysterious Territory

We are in mysterious territory here. The U.S. abstained on the original vote calling for an ICC investigation—because it was totally opposed to the whole concept of the court. Now the U.S. delegation claims that it would not vote for the resolution because it would not countenance any suggestion that the court it did not want to exist would in any way soften its processes against Al-Bashir. Since it would take a positive vote of the Security Council to suspend the prosecution, and the U.S. not only has a veto but probably also has a majority in the Council on this issue, why would it bother to abstain? One cannot help suspecting that some residual Boltonesque feelings about the court also motivated the decision.

For the record, while the U.S. insistence that (some) Arab countries abide by every jot and tittle of U.N. decisions is indeed hypocritical when taken in conjunction with its protection of Israel, we should note that Israel is not the only beneficiary of Washington’s solicitousness. For example, it also protects, along with France and much of the Arab world, Morocco, which built the prototype of the separation wall around Western Sahara and has itself been building settlements in occupied territory in defiance of U.N. resolutions.

Russia wants its Serbian Orthodox friends, like newly arrested Radovan Karadzic, to have a free pass from international justice, while South Africa, now that Mandela has retired, has joined Russia and China in protecting Mugabe, and indeed joined the Arab world in protecting Al Bashir.

There is an American tendency to assume that any Muslim or Arab is automatically guilty of any crime, but that is the mirror image of some Arabs regarding any of their fellow Muslims as automatically innocent. Both are destructive of the growing movement to global justice, which has politicians and generals checking with their lawyers as well as their travel agents before traveling abroad.

It is true that some of those most loudly defending the rights of Darfur would not hear a word said against Israel’s behavior, not least since they never quite realized that the people of Darfur are dark-skinned Arabic-speaking Muslims—just like their so-called “Arab” Jinjaweed persecutors.

However, Israeli generals and politicians dare not go to Europe lest an arrest warrant hits them. If that is fair—and it is—then so is a prosecution of Al-Bashir. 


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 <www.deadlinepundit.blogspot.com>. His last book was Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776.

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