UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s recent statements on the situation in Palestine confirm that under his weak leadership the United Nations will have no role in resolving the conflict or protecting its victims. Rather, he has aligned himself with the logic that Palestinians, uniquely, must earn from their oppressors the basic human rights that for all other people are inherent.
According to Reuters news agency, which obtained a copy of the letter, Annan wrote to Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat about Ariel Sharon’s intentions for Gaza, to say that Arafat should “give the disengagement plan a chance.” Reuters adds, “Annan said Israel must carry out its Road Map requirements to dismantle outposts and freeze construction in larger, established settlements.”
It is shocking enough that Annan has become the salesman for Sharon, but in what the news agency described as “unusually tough language,” Annan also scolded Arafat: “You are aware… that the Palestinian side too has obligations it has not fulfilled… The Palestinian Authority should immediately start taking effective measures to curb terrorism and violence… Decisive actions on your part would help the international community ensure that any withdrawal from Gaza is part of the implementation of the Road Map and not a substitute for it.”
It would be understandable for Annan to direct such criticism at the Palestinian side if there were a genuine peace process to which everyone were committed, and only Palestinian recalcitrance were blocking. But his comments are astonishing after Ariel Sharon has announced publicly that the Road Map is dead, and that his open intention is to annex large chunks of occupied territory in direct violation of UN Security Council Resolutions.
It is equally unacceptable that Annan chastises the Palestinians for failing to protect the occupier from the occupied people at a time when Israel is intensifying its violence against them with no restraint. On the same day that Annan reportedly sent his letter to Arafat — April 30 — the independent Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza announced the toll of Israeli war crimes in the Occupied Territories for that month: Israel killed 73 Palestinians, and injured 192; it destroyed 139 houses, 156 flats and leveled 311 dunums of agricultural land.
As usual, however, Annan’s attention to violence when the perpetrators are Israelis and the victims Palestinians is perfunctory. In a statement on 22 April, Annan said, “The Secretary-General is alarmed by the deadly consequences of the two-day Israeli incursion into the northern Gaza Strip which ended today. Among the Palestinian fatalities were reportedly at least 10 civilians, including five children under 15 years of age.”
Why did Annan not act immediately to end the Israeli attack, rather than wait until it was over in order to issue a useless commentary? Annan did not condemn the Israeli attack in any way, he simply declared himself “alarmed by its deadly consequences.”
He showed great understanding for the Israeli action, declaring that “he is aware that the incursion followed rocket and mortar fire against Israeli targets. However, the Secretary-General urges Israel to respect its obligations under international law as an occupying power regarding the use of disproportionate force in civilian areas.” His “urging” of Israel is the mildest rebuke that diplomatic convention allows. He did not mention that the rocket attacks, which followed Israel’s murder of Hamas leader Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, mostly targeted Israeli military installations inside Gaza, and thus consituted legitimate resistance, and resulted in one injury and light damage to Israeli buildings.
Annan claims to be working to implement the Road Map. But in reality he helped to kill it by adopting the wilful American distortion of the plan. Recall that the text of the Road Map says that in Phase One, the Palestinians will implement an “immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere.” Equally it says that Israel too will declare an “unequivocal…immediate end to violence against Palestinians everywhere.” Specifically, Israel must cease “deportations, attack on civilians; confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, as a punitive measure or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure.” Israel was also supposed to stop all settlement activity without exception.
But the United States instantly forgot about all of Israel’s obligations to stop violence, and settlements. Its only obligation became to remove the cosmetic settlement “outposts” which are a mere distraction. Annan still affirms that Israel has a right to “defend” itself. What is missing is any recognition whatsoever that Palestinians also have such a right.
Israel has made it clear in word and deed that it wants the Road Map to fail. It has announced that its goal is take the land of the Palestinians away from them and give it exclusively to Jewish colonizers. Annan’s job is to demand international protection for the victims of this aggression, not to scold them for failure to protect their ethnic cleansers. In other situations, Annan seems to understand this. In early April, Annan said that the appalling situation in the Sudanese region of Darfur might require international military intervention. Annan ought to call for urgent UN intervention to protect the Palestinians.
But Annan does not dare to do that. He has reduced the organization that represents the will and laws of 191 nations, and that has a historic and legal responsibility with respect to the Palestine Question, to one of the three inactive members of the US-led “Quartet.” As such, he has done the bidding of the United States and Israel which always sought to sideline the United Nations and turn the conflict from one whose solution is based in the implementation of international law and the restoration of justice, to one that will be decided solely on the basis of raw power. By his action and inaction, Annan is complicit in the bloodbath engulfing Israelis and Palestinians.
A version of this article first appeared in The Jordan Times. Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada