Security Council undermines justice and UN Charter

The UN Security Council meeting to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, 16 December 2008. (Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo)

The United Nations Security Council passed its first resolution on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in almost five years, on 16 December. But far from marking a break with the Council’s abdication of responsibility for the fate of the Palestinian people, United States- and Russian-sponsored resolution 1850 is the final nail in the coffin for even the pretense that international law and institutions will play any serious role in ending 60 years of dispossession and occupation, and bringing about a just peace.

Adopted 14-0, with Libya abstaining, the resolution also attempts to give the UN body’s official seal of approval to the ongoing usurpation of Palestinian democracy by the puppet regime of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his external sponsors.

Before analyzing what is in the resolution, it is important to note what is not. Under the UN Charter, the Security Council’s primary responsibility is to act to maintain “international peace and security.” And yet the new resolution makes no mention of Israel’s 4 November ground and air attack on the Gaza Strip killing six Palestinians and leading to the collapse of the six-month-long truce Israel negotiated with Palestinian resistance factions. It does not mention the blockade Israel has imposed on Gaza deliberately reducing 1.5 million people to eating animal feed and scavenging garbage while dozens die for lack of medical care. It ignores the desperate warnings of a mounting humanitarian crisis by officials of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, as they shut down food distribution to hundreds of thousands of persons because Israel would not allow supplies in to Gaza.

The resolution makes no mention of these unconscionable crimes even UN officials have termed “collective punishment” — a grave breach of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Conventions by which Israel is bound as the Occupying Power in the Gaza Strip (Israel’s so-called “disengagement” in 2005 does not absolve it of these responsibilities). If the Security Council were minimally abiding by its own responsibilities it would refer Israeli political and military leaders to the International Criminal Court for arrest and trial at The Hague for these crimes as well as their escalating threats against an occupied, colonized people who have few means of self-defense. Indeed, the resolution does not even mention the word “occupation.”

For the Security Council to ignore Israel’s detention and expulsion of UN human rights envoy Richard Falk just a day before it passed the new resolution sends a clear message to other outlaw regimes that UN authority can be trampled on with impunity.

Instead, resolution 1850 is full of deceptive language. The world’s highest international body welcomes, for instance, the 9 November “statement from the Quartet,” and the “Israeli-Palestinian Joint Understanding” announced at the Annapolis summit a year earlier. The Security Council also “Declares its support for the negotiations initiated at Annapolis” and its “commitment” to their “irreversibility” — whatever that means.

The resolution “Supports the parties’ agreed principles for the bilateral negotiating process and their determined efforts to reach their goal of concluding a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues.”

The frequent references to Annapolis and subsequent negotiations are meaningless because one year of intensive talks did not result in one single word of an agreement on any issues being written down as the parties have themselves repeatedly confirmed. Thus, this “support” amounts to no more than a statement saying “wouldn’t it be nice if there were a solution to one of the world’s toughest and most dangerous conflicts? What a pity we’re not going to do anything to help.”

But what is also hidden in this language is very dangerous indeed. By defining the so-called “core issues” as “bilateral,” to be subjected to “negotiations” between two hopelessly unequal parties, the Security Council is in effect sidelining decades of international law, undermining its own authority, and writing off Palestinian rights.

To see just how cynical and dishonest the “peace process” has become, let us go back to an earlier Security Council Resolution, 465 of 1980. In that resolution, the Security Council:

“Determine[d] that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel’s policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention …”

Resolution 465 — only one of many to do so — called on Israel “to rescind those measures, to dismantle the existing settlements and in particular to cease, on an urgent basis,” new settlement construction. It called on all UN member states not to provide Israel with any support facilitating colonization.

Under normal circumstances, outlaw states are not invited to negotiate with their victims over whether or not they will abide by basic tenets of international law, while the Security Council sits idly by, or worse, supports the aggressor as is the case now.

Resolution 1850 does not even bother to pay lip service, as the Security Council did in the past, to Israel’s obligations under international law. Instead, it merely “Calls on both parties to fulfill their obligations” under the Quartet’s “Roadmap,” and “refrain from any steps that could undermine confidence or prejudice the outcome of negotiations.” Hence, it places occupier and occupied on the same footing, and reduces the right for Palestinians not to be violently thrown off their land to a mere matter of “confidence” between “negotiators.”

By deferring to the Quartet and its failed “Roadmap,” the Security Council demeans itself. What is the Quartet? It is a self-appointed, ad hoc committee made up of representatives of the US, EU, Russia and the UN secretary-general. In practice, however, the other members have merely been decorative while the US calls the shots. But how can the UN, representing 200 member states, reduce itself to a single member of a committee itself composed of a self-selected club of UN member states? And how can the Security Council abdicate its own authority to such a body, especially one that has proven so unremittingly ineffective?

As absurd and bad as these things are, they are the culmination of creeping trends evident also in the way the UN allowed itself to legitimize post facto the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. What is new, and equally disturbing about resolution 1850 is its frontal attack on Palestinian democracy.

The resolution “Calls on all States and international organizations to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations and to support the Palestinian government that is committed to the Quartet principles and the Arab Peace Initiative and respects the commitments of the Palestinian Liberation Organization …”

This translates as a call to continue boycotting the democratically-elected Palestinian government that is now caged in the Gaza Strip, while the so-called international community continues to grant legitimacy and money to the “government” headed by Salam Fayyad and appointed by Abbas in violation of Palestinian law, after the failed US-sponsored attempts to overthrow the elected government in June 2007. Abbas’ own term as Palestinian Authority president expires on 9 January. By all indications he will simply remain in his chair illegally. Lacking all democratic legitimacy, Abbas will now be able to point to the UN resolution as his basis for clinging to power just because he, unlike the elected government, has capitulated to the Quartet’s one-sided conditions.

In short, the Security Council has decided that it, not the Palestinian people, has the right to choose Palestinian leaders. This is not only a usurpation of a fundamental aspect of Palestinians’ right to self-determination, but an assault on democracy everywhere.

While masquerading as an attempt to support peace, resolution 1850 is replete with other cynical gestures. Corrupt Palestinian Authority officials and external peace process industry consultants and non-governmental organizations will no doubt be thrilled by the Security Council’s call on “States and international organizations” to “maximize resources available to the Palestinian Authority,” and to continue to fund the failed “Palestinian institution-building program.” This is also an indirect way to legitimize the efforts of outside powers to arm and train the militias loyal to Abbas whose purpose is to crush Palestinian resistance to the occupation.

The Arab League’s irrelevance is confirmed when the resolution merely notes in passing “the importance of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.” And, the declaration that “the two-state solution” is the “only” possible solution is an effort to cover up decades of failure, and silence the growing debate about democratic alternatives.

It is disappointing that Russia, after it was subjected to the same kind of arbitrary and illogical decisions from the West after Georgia’s surprise attack on South Ossetia last August, should collude in the further erosion of Palestinian rights and UN authority. But that was probably the price Russia had to pay for a petty reward: the resolution promises yet another sterile “international meeting” of the Quartet in Moscow next year. It is not the first time that Palestinian rights have been traded for such insignificant benefits for others.

With its latest intervention, the Security Council sought to bestow legitimacy on Israeli occupation, colonization and those who abet its oppression. Instead it simply exposed ever more shamelessly its own illegitimacy and subservience to powers who have no regard for international law and for the rights of those it is supposed to protect.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).

This article first appeared in The Jordan Times and is reprinted with the authors’ permission.