The UN is part of Palestine’s problem

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations, 23 September 2011.

Eric Thayer Reuters

At the United Nations building in New York City on Friday, 23 September 2011, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) addresses the General Assembly in his bid to obtain full recognition of Palestine, as a state, in the United Nations.

As President Obama, and Prime Ministers Cameron and Netanyahu were when they spoke, Mahmoud Abbas is sharply dressed and wears a suit.

There is only one major difference between him and the others, but a crucial one: Mahmoud Abbas gives his speech in Arabic.

Mahmoud Abbas wears the imperialists’ clothes but does not speak the imperialists’ language of choice. Abbas, in the eyes of Obama, Cameron and Netanyahu, represents the “other” — the “majority world” (often mistakenly called “developing world”), the oppressed. He represents the people that, for them, do not count.

For all the talk about the PA bid putting the US and Israel under pressure, for all the nervousness shown by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama and the rest, they do not, at the end of the day, care the slightest about it.

They do not care if all the polls in the world showed that the majority of people asked are in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state and they do not care if Abbas wears a suit or not.

Abbas could have worn Arafat’s famous kuffiyeh, the checkered scarf that has become a Palestinian nationalist symbol; the result would have been the same. In their heads, there will always be masters (them) and servants (the others). Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians, today, still represent the other.

And the other does not have a voice, even at the UN.

The UN is one of the most undemocratic bodies in the world. After all, five permanent members have the right to veto anything they disagree with. The decisions of those five members, the masters — United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China — overrule the actions that the rest of the world is sometimes willing to take.

In a way, this arrangement mirrors internationally what goes on in most countries: A powerful elite living the high-life and making decisions for everyone else while the majority of humanity is struggling to make ends meet.

The UN is therefore part of the problem and will never bring justice to the Palestinians. It is precisely this body which exacerbated in 1947 the mess the Palestinians are currently in by passing a resolution calling for the partition of Palestine without the consent of its indigenous people. Thus, the UN violated the Palestinians’ right to self-determination at the very moment other colonized peoples were exercising theirs.

Since then, dozens of resolutions have been adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council upholding the Palestinians’ right of self-determination, demanding an end of occupation and colonization and Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands, and the right of return of the refugees.

Yet without exception, those resolutions have been violated by Israel with total impunity. Why? Because Israel is part of the masters’ clique. Israel is in their club and represents the same interests.

While it is easy to understand the PA’s motivations in making a move at the UN — taking matters for the first time in a long time into their own hands, not succumbing to pressure, making a statement — it has unfortunately very little chance to make any real difference on the ground. By going to the UN, the PA continues to accept the rules of its master/oppressor.

In history, there has never been a case of a master relinquishing power for philosophical and altruistic reasons.

Did the slave masters suddenly decide that it was morally reprehensible to use other people as slaves? Did the segregationists in the US decide that Rosa Parks, after all, should be able to sit in the seat of her choice when going on a bus?

Did white South Africans, after the Sharpeville massacre, think that killing black women, kids and innocents was not what their beloved God or nationalist ideology had in mind? Did Hosni Mubarak after more than thirty years in power think that it was time to have a real democracy in Egypt?

They did not.

Those struggles were won by people’s power. When the people said NO. When the people, despite eventually facing terrible consequences, organized, took on the streets, marched, chanted, went on strike, united, rebelled and said “we will not have it your way any longer.”

What will make the road shorter for the Palestinians — who have already struggled and endured for so long — is to mobilize as much international solidarity as possible, to shift the balance in favor of the people faster.

And this is on the way. Palestinian civil society has done precisely this with its 2005 civil society call for boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS).

All over the world, people acting on the BDS call are building a movement, and building momemtum that no one can control because it comes from the bottom up, is in constant evolution and keeps re-inventing itself. A movement based on human rights and international law.

This movement, accompanied by other initiatives such as the International Solidarity Movement, the Free Gaza Movement, the flotillas and “‘flytilla,” the Viva Palestina convoys, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine and many other creative and spontaneous actions hav isolated and delegitimized Israel, a rogue state, far more effectively than years of endless and fruitless negotiations.

People are taking matters into their own hands; they are writing and making, history. The masters know that this has happened many time in the past. The thought of it happening again sends shivers into their expensive suits.

Frank Barat is a human rights activist and coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine. He has edited two books, Gaza in Crisis (Haymarket/Penguin) with Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe and the forthcoming Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation (Pluto Press) with Asa Winstanley.




AIPAC rules USA that rules UNO


The UN is out of date. It still reflects the WWII world. It needs either to evolve or be replaced. The instrument perhaps exists in the Commonwealth of Nations which could be dusted down and brought to real life again.


Thanks for this excellent article that very simply offers the blueprint for change for Palestinians. It can happen when we decide, each one of us, to no longer support the occupation; no more Israeli food on our table; nothing manufactured by Israel in our houses; no to Israeli technology (e.g. electric cars, Intel, etc.); when we write a short letter or email to our Councillors to say no to awarding contracts to Veolia (a firm that supports the illegal settlements); when we write to our MP and EU representative to say no to Britain supporting a veto in the Security Council - whatever you think of the wisdom of the Palestinian statehood bid, it would be shameful for Britain to oppose it.
Each one of us counts however little we do; definitely a case of 'the sum is greater than the parts'.
Say yes to helping to bring the Palestinians back under the umbrella of the Declaration of Universal Human Rights, who have had every one of those rights deliberately taken away by successive Israeli governments.


You sound just like Israel - they always say the U.N. is against them.

The alaigned forces arwe sure interesting. Against the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership count Israeli government, Rright-wing Jewish Americans, and the Palestinian diaspora.

If not the U.N. please tell me how Palestinians will win nrights? Do you expect the Israeli governmnt to turn over the keys?


I agree with what you said however, Frank is highlighting a deep contradiction in the UN where the insitution that's supposed to help us organize as a world community is in its way of doing things undemocratic, and the model of (rule of the elites) is actually consolidated by the current mode of operations in the UN.

That being said, yes, the UN is the platform for the Palestinian cause not the quartet or Israeli/ Palestinian negotiations sponsored AND contained by the US. I just hope that the (rule of the elite) won't prove to be another barrier that Palestinians and the world community will have to face... or maybe this is a new challenge that we as people need to undertake to make the UN more democratic.


Cut Obama some slack. What do all you armchair quarterbacks think he should do? Rule by decree? Establish martial law perhaps. Some things must be done carefully and in the right order and his things are very, very important to a lot of people. I can forgive people who were right @911 or Rafah if you will, they experience the unbearable and act out of pure frustration but I can no longer tolerate the privileged progressive class in this country.
First it was Nader, now it's "down with Obama". Quit crying and grow up.
Give me friends an enemies with resolve not pretense.


I agree. The US should stop funding the UN altogether. Moreover, they should only give foreign aid to counties that support the same values and goals as they do. Why should the US support counties who hate them? The $600,000,000 they spend on the UN is a terrible investment. I think every country should pay the same dues in as much as they each have the same vote. The UN has become the theater of the absurd.


- - THE UN THE WAY IT IS makes no sense and never will until there is a drastic reform.
The Israeli entity is stealing themselves a place in the world killing and shedding blood of the people who's place they are stealing. IT HAS BEEN OVER 60 YEARS AND NO THING OR NO AMOUNT OF TIME WILL EVER MAKE IT RIGHT.


The sad truth, however, is that without some form of support from the powerful ones, People Power alone is rarely enough to force change. Governments around the world had to join the boycott on South Africa for apartheid to fall. The northern states of the US had to wage war on the South to finally end slavery, and some courageous politicians heard the call of their people to eventually finish the segregation that had followed slavery.

If powerful world governments keep supporting Israel, I see it difficult for any real change to happen, no matter how much internal struggle (intifadas) or external pressure (BDS) takes place on the grassroots level. The Israeli regime has shown its willingness to do whatever it takes to survive, and foreign leaders have shown no willingness at all to openly challenge it. Only Erdogan, who today became the first democratic leader to have ever called for sanctions on Israel, gives me some reasons for hope.


The United Nations was formed by the countries that fought against the Nazis and the Japanese and Italy in World War II. They were morally superior to the countries they defeated. I suppose you could argue that there is no such thing as morally superior, but that is certainly the way that most people in the world look at it today. Even the populations of Germany, Japan and Italy today would, for the most part, agree that good triumphed over evil in the Allied victory. These 5 countries were not all of the same political system, but they had defeated the worst threat to freedom in the history of the world. The people of the US today and for the forseeable future will not agree to "world democracy" where the US has one equal vote to most of the worlds' countries. Our population would not even agree to a democracy of the world with "one person one vote". The UN is not an attempt at world government.

The worst way that the UN has contributed to the continuation of the Palestine-Israel conflict is by the creation of UNRWA. All of the other refugee groups in the world are covered by a single UN agency. UNRWA alone is dedicated to one group. It has a unique definition for Palestinian refugees, a definition which means that there will always be Palestinian refugees, as it includes the descendents of the true refugees for ever. If there is one part of the UN that should be terminated, it is UNRWA. By the way, there were a comparable number of Jews in the Middle East who were made refugees as a result of the conflict. Two thirds moved to Israel. The rest moved to the US, France, Australia, etc and got on with their lives.


Your post is full of holes and misinformation. The UNRWA was the first major relief effort of the UN. It predates the UN Commission on refugees. In fact the Palestinian experience led to the formation of the aforesaid Commission.

The UNRWA is not the cause of the on-going strife, only Israeli intransigence is doing that. The refugee problem could have been solved for example, if those who fled for their lives in 1948 were allowed to return, as is their right under international law.

Nick Ferriman