US, Israel destroying the UN system

John D. Negroponte (left), Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of October, and James B. Cunningham, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations, before today’s Security Council meeting (Photo: UN/Mark Garten, 2003)

When the League of Nations was created less than a century ago, in the aftermath of World War I, the principal purpose of its founders was to settle international conflicts peacefully. It was the first attempt towards establishing an international system capable of resolving conflicts in accordance with agreed upon rules and regulations, and that system, henceforth known as international law, was meant to be the alternative to war. The League had failed for a number of accumulating reasons, but the breakout of World War II rendered, in the end, killed it.

The United Nations, which rose from the debris of a war-torn world, was supposed to be an improved version of its abandoned predecessor, since its founders at the time stood to benefit greatly from the lessons of the failed experiment of the League and because their resolve for creating a better order for international peace and security was evidently hardened by the wholesale suffering, the vast destruction and the many millions who had perished in that total war.

But reality has fallen far short of noble ideals. The UN has inherited the same built-in defects that caused the demise of the League, and the veto power which the “victors” carved for themselves turned out to be a destructive privilege and tool for serving illegitimate superpower interests. The depressing outcome is a self-contradicting UN system, protecting aggression and injustice, deepening international discord, spreading despair and frustration and, therefore, threatening rather than protecting world peace and security — the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do.

Gradually, and with the collapse of the bi-polar balance between the US and former USSR, which was by no means ideal but served a purpose, the situation at the UN, the behaviour of the Security Council in particular, has become so scandalous that action is urgently required to restore some of the lost balance to a disintegrating international system.

These days, if a member state that has been a victim of aggression appeals for help to the Security Council, in accordance with the charter’s provision that peaceful means for settling conflicts should be sought first, or simply because that state does not possess the necessary power to defend itself, neither help nor justice can necessarily be guaranteed. Recent examples, and of course a large number of previous ones, clearly attest to that.

The Arab group at the UN has three times in less than a month requested Council action to deal with ongoing Israeli aggression in the region. In no case was the Council able to properly discharge its essential duties or offer any meaningful help.

The Arab group first went to the Council about the Israeli decision to deport or kill the democratically-elected Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and to request Council action to stop the threat. The Israeli action had already been rejected and condemned by almost every other member state, including the United States itself. And every condemnation was accompanied by a call on Israel to desist from carrying out its threat.

This should have erased any doubt in the Arab group that the Council would endorse what had already been declared, and that it would approve the proposed resolution condemning the Israeli threat, in line with the unanimous international consensus on this issue. To the contrary, and in full defiance not only of common sense and logic but also of international legality and justice, an American veto blocked Council action, leaving Israel to infer, perversely, tacit international support for its criminal threats. How could there be a greater threat to regional peace and security than such a flagrant failure by the Security Council to discharge its basic duties?

Second was the recent Syrian complaint to the Council against a completely unjustified Israeli air raid on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, in “retaliation” (according to Israeli justification) for a suicide attack in Haifa, carried out by the Palestinian resistance, with no proven Syrian link whatsoever. Again, in this case, the Syrians and their Arab backers at the UN must have been greatly encouraged by the widespread condemnation of the provocative Israeli aggression on the Syrian territory and by the numerous descriptions of such aggression as an unnecessary escalation and a dangerous widening of the scope of raging violence. Yet, despite the fact that Syrian territory has been occupied and settled by Israel since June 1967, in open violation of previous Security Council resolutions and despite the fact that the Syrians do not now, and did not before, resist the 36-year occupation by force, Council action is yet to come, and the possibility of another obstructive American veto is the most likely conclusion.

If Israel has any proof that Syria does indeed train “terrorists”, it should present such proof to the Security Council first, as international law requires. But because the Israeli government has no such proof and no valid case against Syria, and because it is in desperate need for an urgent distraction from its mounting failures, it benefited from the recent American precedent of avoiding the UN altogether, taking the law into its own hands, and attacking at will in the name of fighting terrorism. How could the Council’s failure to condemn such an attack on Syria not be seen as an endorsement of the law of the jungle and the end of the already battered UN system?

Last was the Arab group’s complaint to the Council, late last week, against Israel’s construction of the apartheid wall, mostly on occupied Palestinian territory, creating immense human tragedy and unprecedented cruelty for the occupied Palestinians. The wall was also opposed by the United States, becoming one of the thorniest issues between the two governments. It has also been condemned by most other nations, because in addition to violating international law, it further annexes what little is left of Palestinian territory and destroys any possibility for future reconciliation.

And yet, right on cue, the United States used its veto to block a resolution. The great risk, again, is that Israel will read the veto as an endorsement of yet another aggressive violation of anything lawful and constructive, as well as a cancellation of any previous condemnations and objections.

The United States considers it audacious when a member state takes its case against Israel to the Security Council, because such action continues to expose American bias and double standards. The United States drifts further on the side of lawlessness as it is constantly defends and protects Israeli aggression and violations of UN resolutions and international law.

When the United States cannot block all UN action on an Israeli breach of the peace, its standard response has been either to dilute the language of any tabled resolution censuring Israeli behaviour, to the extent of rendering it completely meaningless and pointless, or killing it by the veto. On top of the failure to get a resolution, any complainant would reap American wrath if not hostility for merely daring to bring the issue forward.

If the UN continues to degenerate at this speed, the message to all members is to be prepared to revert to individual action for settling their disputes and protecting their interests, as was the case before the international system emerged; that is, to go back to the law of the jungle.

The writer is former ambassador of Jordan to the UN.