A Dangerous UN Game
By Anne Bayefsky - October 3, 2002
Originally published in The Globe and Mail (Canada), October 3, 2002.
For years, U.S. policy has been to keep the United Nations at bay and to insist on bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians as the only way forward to a durable peace. Negotiation would test recognition of Israel's permanency. It was the necessary alternative to violence, and it meant compromises that the parties determined they could and would live with.
The UN, on the other hand, with its automatic majorities favoring the Arab side of the equation, has continually pushed an imposed international solution. UN right answers, with resolutions galore, include Jerusalem as the capital city of a Palestinian state, and entitlements of massive numbers of refugees to return.
Then along came the Middle East "quartet": the UN, the United States, the European Union and Russia. On April 10 in Madrid, with Secretary of State Colin Powell representing Washington, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared that the quartet was "going to remain consistently seized of the problem."
Along with the quartet came U.S. reluctance to exercise its Security Council veto to save Israel from the usual one-sided resolutions on Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israeli aggressors, in the midst of a terrorist campaign directed at the viability of the Jewish state. Four Security Council resolutions were adopted between March 12 and April 19. U.S. strategists somehow believed that the insatiable appetite of UN members would be satisfied by a few Security Council resolutions.
The Arab group lasted two weeks before seeking the next Security Council resolution. With the U.S. in retreat over the falsely inspired hysteria over Jenin and the accompanying resolution, the Arab group reconvened an emergency session of the General Assembly in May, taunted the U.S. to vote against (which it did with a minute number of other countries), and then characterized America as anti-Arab once again. In all, more than 10 Israel-directed resolutions have been passed by various UN bodies since the quartet's April blossoming.
With Mr. Annan's foot firmly in the door, U.S. control over Middle East processes and outcomes has been steadily slipping away. Last Nov. 19, Mr. Powell said in a Louisville speech: "Palestinians must accept that they can only achieve their goals through negotiation. That was the essence of the agreements made between Israelis and Palestinians in Madrid and again in Oslo in 1993. There is no other way but direct negotiation in an atmosphere of stability and non-violence."
On April 24, Mr. Powell told a Senate subcommittee: "First, security and freedom from terror and violence...; second, serious accelerated negotiations; and third, economic humanitarian assistance."
On July 16, Mr. Annan and the EU's Danish president insisted that progress on all tracks be "side by side."
On Sept. 17, Mr. Annan, with Mr. Powell at his side, declared a three-phase program: "The first phase will see Palestinian security reform, Israeli withdrawals and . . . Palestinian elections; ...the second phase ...the option of creating a Palestinian state with provisional borders...; the third phase ...Israeli-Palestinian negotiations."
The process has made a similar shift. The focus in late 2001 was American-Russian statements as "co-sponsors of the Middle East peace process." By April 29, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was insisting that the quartet "stick together." Mr. Powell was calling for an international conference at the beginning of May. The summer has seen a proliferation of UN bureaucrats in working groups and task forces. And on Sept. 17, EU president Per Stig Moeller announced, while issuing the latest quartet communiqué, that "the quartet has to be the focal point."
Mr. Annan (along with the Europeans, who had been salivating on the sidelines for years) was on the move.
On Sept. 23 and 24, the UN played host to a conference at New York headquarters called "End the Occupation." It opened with a statement read on behalf of Mr. Annan by Undersecretary-General Kieran Prendergast, declaring that the purpose of the meeting was to "garner support for the Palestinian people." Israeli "non-Zionists" were invited to contribute papers, along with Arab League representatives who distributed literature -- pre-approved by the UN secretariat -- talking about Israeli "concentration camps."
At the same time this conference was going on downstairs, the U.S. fell back into the familiar trap of trying to mollify the Arab group by failing to veto another one-sided Security Council resolution (1435), adopted on Sept. 24.
Ceding control to the UN over the Middle East is a dangerous game.
Surely, efforts to obtain a Security Council resolution on Iraq provide an immediate lesson. U.S. negotiators obviously thought that serving up Israel via Resolution 1435 would smooth the way on Iraq. A week later, they are still bargaining, while clammering for the next condemnation of Israel over non-compliance with 1435 has only just begun.
When the Iraq issue is over, Mr. Annan's quartet will be a long way out of the starting block. Stage two and the declaration of a "provisional" Palestinian state, before serious negotiations get under way between the parties, is guaranteed to be followed by a rush to pile on the sovereign rewards of control over borders (and hence arms flow). It will be a reality before anyone in Washington has time to say "Oops."
The UN is not an honest broker in the Middle East, and never has been. Even after Sept. 11, it is unable to define terrorism. The Arab bloc, along with Russia, France and China from the permanent five on the Security Council, think blowing up Israelis is legitimate -- according to the UN Human Rights Commission resolution of April 15.
Multilateralism is not an end in itself. The UN does not deserve the responsibilities of peacemaking and democratization when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It should be shown the door before it's too late.
Anne Bayefsky is an international lawyer and professor of political science at York University and a visiting professor of law at Columbia Law School. She is a member of the governing board of the Geneva-based UN Watch.
©2002 - The Globe and Mail
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