Will the U.N. Sign Off on a Trumped-Up Peace Deal?


U.S. Vice President Mike Pence hosts Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Jan. 23, 2020. The meeting was also attended by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer (l) and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (r). (PHOTO COURTESY KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March/April 2020, pp. 14-15

United Nations Report

NETANYAHU AND TRUMP can make deals to the Devil’s content, and the Knesset can claim as much sovereignty as it likes, but in the end, it is the much reviled, toothless United Nations that will have to sign off on it.

As former Secretary General Kofi Annan said, “There is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations.” It is not just Palestine: The U.N. never recognized Indonesia’s claim to East Timor nor has it accepted Moroccan claims to the Western Sahara, which is why maps still demarcate them separately, like the Occupied Territories.

If the Palestinians were indeed to accept such a humiliating and one-sided “deal of the century,” they would have to persuade the U.N. to ratify it. Unsurprisingly to everyone but Donald Trump, however, the Palestinians are in no rush to stampede into doom like the Gadarene Swine who ran into the sea. But then the plan gives no Palestinian access to the Sea of Galilee where the demented hogs drowned.

Antonio Guterres, the current Secretary General, characteristically put in as low-key a rebuff as he could, short of congratulating the U.S. President and Israeli Prime Minister. “The Secretary General has seen the announcement of the United States plan for the Middle East. The position of the United Nations on the two-state solution has been defined, throughout the years, by relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions by which the Secretariat is bound.

“The United Nations remains committed to supporting Palestinians and Israelis to resolve the conflict on the basis of United Nations resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements and realizing the vision of two states—Israel and Palestine—living side by side in peace and security within recognized borders, on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.”

That should have been the cue for a vociferous public denunciation of a deal cooked up while excluding the most affected party, but then again neither Lord Balfour nor the Versailles Conference consulted the Palestinians either. In any case, bemused by his own temerity in stating this most minimal position Guterres did not invoke the corpus of U.N. resolutions going back to the founding of Israel, which includes the right to return or compensation for the refugees, Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 lines and recognition of East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

These are not archival small print, but at the prescient insistence of the Palestinians these resolutions have been resurrected and restated year after year in the teeth of U.S. and Israeli protests and rejectionism.

In some ways Guterres’ tepid response could be anticipated from his statement on the Soleimani assassination. “My message is simple and clear: Stop escalation. Exercise maximum restraint. Re-start dialogue. Renew international cooperation.” This is simple minded rather than simple, and not at all clear—a list of waffling platitudinous demands without a single specific request, addressed to the universe rather than the country that had just done the deed. He could just as well have admonished, “Be good boys and girls!” Not a hint of reproof for a manifestly illegal act that potentially could have matched the assassination in 1914 of the Austrian Archduke in Sarajevo for consequences, nor even the faintest reminder that there is international law about acts of war and killings on other people’s territories.

So the challenge for both the supporters and the opponents of the deal is to persuade the U.N. members themselves. Israel and the U.S. have to persuade them to eat their own words in the form of 70 years of overwhelmingly passed resolutions at the General Assembly and in the Security Council, not to mention judgments of the International Court of Justice and the U.N. Charter’s own stipulations against the acquisition of territory by military force.

Sadly, although difficult, that is not totally impossible. Israel sings along with the professed scorn of the evangelical chorus against the U.N., but its astute Ambassador Danny Danon knows what he is doing. While Trump has sent semi-detached Israel supporters to represent the U.S. at the U.N., the Israeli ambassador has taken the organization and its members seriously over the years. While the U.S. was pulling out of the organization and leaving the Chinese and others to fill the gap, Danon has been working hard to “normalize” Israeli participation. He has courted smaller members with trips to Israel and, of course, the implied benefit of preferential access to the succession of American U.N. representatives, each of whom has been more unthinkingly pro-Israeli than the previous. This strategy has been very successful compared with the low-key, under-resourced Palestinian response.

Genuine supporters of a Middle East peace should not take for granted the U.N.’s position in the face of world regression in terms of law and rights.

Short of presenting a clone of Mahmoud Abbas at the General Assembly endorsing the deal, the Trumped-up deal is unlikely to win support in the GA, where 138 members explicitly recognize Palestine as a state with sovereignty over the territories in the Green Line boundaries. Many of the others do not accept it is Israeli territory. It is almost inconceivable that any but the usual cabal of atolls and banana republics would support the deal, although there might be a high rate of expedient abstentions from countries that know that the deal is wrong but do not want to risk the wrath of Trump by saying so.

But what about the Security Council? There a simple veto would suffice but looking at the diplomatic lineup, there is more dubiety than there used to be. At one time, Russia and China could have been guaranteed to support the Palestinians and the Arab/Muslim/Nonaligned bloc whether out of principle or reciprocal self-interest. But with Egypt signaling acceptance and the Gulf States standing in attendance on the peace plan debacle, which bloc are we talking about?

Russia and China have been closely engaged with Israel financially and technologically and are likely to be totally pragmatic in their approach, while Emmanuel Macron in France is no Charles de Gaulle where Israel is concerned. In London Trump has a more intellectual clone, Boris Johnson, who is reported as saying the plan “could prove a positive step forward.” His foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, referred to the deal as a “serious proposal” that should be considered. An abstention would possibly be the best that the Palestinians could expect from the UK and maybe even France. Among the temporary members, South Africa, with its long memories of Israeli support for Apartheid, would hold the line, as probably would Indonesia and Tunisia and very likely St. Vincent and the Grenadines. But many of the others, like Germany, Belgium, Estonia and other Europeans, would be under heavy pressure and have been softened up with continuous, strident and spurious allegations of anti-Semitism.

Scouring the news reports just after the announcement, the most succinct dismissal came from Bernie Sanders: “Any acceptable peace deal must be consistent with international law and multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. It must end the Israeli occupation that began in 1967 and enable Palestinian self-determination in an independent, democratic, economically viable state of their own alongside a secure and democratic state of Israel.

“Trump’s so-called ‘peace deal’ doesn’t come close, and will only perpetuate the conflict, and undermine the security interests of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians. It is unacceptable.”

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