(September 30, 2020 / JNS) U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the General Assembly last week as part of the institution’s 75th-year anniversary. In an eloquent and moving speech, he praised the power of diplomacy in regions throughout the world, even the Middle East. But in these short 15 minutes, the Secretary-General also provided us with a clear overview of the United Nation’s failure to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Guterres found the time to praise historic achievements by the international community while simultaneously and impressively omitting the recent Abraham Accords, signed on Sept. 15 between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. He was, however, able to dedicate a portion of his time to a call for a resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians—one that would eventually lead to a two-state solution.
For years, the United Nations has advocated and celebrated “even-handed” approaches to negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian officials, creating three fundamental obstacles to a long-lasting and comprehensive peace agreement between both parties. The first one was the entertainment of delusional demands made by Palestinian officials that were, simply, disconnected from the geopolitical and historical realities of the conflict. Whether it was threatening Israel’s Jewish character through the passing of Resolution 194—by allowing the Palestinian leadership to claim a “perpetual refugee status” (leading to the institution’s modern-day recognition of nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees) and seek a lawful “right of return,” or by dismissing constant human-rights violations by Palestinian leaders in the last seven decades, the United Nations has always presented a dishonest starting point for negotiations between both parties. It is a clear double-standard that no other sovereign state is subjected to.
The second obstacle created by the United Nation’s “even-handed” approach to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations was the establishment of a moral equivalency between both parties. Palestinians, like any other people protected by the U.N.’s Charter, have a right to self-determination. Equally important, leaders of the Jewish state have continually acted on this principle. Several Israeli governments—whether right- or left-wing—have made significant concessions with the hopes of tearing down the traditional barrier that is Palestinian rejectionist attitudes towards peace with Israel. Yitzhak Rabin paid for it with his life after the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords and both Ehud Barak (2000-01) and Ehud Olmert (2008) had to tragically witness the intransigence of Palestinian leaders as they walked away from generous peace offers.
The institution’s decision to implement a moral equivalence during peace talks between the Middle East’s only liberal democracy and a brutal Palestinian dictatorship eroded any trust that Israel could bestow on United Nations to serve as a “fair” broker to peace—even more so as the world body remained relatively silent on matters concerning abuses of universal human rights by Palestinian leaders. For 15 years, the Palestinians in the West Bank have been subjected to a dictatorship spearheaded by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinian Christians have faced religious discrimination while members of the Palestinian LGBTQ community have been continually persecuted. Palestinian leaders have continually invested foreign aid—intended to develop social-welfare projects and assist the Palestinian economy—to fund the notorious pay-for-slay policy—providing perpetual salaries to Palestinian terrorists and their families.
The third obstacle presented by the United Nation’s “even-handed” approach was an established framework—based on a complete misunderstanding of the dominant geopolitics of the Middle East—that Israel could only solve the conflict with Palestinians through direct negotiations with the P.A. This was a view widely held by senior members of the Obama administration, most notably former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who made the following remarks at the 2016 Brooking Institution’s Annual Saban Forum:
“I’ve heard several prominent politicians in Israel sometimes saying, well, the Arab world is in a different place now, we just have to reach out to them, and we can work some things with the Arab world, and we’ll deal with the Palestinians. No, no, no and no.”
Essentially, Israel’s path to peace with the Palestinians had to run through Ramallah, not Riyadh.
Trump’s ability to officialize the UAE’s and Bahrain’s decision to normalize ties with Israel, as well as Morocco and Saudi Arabia’s willingness to open their skies to the Jewish state, and public signs of hope by Sudan, Kuwait and Oman to recognize Israel’s right to exist, would prove the fallacy of this framework. Arab countries alone have the power to address Palestinian rejectionist attitudes towards peace. The brutality, corruption and stubbornness of the P.A. must be isolated, not victimized.
The failures of the United Nations will continue to harm Israelis and Palestinians alike. The Palestinian people deserve a leadership that will prioritize peace over terrorism, health over weapons, and the promise of a dignifying future over one filled with conflict and violence.
Yoni Michanie is a Ph.D. student at Northeastern University. He is a Middle East Analyst, Israel advocate, and former IDF Paratrooper. He can be reached on Twitter, @YoniMichanie.
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