War of Words

War of Words Between Israel and UN Continues

It’s been a bad few weeks for Israel at the United Nations, but then, it’s always a bad few weeks for Israel there.

Amir Cohen/Reuters

Israel’s UN ambassador lost no time responding Friday night to what it considered an unfair statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon deploring the end of the Gaza ceasefire without specifically blaming Hamas for renewed attacks.

“I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t mention one of the parties, which happens to be the party that violated the ceasefire,” Ambassador Ron Prosor posted on Facebook. “That party has a name – it is called Hamas."

Prosor’s impassioned rebuke crystallizes the enmity between the world body and the nation it created.

A majority of U.N. member states have piled onto Israel over the last decades, criticizing in harsh terms its often combative interactions with neighboring Lebanon and Syria. Both borders are patrolled by UN peacekeepers, missions that all parties disparage as weak and biased.

But no boundaries in the world are as inflamed as those between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Settlements in the West Bank have triggered periodic uprisings, the intifadas. The war in Gaza is the third in less than a decade.

Hamas ended the humanitarian truce moments after it expired on Friday morning, sending rockets into southern Israel and provoking an air and sea barrage in response.

Mr. Ban did, in fact, allude to the Islamist organization in the statement.

The secretary general “condemns the renewed rocket fire towards Israel,” said a spokesman, a rare formal acknowledgement of Hamas’ aggression toward the Jewish State.

Fairly or not, the mutual distrust and hostility, bred of more than 60 years of resolutions and criticisms, has left the Israel and the UN in a state of seething tolerance.

As with most disputes in the Middle East, you have to start at the beginning. The UN General Assembly’s 1947 Resolution 181 is effectively Israel’s birth certificate, creating separate states of Israel and Palestine, with the call for peaceful — if undefined — borders. Israel accepted the new borders; the Arab states didn’t, sparking Israel’s war of independence in 1948.

It’s been downhill ever since.

In 1967, the world body demanded that Israel return land seized in the Six Day War. Israel has vowed never to release East Jerusalem or other territory it captured, and continues to expand its reach into the occupied West Bank with new settlements and the defensive wall.

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That 1967 resolution, 242, is perhaps the only UN document quoted by teenagers and emblazoned across T-shirts. It is proof to the Middle East and supporting governments that Israel is in conflict with international law.

In 1975 the general assembly famously declared “Zionism equals racism,” a debate that split the world body until it was finally overturned in 1991 after sustained efforts by successive US Administrations. The phrase was an attempt to discredit Israel, which was founded on land long inhabited primarily by Muslims.

Many felt “ZR” delegitimized the Jewish state, creating a foundation for the frequent condemnations to come. As evidence of the double standard, Israel and its supporters point to the half-dozen nations called the “Islamic Republic of” such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, which aren’t called racist.

“When ZR was repealed we thought that would be the end of Israel’s problems,” recalled John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations and a longtime negotiator with the world body.

It didn’t work out that way.

“The structural bias against Israel in the UN is quite clear,” said Prosor, noting that 22 nations make up the Arab League and 56 predominantly Muslim countries are in the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Overlapping coalitions of Arabs, Muslims and the developing world, he said, ensures Israel will always be under unique scrutiny.

“Half of the resolutions of the Human Rights Council condemn Israel,” Prosor said. “When you take those facts, those numbers, you can’t build on them.”

The UN’s human rights bodies have been a particularly potent weapon against the Jewish state, in some cases passing repeated condemnations of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians while ignoring the oppressive actions of Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Zimbabwe and other pariahs that are, surprisingly, members of the body.

Thus, there is little trust between the United Nations and the Jewish state. And that gets in the way of any international solutions to the problems deviling the region.

For example, when an international peacekeeping force is halfheartedly suggested to protect the Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy sites of divided Jerusalem, Israel scoffs.

Nor is it chastened by repeated criticisms from other, more legitimate, human rights bodies, which object to Israel’s sealing border crossings, halting trade relations and, most strenuously, building settlements and the defensive wall across recognized Palestinian territory.

Israeli diplomats wave away the criticism because, it says, the authors fail to recognize Israel’s right to self-defense against a hostile sea of Arab neighbors.

“We have never received the credit we deserve for fighting terrorism,” Prosor said this week. “We have been engaged in counter-terrorism more than 25 years before the West.”

But perhaps no other UN agency gets Israel’s hackles up quite like the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a special permanent agency created to feed, house, educate and displaced Palestinians throughout the Middle East. Nowhere is the organization more vital than in Gaza, where more than half the 1.5 million population relies on UNRWA for its survival.

Israel, however, contends that UNRWA sustains Hamas by employing and sheltering its members. Militants – who by charter are committed to killing Jews and eradicating Israel — routinely hide weapons beneath UN-run schools, and launch missiles from UN-run hospitals. These trigger Israeli airstrikes with high civilian casualties.

UNRWA says the charge is unfair: It is impossible to work in Gaza without Hamas because it is the dominant political and cultural power and some overlap is inevitable.

The highly politicized UN Human Rights Council has launched a probe into Israel war crimes in the Gaza Strip, denouncing "disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks.” The Geneva-based body, which is elected by the UN membership, made no mention of Hamas’ alleged use of civilian shields or provocation.

The UN has just launched a $187 million emergency appeal to shelter and care for 250,000 Gazans it estimates will be homeless for at least eight more weeks. As of Saturday, Japan and Qatar are the first to respond.

UNRWA is funded by voluntary contributions, but Arab and predominantly Islamic nations are rarely among the top donors. Cynics say Gaza is widely considered to be another tool with which to torture Israel, and the deeper the Palestinians’ misery the more villainous the Jewish state appears.

“They [Hamas] use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week told CNN. “They want the more dead, the better.”

The latest Gaza war is a month old. The friction between Israelis and Palestinians is more than 60 years old, with the UN in the middle. Both Israelis and Arabs see themselves as righteous victims, and both blame the organization that put them in this mess.

"If I wasn't familiar with the UN, I would think this is a parody,” Prosor said in his Facebook post. “But because I am familiar with the UN, I know this is a tragedy.”