The e-mail invitation from the United Nations Division on Palestinian Rights (DPR) began with a genial “Dear Friends” salutation, and the writer noting “the pleasure” of inviting our organization “to participate in the United Nations International Meeting on the Question of Jerusalem,” taking place now in Ankara, Turkey.
The gathering is being sponsored by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the government of Turkey. The invitation noted that the theme of the two-day conference is “Strengthening international support for a just and lasting solution of the question of Jerusalem.” As an accredited non-governmental organization, we were on the invitation list.
We won’t be attending.
Innocuous as this gathering may sound, will there really be an open conversation? Both the Division and the Committee were established by the UN in the wake of the infamous Zionism= Racism resolution, which itself followed on Yasser Arafat’s appearance before the UN General Assembly in 1974. Together with another body, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices, these committees serve as an in-house public relations operation for the Palestinian side in the conflict with Israel. Year-in and year-out, the General Assembly – now, by rote – routinely approves the funding for this operation, now amounting to over $6 million.
If they are really serious about investing in peace and not perpetuating conflict and hatred, they’d direct the $6m. to economic empowerment projects, like micro-financing for women-owned businesses.
On its website, the CEIRPP states that together with the DPR, the “secretariat” for Palestinian matters, the General Assembly “has gradually expanded the Committee’s mandate.” Indeed, the DPR is the only bureau in the UN’s Secretariat to be dedicated solely to one group, sitting aside, as it does, bodies devoted to geographically- based divisions for Africa, the Americas, Asia and Pacific, Europe, Middle East and West Asia.
The CEIRPP spends its time and funding on conferences like the one coming soon in Turkey, and photo exhibitions that regularly depict Israel as a heartless occupier and worse. No surprise there, because the committee exists only to exacerbate and prolong the conflict, not support or contribute to its amelioration.
You would not have found it on the sidelines cheering on the just-ended Kerry initiative, or out there calling now for a quick resumption of negotiations. It feeds on, and festers over the historic Palestinian narrative, with no time-out for reality checks along the way.
Just before the Kerry initiative came to a halt, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced the PA’s intention to sign some 15 treaties and conventions, made possible by its elevation in 2012 to “non-member state” status in the General Assembly. The year before, it was able to engineer full membership in UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The Palestinians have nearly free rein at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where an annual basket of anti-Israel resolutions – the bureaucratically-named “Item 7” – is a yearly ritual, receiving overwhelming approval from a cast of Council members that include some of the worst human rights abusers of this, or any, century.
The upcoming meeting on Jerusalem is not meant to contribute to peace and reconciliation. Its purpose is to discredit and delegitimize Israel under the cover of the United Nations, which – as a member of the “quartet” (United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations) is pledged to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict – and which ought to be an objective player in this process. It should not be housing, in its highest echelons, special public relations initiatives funded by member-state dues. These activities only raise Palestinian expectations to unmeetable levels, and force Israel to say, with justification, that the deck is stacked against it.
A couple of years ago, in Geneva, I met with the head of delegation of one of the Human Rights Council’s member states. After going back and forth for an hour on these very issues, in which I contended that the UN was perpetuating the conflict by these repetitive, biased exercises, she responded, “Well, somebody has to speak up for the Palestinians.”
She wasn’t eager to hear my response, which was that the best message her country, and by extension the UN, could send to the Palestinians would be that it’s time to stop viewing the conflict as zero-sum. That negotiating is just that, a process of genuine give and take, and that you don’t get everything you ask for. That was the message of Oslo. But as long as most of the international community keeps one-sidedly – and blindly – punching just one ticket, peace will not soon appear on the horizon. And in that context, don’t look to the meeting in Turkey as bringing peace one day sooner.
The author is executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International.