With Iran violently suppressing demonstrators in the streets and Libya using brute force in the face of mass protests, it was reassuring to know that the UN sprang into quick action.
Just as it did after the rigged elections in 2009, Tehran was using arrests, live fire, torture and intimidation to confront those challenging the regime. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council members gathered on February 18th in New York.
The members solemnly deliberated as reports from Libya suggested that hundreds of peaceful protesters were slain by government forces with the help of foreign mercenaries.
There’s only one small problem. The UN Security Council met to discuss neither the situation in Iran nor Libya, but, surprise of surprises, Israel.
Meanwhile, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, charged with monitoring and protecting human rights, was also nowhere to be found when it came to Iran and Libya.
But then again, why should that be shocking?
After all, Libya is currently a member of the 47-nation body. Its foremost aim there is to cast judgment on others, principally Israel, while ensuring that it avoids any serious scrutiny.
And even though Iran tried and failed in its bid for reelection to the council last year, it has its share of defenders there – fellow members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and Non-Aligned Movement, for example. They do their best to shield Tehran from close attention and deflect it instead to the Council’s favorite whipping boy, Israel.
By the way, while Iran didn’t make it back onto the UN Human Rights Council, it did get itself elected to serve this year on the UN’s 45-member Commission on the Status of Women, a body dedicated to “gender equality and advancement of women.” Notwithstanding President Ahmadinejad’s memorable 2007 claim at Columbia University that Iran’s women are “the freest in the world,” the notion of Iran sitting on this UN body would be funny if it weren’t so tragic and telling.
So why did the Security Council choose to meet on Friday? To discuss Israeli settlement-building policy.
Now let’s be clear. Settlement policy is, indeed, highly relevant to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a final peace accord. In fact, it’s one of the central issues.
But that doesn’t mean the UN was right to take it up on Friday.
First, the breaking events occurring in Iran, Libya, and elsewhere in the region have global security implications and, surely, merit immediate attention by the UN. They have not gotten it to date.
Second, the settlements are not the alpha and omega of issues central to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While there is a global industry of those asserting that settlements are the one and only matter worth discussing, thereby placing the entire onus for resolution on Israel, the truth lies elsewhere.
Israel has repeatedly indicated a willingness to discuss the future of settlements in the context of direct talks.
Moreover, it suspended settlement building for ten months last year as a sign of good faith, only to be met by nine months of dithering by the Palestinian Authority.
And, as further proof of its sincerity, Israel dismantled the homes of thousands of settlers in fulfillment of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.
Additionally, there are some other, shall we say, not unimportant issues central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Needless to say, they were conveniently overlooked in the Friday deliberations.
How about condemning the missiles being fired this year at Israeli towns and villages from Hamas-controlled Gaza? Their aim, pure and simple, is to kill, maim, and destroy.
How about dealing with the massive arms build-up by Hezbollah, under the very noses of UNIFIL troops deployed in Lebanon, and the blood-curdling threats of Hezbollah’s leaders to destroy Israel with its arsenal of missiles, courtesy of Iran and Syria?
Apropos, Iran’s export of those missiles is in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1747, adopted in 2007, banning Iran’s export of any weapons, but that’s been inexplicably ignored.
Or how about addressing the continued incitement coming from the Palestinian Authority, such as the lionization of Dalil Mughrabi, the Palestinian terrorist who led an attack in 1978 that slaughtered 37 Israelis, including 12 children? Only last year, the PA named a summer camp after her. Earlier this year, the PA released a television spot highlighting her as a “role model” for Palestinian women. Does this contribute to a culture of peace?
Or how about insisting that the PA, in pursuit of an end to the conflict, recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people? After all, Israel has already agreed to recognize the future country of Palestine as the nation-state of the Palestinian people, thus attempting to create a strong foundation for future coexistence between the two states?
And third, the UN Security Council did not advance the cause of peace in its meeting on Friday. To the contrary, it set it back. Among the 15 member countries, only the United States had the good sense to see this seemingly obvious point, prompting the first exercise of the veto by the Obama administration.
The place to discuss, debate, and decide issues affecting Israelis and Palestinians is in direct, face-to-face talks. There is no other way, at least if the goal is genuine progress.
But the PA decided to do an end-run, using the UN, not for the first time, to circumvent talks.
By doing so, it alienated and embarrassed Washington, which, under President Obama, has shown a determination to make progress on the ground. And it antagonized Israel, which is the essential partner for any durable agreement, raising new questions about the PA’s commitment to actually achieving an accord.
And so, while this transparent diversion goes on at the world body, the main show right now is elsewhere. From Tehran to Tripoli, alas, the UN is nowhere to be found.