Does the UN deserve another 75 years?

I was determined to begin my tour of duty as Israel’s permanent representative to the international organization with an open mind.

UNITED NATIONS Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at UN headquarters in New York City on September 14.  (photo credit: MIKE SEGAR / REUTERS)
UNITED NATIONS Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at UN headquarters in New York City on September 14.
(photo credit: MIKE SEGAR / REUTERS)
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) just concluded its 75th session. In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recalled that following World War II and the Holocaust, the UN stood as a beacon for a better world. As we now face another world-transforming crisis unlike any we have ever seen, it is worth considering: Does the UN deserve another 75 years?
As a veteran political leader, having served in various leadership roles, including as strategic affairs minister tasked with combating antisemitism and anti-Israel discrimination abroad, I am familiar with the criticism of the UN for its institutional biases and failures. However, I was determined to begin my tour of duty as Israel’s permanent representative to the international organization with an open mind.
One of the first issues that arose upon my arrival to Turtle Bay, the home of UN headquarters in New York, was the US effort to reinstate international sanctions on the world’s number-one state sponsor of terrorism, Iran.
For the past five years, the Islamic regime has used the dividends of the nuclear agreement to sow chaos and destruction across our region. Even before the Trump administration pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018, Iran had used its financial windfall to arm and train terrorist proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya and Gaza. It is abundantly clear that since the nuclear agreement took shape in 2015, Iran has made the Middle East, and the world for that matter, a much more dangerous place.
One clear example of this growing danger is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent revelation during his address before the UNGA that Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist proxy, is building a secret arms depot to stockpile missiles in a civilian neighborhood in Beirut. I have called upon the Security Council to fulfill its responsibilities and finally recognize all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
As the global organization dedicated to safeguarding peace and security, one would think the UN would be eager to reimpose international sanctions on Iran, applying maximum pressure to roll back Iran’s terrorist network and nuclear ambitions.
Regrettably, however, rather than finding common ground to pressure the greatest threat to world peace in a generation, the Security Council members spent most of the past month parsing the deal’s fine print in order to find excuses why not to reinstate sanctions. As the majority of Security Council members worked diligently in New York to shield Tehran from censure, the regime was busy executing Navid Afkari, among others, for the “crime” of protesting against the regime. Yet, in response, the Security Council members remained silent, and failed to as much as note this flagrant human rights violation.
I could receive no clearer lesson on the perverse disconnect between the high ideals of the UN Charter in theory and the cold reality of its implementation in practice today.
THE UN Charter calls on its members “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.”
That is exactly what Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain courageously achieved in the past few weeks through the groundbreaking signing of the US-brokered Abraham Accords.
This historic achievement offered the UN a renewed chance to be on the right side of history, and I would have expected it to be a central theme of the UNGA’s high-level week. The UN had the chance to point to the accords as the very embodiment of the lofty ideals touted in its charter and on its walls: In a region where conflict all-too-often appears inevitable and intractable, nations have decided to “beat their swords into plowshares.”
Yet, again, I was sadly mistaken. While the secretary-general recognized progress made toward peace in Sudan, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, he did not even mention this historic normalization event. After sitting through a week of speeches during the UNGA, I again found myself disappointed. Rather than applaud such bold action and encourage other Arab states to follow suit, the UN was unable to evince even the slightest praise, merely noting the agreement only as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than an outstanding achievement unto itself.
It appears that between the various bloated and redundant agencies and offices, the ever-expanding secretariat, professional staff and crippling bureaucracy, the UN, as it currently stands, is institutionally incapable of adapting to new realities. It may be forever doomed to live in the past, a relic of a previous age.
This has clear consequences. By failing to applaud the Abraham Accords, the UN perpetuates the falsehood that peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors, and peace between Israel and the Palestinians, are mutually exclusive. Rather than use this moment to encourage Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table, the UN sends the message that it prefers no peace to any peace, and perpetuates Abbas’s rejectionism and the Palestinians’ victimhood narrative.
The UN must act or it risks losing the little relevance and legitimacy it still has. If it is unable to acknowledge and embrace peace, recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, or even halt the malign actions of the most dangerous regime on the planet today, how can we expect it to be capable of any bold action tomorrow?
 As the United Nations turns 75, it is time for an organization founded in the aftermath of global tragedy to make a critical choice: Will it remain mired in its usual ways, acquiescing to repressive regimes, unable to live up to its founding principles? Or will it find a way to seize upon the spirit of progress that Israel, the UAE and Bahrain represent, and truly be a world leader for a safer future?
Will the UN mean anything to humanity in another 75 years? That choice is for the United Nations and its member states to decide.
The writer is Israel’s ambassador to the UN.