My Word: Driven to distraction by the UN

The UN recognized Israeli independence more than 70 years ago. It obviously hasn’t forgiven itself.

Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, briefs the Security Council from Jerusalem in 2018 (photo credit: MIKE SEGAR / REUTERS)
Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, briefs the Security Council from Jerusalem in 2018
(photo credit: MIKE SEGAR / REUTERS)
I don’t know about it being the “best of times and worst of times,” but Israel this month has celebrated a “peace treaty” – or at least a normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates – while suffering from the ongoing “fire intifada” in the South, with a few rockets thrown in, a fatal stabbing attack, and a shooting incident that underscores the sensitive security situation on the northern border with Lebanon. Well, not so much Lebanon as Hezbollah.
I found some escapism in the least likely of places this week. Going through my emails, I came across the regular briefing to the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East. It was given by Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, on August 25. It’s typical. In the middle of a pandemic, global recession and natural disasters ranging from devastating fires to hurricanes and floods, the UN Security Council wants to focus on what Israel is up to. And despite Mladenov’s long title, the UN is not happy with Israel making peace on its own terms. Apparently, if we don’t stick to the UN vision of peace, it doesn’t count.
The UN secretary-general, according to Mladenov, has welcomed the Israel-UAE agreement, “hoping it will create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage.
“Israel’s commitment to suspending annexation removes an immediate threat that had the potential to upend the peace process and regional stability. The secretary-general has consistently called for Israel to abandon these plans.”
Actually, Mr. Secretary General, Israel is committed to a peace process – it’s the Palestinians who have rejected normalization let alone peace. And what “regional stability” is Mladenov referring to? ISIS using the coronavirus disaster to make a comeback? Iran using the UN to avoid sanctions and continue with its goal of providing the ayatollahs with a nuclear bomb? Turkey setting out to reestablish the Ottoman sultanate? Hezbollah? Hamas?
“The Israel-UAE deal also has the potential to change dynamics across the region,” Mladenov rightly noted. “It creates new opportunities for cooperation at a time when the Middle East and the world face grave dangers from the COVID-19 pandemic and radicalization. It will create economic opportunities and opportunities for peace.”
So far, so good. That’s what Israelis – of all political and religious persuasions – want too.
Mladenov should have quit while he was ahead. But instead of realizing that the “Abraham Accord,” an outcome of US President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, is a positive development in its own right, the UN calls for immediate new negotiations to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and insists:
“The terms of reference of resolving the conflict have not changed – they are based on the relevant UN resolutions, bilateral agreements and international law. Only a two-state solution, in which Israel and Palestine live side-by-side in peace, security and mutual recognition, can lead to sustainable peace.
“Today is not the time to despair about the Palestinian cause. Annexation plans have been stopped. In fact, today is the time to redouble efforts, to reach out more actively than ever to leaders in the Middle East, and for the Palestinian and Israeli leadership to re-engage constructively.”
The UN does not want to internalize that for Israel and the Palestinians to indeed live peacefully side-by-side, the last thing they need is to be forced back to the negotiating table under the old frameworks that have been spectacular failures accompanied by waves of Palestinian terrorism.
The UN recognized Israeli independence more than 70 years ago. It obviously hasn’t forgiven itself.
The best thing to do now is “dehyphenate” Israel and the Palestinians. Binding their fates together does not solve the problems. Israel has already proven that it is a technological powerhouse full of hi-tech innovations that can benefit everyone. The Palestinians could also be successful and prosperous – if they weren’t more concerned with trying to bring Israel down than building their own state. Or, in the case of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, with trying to burn Israel down.
MLADENOV’S SPEECH was more than 2,400 words long. There were attempts to appear even-handed and acknowledge that Israel is also suffering. The most telling part of the speech, however, took fewer than 200 words. It was a damning indictment of how the obsession with Israel means other more serious issues are almost overlooked.
First, Mladenov cited the number of house demolitions in “Area C and east Jerusalem” (72 by the IDF, 11 by Palestinians themselves to avoid fines for illegal building). What other local building law violations are regularly discussed in the UN Security Council? Then, finally, he got around to the devastating tragedy a little further north of Israel on the Mediterranean coast.
“Briefly turning to the region – in Lebanon, over 180 people are dead following the explosion in Beirut Port on 4 August, with 30 persons still missing and several thousand injured. Almost 300,000 people are in need of shelter. A Lebanese investigation into the explosion is ongoing, with the assistance of experts from France, Russia, Turkey and the United States...”
That’s nearly 200 dead and more than a quarter of a million people homeless, but no mention of Hezbollah culpability. The Security Council doesn’t want to get distracted from the most important issue – the Jewish state.
“In closing, let me urge that we not lose sight of the deteriorating dynamics on the ground. Gaza is teetering on the brink of another major escalation with Israel, the occupied West Bank is fracturing under a multitude of economic and political pressures, settlement expansion and demolitions continue, and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on Palestinian and Israeli societies,” Mladenov plowed on.
Then came the extraordinary conclusion: “Every opening must be explored, every opportunity must be used, every idea must be discussed and debated if we are to get out of the cycle of statements, preventive diplomacy and conflict management and work towards a real solution that is sustainable and in line with relevant UN resolutions.”
But that’s exactly what the UN is failing to do. This speech is not only part of the “cycle of statements,” it’s the recycling of stale mantras. It might be in line with relevant UN resolutions but it’s not relevant to real life. Fostering Palestinian dependency on UN handouts doesn’t bring about resolution. It furthers intransigence and terrorism. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told visiting British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Tuesday: “Peace will not be achieved by bypassing the Palestinians through the normalization of relations with the Arab countries.” That’s more a threat than a promise of peace.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly explained to Raab his view is that the Trump peace plan is the only fair initiative, while Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz called on the Palestinians to resume security cooperation and negotiations with Israel. (Trying to explain the vagaries of the current political situation in Israel is even more complicated than discussing peace initiatives.)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was particularly busy this week with visits to Jerusalem before flying to Sudan, Bahrain and the UAE to promote the “Abraham Accord.” This is a peace formula that definitely falls in the category of a new opening, opportunity and paradigm. But the UN dismisses it. The UN’s promotion of Palestinians as the world’s only “perpetual refugees” provides a lot of jobs for UN staff.
In addition, the UN wants to try to remain relevant. Criticizing Israel for many years has proven the best way to do it. It’s now literally routine, with mandated regular meetings like the one Mladenov addressed by Zoom this week.
In this ever-changing world and time of uncertainty, you can rely on the UN for one thing: To focus on the Israel-Palestinian situation. It  distracts from real dangers to world peace – and it drives me to distraction.