New UN beginnings

Was Guterres exempting Palestinians from their responsibility for allowing Hamas to turn Gaza into an Islamist, terrorist state?

Antonio Guterres (photo credit: DENIS BALIBOUSE/REUTERS)
Antonio Guterres
From the 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution to the so-called Human Rights Council’s hypocrisies, it is no wonder many of us in Israel have long ago given up on the United Nations as an irredeemable and distorted institution.
In 2015, for instance, there were 20 resolutions on purported human rights abuses brought against Israel by the UN Human Rights Council and just three against all other countries – one against Iran, one against Syria and one against North Korea.
In an interview last year with Channel 2 to mark his departure from the UN after four years as ambassador to the world body, Ron Prosor noted that during his stint there he felt as though he was living in a parallel universe where the rules applicable in the “real” world did not apply.
Of the 193 nations that are UN members, noted Prosor, fewer than half are democratic. Fifty-seven are Islamic nations. A large percentage of nations – from Latin America to Africa to Europe – are openly antagonistic to America, Israel’s greatest ally. And even if there were no anti-Semitic sentiment that dictated prejudices against the Jewish state, the very fact that Israel is aligned with US would undermine Israel’s standing in the UN. Combine hatred for everything American with old and new tropes of Jew-hatred and the result is the atmosphere we see at the UN today.
As Prosor noted in his remarks, “In my four years I’ve seen hypocrisy, I’ve seen duplicity, I’ve seen triple standards, one for democracies, one for dictatorships and a special standard designed only for Israel.” As one Foreign Ministry official put it in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, “This is the planet, these are the rules and it is what it is.”
But there might be cause for some cautious optimism.
A new secretary-general is poised to take over the UN, and with him comes hope for a better UN.
Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Guterres seemed to have won on Wednesday, the Security Council’s backing to become the next UN secretary-general.
Until the end of December 2015, Guterres, who formerly headed the Socialist Party in his country, was the UN high commissioner for refugees.
It is difficult to determine from past statements and actions Guterres’s attitude toward Israel. It is clear that as a UN official who dealt intensively with the issue of refugees, Guterres is sympathetic to Palestinians.
In September 2014, in Cairo, in a speech before the Arab League, Guterres said that “the refugee situations under the UNHCR’s mandate pale in comparison to the desperate situation of the Palestinians.” He went on to say that Palestinian refugees in Syria suffered more than other Syrians because they were “forced to flee for the second time.”
Was he equating Israel’s War of Independence with the Assad regime’s murderous crackdown on opponents? He also said that in times of war between Hamas and Israel, Gazans suffered more than Syria’s refugees because they “could not even flee to seek safety.” Was Guterres exempting Palestinians from their responsibility for allowing Hamas to turn Gaza into an Islamist, terrorist state? It is too early to say. We would like to join Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon in welcoming Guterres’s nomination and hoping the UN under his leadership will “act in the spirit of its founding principles as a fair body able to differentiate between good and evil.”
There have been a few positive developments in the UN in recent years. In 2009, the UN adopted an Israeli-initiated draft resolution that deals with agricultural technology for development. In January 2015, the UN General Assembly held its first-ever special session on the rise of anti-Semitic violence worldwide, and just a few months ago, Danon was elected to chair a UN committee, the first Israeli to do so.
The UN has a long history of bias against Israel. But change is possible. Once upon a time the UN was very different. It is thanks to Resolution 181 on the partition of Palestine that the State of Israel came into being.
The selection of a secretary-general presents an opportunity for a reevaluation of the UN’s treatment of Israel.
The incoming secretary-general should take steps to integrate Israel into the UN’s institutions; end the prejudiced approach of the Human Rights Council toward Israel’s purported human rights abuses; and take further steps to normalize relations between the UN and Israel. If Guterres is successful, the UN of the 21st century will more closely resemble the UN that brought the State of Israel into existence nearly 70 years ago.