Turning UN Agencies Against Israel Harms the UN
Alfred H. Moses
International Herald Tribune, January 8, 2002
Signatory countries to the Fourth Geneva Convention recently issued a declaration singling out Israel for condemnation. The convention, adopted after the Holocaust, had never been invoked in its 52-year history, during which the world witnessed, among other outrages, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, ethnic slaughter in Rwanda and ethnic cleansingin Bosnia and Kosovo.
The declaration invoking the convention did not emerge from the present impasse between Israel and the Palestinians. Arab and Muslim countries first proposed it at a time when there was movement toward a permanent peace under the Oslo accords.
In Durban last September, Israel was singled out for opprobrium at a UN conference against racism, despite the fact that Israel since its creation has brought to its land persons of every race and color, including close to 50,000 Ethiopians.
In Durban, and again in Geneva, the United States stayed away, recognizing that one-sided condemnation of Israel in international gatherings is no way to further Arab-Israeli peacemaking.
There have been remarkable achievements in the past 23 years, from the Egypt-Israel and Israel-Jordan peace treaties to the Oslo accords, which led to significant progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Although there is still a long way to go to achieve permanent peace, these agreements were reached through direct, bilateral negotiations, not by the actions of international bodies.
In Geneva, where most of the United Nations' humanitarian agencies are headquartered, it is America's main Muslim allies -- Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- that are leading the charge to politicize these specialized bodies.
The first step is to introduce extreme language condemning Israel that even the Muslim proponents know will not be accepted. Then, European Union countries, as they did in Durban and in the lead-up to the Fourth Geneva Convention declaration, soften the edges but ultimately leave intact the central thrust of the language condemning Israel.
"We have to give something to the Muslim world; they have so little," the ambassador of an important EU country in Geneva told me recently.
What is being given, rhetorically at least, is Israel, presumably a small price to pay by a European country that attaches a high priority to its economic and political ties to the Arab world. But America's Muslim and European friends should realize that there is a price to be paid for this ritualistic criticism of Israel.
First, these efforts erode U.S. support for the United Nations itself. Standing on principle, the United States withdrew from the Durban conference once it became clear that the focus had turned away from combating racism to a frontal attack on Israel. The United States was among the minority of signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention that refused to attend that anti-Israel gathering.
Second, politicizing international bodies and turning their agendas away from rightful concerns about racism, relief of hunger, refugees and human rights deprive the world's most needy of assistance, including tens of millions of Muslims.
But it continues nonetheless. Soon there will be a special session of the International Labor Organization. The ILO, under the guise of examining employer-employee relations, annually criticizes Israel even though Israel's employment practices are exemplary by comparison with those of most countries, particularly Muslim states where employee rights are all but unknown, and where an independent judicial system to which workers have a right of appeal does not exist.
If the past holds true, the United States will boycott the ILO session.
In March, the UN Commission on Human Rights will convene and, as it does each year, devote an agenda item to Israel. This will be the first time that the United States has no seat on the commission. It was booted off last year, replaced by Sudan. One is hard pressed to find a government with a worse human rights record than Sudan's.
In 1980, Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie told the UN Security Council that the United States would exercise its veto and no longer negotiate the text of proposed anti-Israel resolutions in the Security Council. This was after a series of Arab-sponsored anti-Israel resolutions tied up the work of the council. For the remainder of the yearno further anti-Israel resolutions were proposed. A year later, equally strong action by Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick had the same effect.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan should put an end to the anti-Israel politicization of the specialized agencies in Geneva by calling on member countries to return these agencies to their humanitarian purpose as envisioned in the UN Charter.
The writer, a lawyer and a former U.S. ambassador to Romania, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.
Copyright 2002, International Herald Tribune