UN Approaches the Dustbin of History

As the humanitarian crises loom in Lebanon, the world watches with dismay a second Qana massacre perpetrated by Israel’s air force, killing sixty civilians, mainly women and children, millions must be asking where the United Nations is. How long can the Security Council be stymied, and whether the US is an honest broker or co-belligerent.

Since the establishment of the UN, the US has used its veto no less than forty times to shield Israel from the international scrutiny and to enable it to violate international norms and to commit war crimes with impunity. The latest such obstruction of the international will occurred only two and a half weeks ago (July 13), when the US blocked a resolution that would have demanded Israel cease its onslaught against Gaza, the first Security Council veto in twenty one months. Not uncharacteristically, ten members voted in favor, while the US was alone voting against, with four abstentions. As a further sign of US isolation in the UN, eight of the last nine vetoes protecting Israel have been cast by the U.S. Remarkably, this is the first time in UN history that a call for a ceasefire is opposed so blatantly.

With pressure from the world community mounting for an immediate cessation of hostilities, the US and the Blair government are standing alone against the continuous killing of civilians despite Qana II and despite the description of Israel’s atrocities by Louise Arbour, the top UN ‘s human rights official, who served as the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia, as qualifying for war crimes under International criminal law and under International humanitarian law.

Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice continues to excuse her opposition to a halt of civilian killings by repeating a pathetic phrase: We seek a “sustainable cease-fire,” as if a cease fire is the end of a negotiating process rather than the beginning and the necessary condition. Even more disingenuously, President Bush does the same thing by repeating an inane goal of getting to the “root cause,” forgetting that his understanding of relevant history goes back to less than five years.

Should the Security Council acquiesce in this complicity, it will have forfeited its raison d’etre, i.e., responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and will have also rendered the office of the Secretary-General a virtual agency among the layers of the US foreign policy bureaucracy. Kofi Anan, who waited until July 21st to call for an immediate ceasefire, has no option now but to make good on his request, despite the opposition of the US pro-Israel lobby and its neo-conservative operatives, whose man at the UN is acting as a second ambassador from Israel, a fact which has dealt a severe blow to the humanitarian image of the UN system. Expressing his contempt for the United Nations, John Bolton had this to say about the United Nations in the year 2000 “”If I were doing the Security Council today, I’d have one permanent member [the United States] because that’s the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world.”

Now, that he is “doing the Security Council, a probable veto by him should not discourage the peace loving countries of the world from pursuing one of the very urgent global priorities–protecting UN personnel and facilities, and protecting defenseless civilians in time of conflict and under foreign military occupation.

Nor will that be an exercise in futility on the part of the Security Council. Under the Uniting for Peace resolution of 1951, the General Assembly could convene to discharge the Council’s responsibility when unanimity among the veto-wielding members of the Council could not be obtained. In such a circumstance, the US, which would be likely to vote with Israel, the Marshal Islands and Micronesia would be totally isolated with a an agonizing choice to make: will it be part of the solution or will it continue to be part of the problem? But it will not have it both ways: calling for implementation of resolution 1559, while aiding and abetting Israel’s violation of 242 and 338 for 39 years; calling for Israel’s right to self-defense, while denying it to Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, including the right of millions of refugees to return home; calling for democracy in Lebanon and Palestine but enabling Israel to wage war against the winners of democratic elections even as it reconfirms its protection of fraudulent Arab regimes from their own people. The UN Charter is being effectively put to the test. It will either be a catalyst of peace in the Middle East, or a witness to the “birth pangs of a new Middle East,” as the US Secretary of State has crudely put it. It will either be upheld and implemented, or it will be consigned to the dustbin of history.

NASEER ARURI is Chancellor Professor (Emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. His latest book is Dishonest Broker: the US Roles in Israel and Palestine, Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2003