The role of the United Nations

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  • by Anup Shah
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The United Nations has been virtually side-lined on the question of Palestine. In the past, while they have issued numerous resolutions, such as UN Resolution 242 the so-called "land for peace" resolution requiring Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders and return all captured land in return for peace with its Arab neighbors, the US has vetoed any such effective actions by the UN. Furthermore, the 1948 UN Resolution 181 allowed for both Jews and Arabs to live in Israel, which goes counter to claims of some groups that Israel should not exist.

Hence, the Palestinian people as well as Israelis do not see much hope in the UN helping. Recently, Kofi Annan has been involved in talks, but only when the US has permitted it. (A convenient scapegoat if things don't go well).

At the beginning of the present intifada, at the end of 2000 there was a UN resolution to look into the violence. This resulted in US ambassador, Richard Holbrooke describing the resolution as biased and that the Security Council ended its usefulness. Yes, because it criticized Israel then the US did not like that. Because it did not support the Israeli positions, it ended its "usefulness" to the US interests. But that was in context of there being a unanimous vote at the UN to condemn the Israeli actions with the US abstaining.

While the UN web site on the Question of Palestine does provide a lot of information, including texts of various resolutions and so forth, it remains to be seen how the current situation will evolve and how the UN will be involved, or not.

Ideally it should be involved. Ideally, the Security Council (while it too isn't the best set up in the UN, it is more multilateral than just one "even-handed peace broker") should help govern peace talks. However, for the US, there are too many "national interests" at stake (economic ones -- oil).

At the same time, discrepencies need to be addressed as well:

After the 1967 war, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242, which notes the "inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by force," and calls for Israeli withdrawal from lands seized in the war and the right of all states in the area to peaceful existence within secure and recognized boundaries. The grammatical construction of the French version of Resolution 242 says Israel should withdraw from "the territories," whereas the English version of the text calls for withdrawal from "territories." (Both English and French are official languages of the UN.) Israel and the United States use the English version to argue that Israeli withdrawal from some, but not all, the territory occupied in the 1967 war satisfies the requirements of this resolution.

For many years the Palestinians rejected Resolution 242 because it does not acknowledge their right to national self-determination or to return to their homeland. It calls only for a just settlement of the refugee problem. By calling for recognition of every state in the area, Resolution 242 entailed unilateral Palestinian recognition of Israel without recognition of Palestinian national rights.

Palestine Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, MERIP (Middle East Research and Information Project).

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  • by Anup Shah
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