Columns - Inside the glass house

UN member states lack courage to stop Israel

By Thalif Deen at the united nations

NEW YORK - The massacre in Gaza, where more than 400 Palestinians have been killed by US-supplied fighter planes in retaliation for rocket fire by Hamas killing four Israelis, has reinforced a longstanding truism.

When Israel believes that might is right, the Palestinians have no allies -- not the Arab leaders, not the European Union, not the United Nations. The world continues to watch the carnage and not a single country has the courage of its convictions to stand up to Israel -- politically, diplomatically or militarily -- primarily because the US stands behind it.

Despite all the rhetoric in the Security Council chamber last week, the most powerful UN body remained paralyzed and unable to generate a single resolution on Gaza because the US just does not want it -- and, equally important, because the Brits and the French, all with veto powers, support the Americans and the Israelis inside and outside the United Nations.

The Arab League is planning to give the UN resolution another shot next week. But even if such a resolution is adopted, what next? The Israelis have been known to openly violate every key resolution adopted either by the Security Council or the General Assembly.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip shows a bomb dropped by an Israeli air force F-16 jet exploding in Beit Hanoun, north of the Gaza Strip yesterday. AFP

Clearly, the world is bereft of international justice – and UN resolutions and international conventions are reduced to scraps of paper, as far as Israel is concerned. The Israelis can continue to be condemned by the international community. But it will defy the world at large because of its military might and unbridled US support.

The Chinese and the Russians can do little. But they could at least take a decisive stand to expose the Americans, the Brits and French and force them to exercise their vetoes protecting Israel. But will they do it next week?

Ambassador Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that despite recent momentum following the adoption of Security Council resolution 1850 (2008), Israel was in blatant violation of international law. Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft and Apache helicopters had dropped hundreds of bombs on Gaza.

The attacks must be condemned and stopped immediately by all means. That would require immediate measures by the international community, including the Security Council, he added.

In Israeli domestic politics, the assault on Gaza is closely linked to the upcoming elections next month. During a debate in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, one of the Israeli-Arab members was forthright in his comments last week: "There are those who are counting bodies and at the same time counting Knesset seats," he said.

In short, the political slogan in the upcoming Israeli elections may well be: "Bodies for Votes." As one Middle East analyst rightly points out, some of the major Israeli attacks either on Palestine or Lebanon have been linked to upcoming elections to the Knesset.

Last week's opinion polls in Israel reveal that the popularity of Defence Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the Labour Party, a front runner for the post of Prime Minister and chief architect of the Israeli assault on Gaza, has continued to rise in tandem with continued aerial attacks on the Palestinians.

Barak, who was facing defeat in the elections, is now riding high compared with his two political rivals: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the centrist Kadima Party and former Prime Minister and right winger Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party.

In an interview with the Nation, Lakhdar Brahimi, a former UN envoy to the Middle East, said: "What I'm hearing and reading is that it must have a lot to do with the forthcoming elections, and the people who are not so well in the polls. They want to improve their ratings once again at the expense of the people of Palestine."

Within the confines of the UN, the strongest criticism of Israeli action has come from the President of the General Assembly Father Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann. The Israeli airstrikes, he said, represent severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war.

Those violations include: collective punishment; targeting civilians; and disproportionate military response. D'Escoto said the entire 1.5 million people who live in the crowded Gaza Strip are being punished for the actions of a few militants.

He also pointed out that the airstrikes have not only destroyed every police and security office of Gaza's elected government, but also killed and injured hundreds of civilians; at least one strike reportedly hit groups of students attempting to find transportation home from the university.

"I remind all member states of the United Nations that the UN continues to be bound to an independent obligation to protect any civilian population facing massive violations of international humanitarian law regardless of what country may be responsible for those violations," he added.

"I call on all Member States, as well as officials and every relevant organ of the U.N. system, to move expeditiously not only to condemn Israel's serious violations, but to develop new approaches to providing real protection for the Palestinian people," he said in a statement released last week.

But will they?

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