Impotent UN stands up
NEW YORK The United Nations, once described as a monument to political hypocrisy, was finally jolted into action last week as it took notice of the ongoing slaughter of Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The ground-breaking political events that unfolded in the world body after 18 months of indiscreet silence were characterized by several "firsts".
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is known to dip his toe in the political waters in Washington before pronouncing himself on sensitive issues, was bold enough to publicly urge Israel to end its "illegal occupation" of Arab territories annexed during the Six-Day War in 1967.
This was the first time that a visibly angry Annan had used the phrase "illegal occupation" a statement of fact long obvious to the rest of the world.
Less than 24 hours later, the 15-member Security Council adopted an American-sponsored resolution implicitly recognising the creation of a new Palestinian state.
The resolution reaffirmed "a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognised borders."
This was not only the first Security Council resolution on a new nation state for Palestinians but also the first on the Middle East crisis since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.
Despite the carnage over the last 18 months, the veto-wielding United States had continued to block all efforts to bring the Palestinian issue to the Security Council.
The biggest tragedy is that the Security Council chose to remain silent and was reduced to political impotency despite the presence of four other members also wielding veto powers: Britain, France, Russia and China.
All of them willingly or unwillingly refused to react to the horrible tragedy in the West Bank and Gaza where Israeli military forces have been unleashing all the firepower at their disposal against suicide bombers and Palestinians armed with AK-47 assault rifles.
Annan told the Council last week that he was "profoundly disturbed" by the Israeli use of heavy weaponry, including F-16 fighter planes and combat helicopters, in civilian areas.
Since the beginning of the current crisis, over 1,300 Palestinians and more than 350 Israelis have been killed in the ferocious fighting.
Marwan Jilani, deputy permanent observer to the Palestine Mission to the United Nations, says there are over 24 Security Council resolutions specifically referring to Israel as "an occupying power."
He said Annan's statement was also perhaps aimed at breaking the conspiracy of silence in the Security Council.
Jilani, who spoke just before the adoption of the resolution calling for a Palestinian state, also accused the United States of "blocking" the Council from taking any action over a 18-month period.
The occupation of Arab territory has continued despite over a dozen Security Council resolutions calling for Israeli withdrawal.
But, on the other hand, the United States and its allies launched military attacks against Iraq in early 1991 to implement a resolution calling for Iraq's withdrawal from occupied territories after its invasion of neighbouring Kuwait in August 1990.
Meanwhile, several academics and Middle East experts have expressed scepticism over the proposal for a new Palestinian state.
Does it call for Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territory?
Or will the new state be reminiscent of the Bantustan-style homelands created by the racist government of South Africa to advance apartheid in the 1950s?
Ali Abunimah, vice president of the Chicago-based Arab-American Action Network, says there is a wide gulf between the "strong and correct statement" by Annan calling for an end to Israel's "illegal occupation" and the Security Council resolution.
The resolution, he said, omits any direct reference to Israel's obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
While the reference to a "vision" of a state called Palestine is welcome, he said, it is highly unlikely that this can ever become a reality if the Security Council refuses to enforce all aspects of international law.
This, he said, should start with the requirement of a complete Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories.