The United Nations stands in the way of Arab-Israeli peace

By David May and Richard Goldberg

(Washington Examiner, November 17, 2020)

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which recently normalized relations with Israel by signing the Abraham Accords, nonetheless supported seven United Nations General Assembly resolutions singling out and condemning Israel this month. While Israeli-Arab rapprochement is racing forward, reconciliation is proceeding at a turtle’s pace at Turtle Bay.

Last Tuesday marked the 45th anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly declaring Zionism to be racism and establishing the Committee for the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, or CEIRPP, a pillar of the U.N.’s anti-Israel infrastructure. After several failed attempts to defeat the Jewish state by military means, the Arab world launched a decadeslong political war to delegitimize Israel, mainly at the U.N.

To facilitate this work, the General Assembly created the (misleadingly named) Division for Palestinian Rights within the U.N.’s Department for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.

The CEIRPP and DPR receive around $2.7 million annually, along with support from the U.N. Department of Public Information, to disseminate their anti-Israel propaganda. The DPR organizes anti-Israel meetings and conferences, coordinates with anti-Israel NGOs(including the agricultural arm of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and other groups allegedly tied to terrorists), and organizes an annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People every Nov. 29.

The anniversary of the vote to partition Mandatory Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, is a peculiar choice of day for anti-Israel events, reports, and resolutions, given that Jewish leadership at the time mostly accepted the plan while the Arabs roundly condemned and rejected the move. The U.N. appears to be celebrating Palestinian rejectionism.

If the goal of the Abraham Accords is to promote the “spirit of coexistence, mutual understanding and mutual respect,” all the parties to the accords and their allies should prioritize the elimination or reform of multilateral organizations whose work only sows discord. The UAE, for example, remains an observer at the CEIRPP. With its own signed peace treaty with Israel, the UAE should renounce its observer status immediately, and others should follow.

There are, of course, other problem areas at the U.N. The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices prepared four of the recent anti-Israel resolutions. The committee’s mandate targets Israel for war crimes accusations while turning a blind eye to the actual war crimes committed by Iran-backed terror organizations in Gaza and Lebanon that use human shields to protect their terror infrastructure.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia understand the frustration of facing an enemy that sacrifices civilians to score propaganda points: In Yemen, the Iran-backed Houthis use the same human shield tactics employed by Hezbollah and Hamas. Both Gulf states should therefore support the special committee’s elimination.

Another body with a special mandate to discriminate against Israel and promote Palestinian demands is the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. Established in 1950 to care for Arabs who fled Palestine during Israel’s War of Independence, UNRWA today defines millions of Palestinians as stateless refugees, even though most either live within the borders of the Palestinian Authority or are citizens of other countries such as Jordan. UNRWA helps ensure that Palestinians continue to live in squalor and serve as political pawns in a 70-year campaign to undermine the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist. At UNRWA schools, generation after generation of Palestinian children are raised to hate Jews and the Jewish state.

UNRWA’s existence not only damages the prospects for reconciliation, but it also poses a danger to Arab states that make peace with Israel. Those same countries helped establish UNRWA and pushed the myth of a Palestinian “right of return” for decades. In effect, UNRWA encourages extremism inside Sunni Arab monarchies, placing a giant target on Gulf leaders accused of abandoning the Palestinian cause.

In 2018, the United States cut funding to UNRWA because of its incitement against Israel and its failure to disclose how many true Palestinian refugees (people who were displaced by conflict in 1948) are still alive today. Though the UAE and Saudi Arabia remain among UNRWA’s biggest financiers, possibly as a hedge against backlash for growing ties with Israel, Palestinian leadership continues to lambaste them. Since their donations produce no goodwill, the Gulf countries could use their financial support as leverage to overhaul the wayward refugee agency.

Arab leaders want to normalize relations with Israel for their own strategic and economic interests, but absent changes, the U.N. system will continue to nurture grievances instead of promoting solutions that would increase regional stability. It’s time for Arab countries to stop voting for anti-Israel resolutions and to start working with the U.S. and Israel to eliminate the U.N.’s institutional barriers to peace.

David May is a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (@FDD), where Richard Goldberg serves as a senior adviser. Follow May on Twitter via @DavidSamuelMay and Goldberg via @rich_goldberg.