CEO Op-ed in JNS: U.N. Human Rights Council: When It Comes to Israel, Still Driving on Biased Retreads
(July 27, 2021 / JNS) That “history repeats itself” is not only a shopworn axiom, it is, like other clichés, oftentimes true.
The appointment last week of Navi Pillay, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to head up an investigation of the “root causes” and “systemic abuses” emanating from the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May comes as no surprise.
The mandate of the investigation is to look at “all underlying root causes or recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systemic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”
In other words, using kangaroo-court vernacular for singling out Israel for defending itself in the face of daily barrages of indiscriminate fire emanating from Hamas rocket-launchers in Gaza. Furthermore, this newly named commission has no specified shelf life and can continue to investigate Israel indefinitely.
We’ve seen this call to criticize before, especially on Pillay’s watch at the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). During her six-year tenure at the UNHRC in Geneva, she more than once held her thumb on the scale when opining on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 2010, Pillay oversaw the work of the special commission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, tasked by the UNHRC with investigating the fighting between Israel and Hamas in 2008 and 2009. That report, which was biased against Israel and distorted the facts surrounding that three-week war, concluded that Israel may have been guilty of war crimes.
In 2014, Pillay convened another investigation into fighting between Israel and Hamas, again showing her biased hand in evaluating the causes and the outcome of that war. “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated,” she said, “in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
She criticized Israel for use of disproportionate force and for its disregard for civilian lives. The UNHRC, in what has become the usual feverish diplomatic hysteria that surrounds fighting between Israel and Hamas, created “an independent commission of inquiry” that would look into “all violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.”
Once again, the Human Rights Council demonstrated its bias and callous disregard for the facts. It should be recalled that Israel had actually withdrawn from Gaza in 2005, nine years before the 2014 resolution, citing “the occupied Gaza Strip,” was adopted. More important to note, though, is the broad band of responsibility that the resolution arrogated to the investigative committee: indeed, what did “East Jerusalem” have to do with Israel defending itself against Hamas rockets?
In both 2010 and again in 2014, Pillay did mention Hamas rocket fire into Israel. But given the heavy-handed focus on Israeli military actions, the reports’ references to Hamas had the look and feel of throwaways, as an afterthought placed in the texts of these resolutions to cover the UNHRC’s tracks.
Indeed, in 2014, Pillay accused Hamas of not practicing “the principle of distinction and precaution.” In other words, “disproportionate response” was being tossed around liberally by her and others with regard to Israel, while Hamas’s indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israeli population centers was lightly let off the hook with diplomatic language that required three readings to understand exactly what was “distinction and precaution.”
And if there is still any doubt as to where Pillay stands on the issue, consider this: In 2014, she pointedly criticized the United States for not sharing Iron Dome technology (that has allowed Israel to shoot down most incoming rockets targeting its populated areas) with Hamas. At the time, Pillay said, “No such protection has been provided to the Gazans against the shelling.” In other words, why isn’t the United States arming terrorists?
In May, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile and an incessant critic of Israel in her own right, said that Israeli attacks on Gaza might constitute war crimes. That led to the appointment of one of her predecessors, Pillay, to begin the process of publicly flaying Israel for the third time in 15 years. Even though the naming of Pillay to the post was done in the name of the current UNHRC president, there is little doubt that Bachelet’s influence was in play.
The United Nations is now in its 76th year, but it has been apparent for decades that many of its agencies and committees, like the Human Rights Council, stocked as they are with countries that participate in bloc voting and who engage in oftentimes mindless herd mentality, can be counted on to pounce on Israel whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Investigations into Israel’s justified responses to rocket attacks from Hamas, or its earlier and current responses to innumerable terrorist attacks, only serve to politicize and marginalize the organization. The United Nations, whose original mission was to promote peace in the international community, now often appears as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian narrative—predictable and yet dangerous because such activity only serves to reward terrorism, and raises expectations of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority that they have the international community at their backs.
We should not be surprised by the outcome of the upcoming UNHRC “investigation” into the recent fighting in Gaza. Indeed, this commission of inquiry will no doubt pull from the shelf reports filed by the Goldstone Commission and that which the UNHRC inquiry produced in 2014. Which is to say: The Pillay Commission’s findings are likely already written.
The good news, I suppose, is that the Abraham Accords, which brought four Arab countries into the peace fold with Israel, will soon observe its first anniversary. The spirit of those agreements represents the future; they are a promising pathway to cooperation and co-existence.
Rather than convene yet another commission to castigate Israel, the UNHRC would have done far better to establish a commission to investigate why the Palestinians—now approaching 28 years after the Oslo Accords—refuse to engage in serious negotiations with Israel. Or, perhaps, a report focusing on Hamas’s obsession with bringing about Israel’s demise.
Now that would be a real contribution to advancing human rights.
Read Mariaschin's expert analysis in JNS.
As Palestinians and Israelis are again locked in conflict, innumerable citizen advocates aim to promote the side with which they identify. Supporters of Israel face structural disadvantages in a fight for hearts and minds that can have real-world implications. Here’s why.
Going back nearly a century, the Zionist position was not against the creation of a Palestinian Arab state, simply in favor of reviving the Jewish state alongside it.
By now, a pragmatist element of Palestinian leaders has technically accepted Israel’s existence but failed to abandon domestic messaging that demonizes and delegitimizes Israel. Moreover, jihadist groups like Hamas—which seized control of the Gaza Strip—remain openly committed to Israel’s destruction.
While this extremism might be expected to bolster the standing of Israel’s defenders, it deprives them of stridency that can resonate: Typically these defenders do remain on the defensive, while Palestinian activists go on the offense. Mainstream Israel-advocates appeal for coexistence, for calm. Often, however, pro-Palestinian voices demand “justice.” That can be impactful.
Justice can imply the existence of one victim and one villain, a convenient narrative in an era of zero-sum populism and social media platforms that favor easy-to-rouse hashtags. Anti-intellectual, “anti-elite” sentiment on the far-right is increasingly matched by disdain for moderation and nuance on the far-left.
And so, a tendency has hardened among some to see power as confirmation of unjust privilege—and also to recognize only certain forms of power. Palestinians are seen to be stateless and weaker than Israel militarily. But too many do not ask whether Palestinians have had opportunities for statehood, as they have, or whether Palestinians “offset” military inferiority, as their combatants do, through asymmetric warfare that exploits limitations on a uniformed military.
Too many see a blockade on Gaza, but not the violence and explicit threats that precipitated it. Too many see Israel’s relative strength, but not its longtime vulnerability in the midst of a vast Arab world, let alone nearly 60 Muslim-majority states at the United Nations.
The UN condemns Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy, more than all other countries combined. UN bodies tend to dedicate extraordinary attention to Israel only after it responds to attacks—not before.
But the realities are even more daunting outside such halls of power. Not all Muslims or Jews are animated by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but the fact that the world is home to some 1.5 billion Muslims and only around 15 million Jews affects what goes viral on social media, the size of solidarity rallies, and that which politicians and news outlets hear.
After a year of the pandemic, audiences are eager to change focus. Among Palestinians, the realization that more Arab governments have recently shifted toward accepting Israel has sparked a determination to regain visibility.
Progressives also perceive conservatives as generally supportive of Israel—and react by emphasizing Palestinian goals over regional peacemaking. Palestinian activists’ campaign to tie their nationalism to the Black Lives Matter movement—while stigmatizing Jews’ nationalism as “racist”—is giving their efforts yet another edge.
An under-appreciated reality is that there is little cost or risk to excoriating Israel, something that isn’t true of major world powers or authoritarian regimes.
Israel is one of the world’s smallest countries and it long lacked natural resources, in contrast with its oil-rich neighbors. With fewer than 10 million citizens, it does not wield a tremendous consumer market. Additionally, Israel remains isolated and boycotted by adversaries. Its assets are strained by the need for defense against relentless, recurrently existential, threats.
Despite this, political debate is always robust in Israel—which can do little to silence critics abroad.
The fact that many vilify the Jewish state does not confer guilt; it shows that detractors face few consequences for doing so.
Journalists are fallible. From story placement to selective data, and from editorializing in reportage to objective errors, providing true context to complex subjects is a tall order.
These hazards especially apply to Israel—the focus, quantitatively and qualitatively, of unsurpassed scrutiny. No other nation is so critiqued for counterterrorism efforts, let alone equated with terrorist aggressors. Why are terrorists described as such elsewhere but often called “militants” when their targets are Israelis? Why are Israeli leaders labeled “hard-line” but Palestinian nationalists, Lebanese or Iranians rarely are? Why are the terms “occupation” and “settler” applied to Israeli Jews but few others? Why does endemic Palestinian incitement go unreported?
More people have been killed in numerous countries than in Israeli operations against Hamas. Unequal reporting devalues the lives of those deemed unworthy of attention and advocacy.
Finally, at a time when new technology is available to document facts, imagery can also be manipulated—or tell just part of a story.
Are observers aware that Israel acts to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks (however successfully) to maximize them? Have readers been reminded that Palestinian violence spiked after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005? Do viewers know that Israel has maintained Muslim administration of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount—Judaism’s holiest site?
Too often Palestinians are treated as powerless people, but Israel as a faceless state.
In reality, there is real suffering among both peoples—and each side holds critical responsibilities.
But this is likely too nuanced a message for the moment. Israel contends with asymmetric warfare not only on the battlefield but also in the battle for public opinion.
Read David's expert analysis in InsideSources.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International, where he began working in 2004 as Special Assistant to the Executive Vice President. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and past winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University. Click here to view more of his content.
The decision to resume American aid to the Palestinians is a classic example of cart-before-the-horse thinking that has existed in one form or another for the past seven decades. Upwards of $235 million dollars in aid has been proposed by the White House, $150 million of which would be earmarked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
In exchange for this gesture, it appears there will be no quid pro quo.
Since 1993, the year of the signing of the Oslo Accords — the agreement that was to set in motion an end-of-conflict between Israel and the Palestinian — the conventional wisdom has been that providing financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) would incentivize it to reach a settlement with the Jewish State.
Actually, American assistance to the Palestinians goes back long before that. Since its establishment in 1949, UNRWA — set up to provide aid to Palestinians who fled during Israel’s War of Independence — has received over $6 billion from the United States, by far the largest single international contributor.
UNRWA was originally intended to be a temporary assistance program — until the Palestinians it served were absorbed into the Arab countries to which they fled. It became instead a bloated (it has more than 30,000 employees) and corrupt operation, adding generations of Palestinians to its refugee rolls (now numbering more than 5 million “registered refugees”), politicizing education to the point of teaching hatred of Jews and Israel, and holding out the promise to its beneficiaries that one day they will all return to what is now Israel.
While wealthier Arab countries contributed little to UNRWA, the international community became comfortably accustomed to the organization’s wayward ways, without raising a call for reform. And US financial support continued unabated.
Fade to the signing of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn in September of 1993. I was there to witness what for many of us was a very hopeful day. We sensed that while this would not necessarily portend a warm peace, it could establish an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a renunciation of claims and the prospect of normalcy for Israel and its people that had eluded it for decades.
It was not to be.
Still, American administrations and Congress provided generous assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA), now totaling more than $5 billion since 1994. The general assumption is that this financial aid, combined with that contributed by European countries, Japan, and others would not only help meet humanitarian needs, but would also fund infrastructure projects and civil service salaries. The idea being, with that aid, and an economic stake in their future, the Palestinians would be incentivized to conclude a deal with Israel.
In fact, the opposite has taken root. The litany of missed opportunities at the negotiating table is well known: Camp David, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the Annapolis Conference, the Kerry initiative, all came and went like late winter squalls. It became evident that the Palestinian side wished to pursue a zero-sum approach to peacemaking, a my-way-or-the-highway attitude, that somehow received a pass from many in the US and Europe.
Years ago, I was present at a meeting of Jewish leaders with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who was asked if he recognized Israel as a Jewish state. His response, with a self-assured, cavalier shrug was, “Israel can call itself anything it wants to.” He still refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and demands a “right of return” for over 5 million Palestinians to Israel.
At the United Nations, the Palestinians have gamed the system, with their narrative promoted daily in the organization’s major agencies. At the United Nations Human Rights Council, UNESCO, and its World Heritage Committee affiliate, resolutions that demonize and delegitimize Israel, and which seek to erase Jewish history in ancient Israel, are adopted year-in and year-out. The UN General Assembly each year funds specialized committees established for the expressed purpose of advancing the Palestinian cause through conferences, photo exhibitions, publications, and other means.
And then there is the issue of “pay-for-slay,” a long-term arrangement whereby the Palestinian Authority pays salaries and money to convicted terrorists or the families of terrorists who’ve been killed, in honor of their “martyrdom.”
In response to this outrage, the US Congress adopted the Taylor Force Act in 2018, named in memory of an American citizen and army veteran who was stabbed to death on a study trip in Israel by a Palestinian from the West Bank. The killer’s family, as do so many others, receives a stipend from the PA. Despite entreaties from the US and others to end this practice of glorifying terrorism, Abbas and his circle of PA lieutenants have steadfastly refused to end the practice. Until then, by law at least, there can be no direct aid to the PA.
Another constant over the nearly three decades since Oslo, has been the Palestinian media and education systems, which on a daily basis promote hatred of Israelis and Jews, using tropes and canards, along with cartoons of Jews and Israelis which evoke Holocaust themes, and stereotypical features, such as hooked noses and dollar signs festooned on overweight figures, right out of Der Sturmer. Teaching hate — and glorifying and inciting the murder of Jews — has been a staple in Palestinian textbooks and children’s TV programs and online postings, and continues unabated.
In response to the PA’s pay-for-slay program, its utilization of the UN system to demonize and delegitimize Israel, and its clear-as-day aversion to a real negotiation with Israel, the Trump administration began a cutoff of aid to the Palestinians. It also cut off aid to UNRWA, citing its innate corruption and politicization.
Earlier this month, the White House announced a resumption of aid to both UNRWA and to the PA, embarking on yet another effort by a series of American administrations to pull or push the Palestinians back into something resembling a peace process. The bulk will go to UNRWA, with the remainder going for a range of other programs. To get around the Taylor Force Act restrictions, it appears that aid to the PA will be directed to non-governmental organizations working in the West Bank.
In announcing the resumption of aid, a State Department spokesperson said, “By resuming this assistance today … we have a seat at the table. We can help drive UNRWA in the ways that we think is in our interest … Obviously, there are areas we would like to reform … We will continue to be in a better position, an even greater position to drive and steer UNRWA in a direction that we think is productive and useful…”
With this restoration of aid, a tremendous opportunity to condition assistance on serious changes both in the PA and UNRWA has been lost. Our previous $6 billion to UNRWA clearly was never used to end the organization’s excess and its promotion of hatred. Why should we assume UNRWA’s way of doing business will change, now that it knows American assistance is back?
And as for the PA, why not have conditionality there as well? Close down pay-for-slay, end the campaign against Israel in multilateral forums like the UN and the International Criminal Court, stop promising a right of return that simply will not happen, end the backing of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, cease antisemitic incitement against Israel and the Jewish people. And, for goodness sake, stop educating your young people to hate. Without education for peace, any process that seeks to end this conflict will never succeed.
In a normal world, the Abraham Accords would serve as a roadmap for the Palestinians — a way out that promises economic success, and a stake in a brighter future for all. The Palestinians are mired in a cycle of victimization, promoted and manipulated by leaders who have a bigger stake in the status quo, than in ending this seven-decades-plus conflict. More than willing to take the aid funding, they see no reason to compromise. And that, finally, needs to be called out.
Throwing good money after bad, as we’ve seen over these past decades, has produced high expectations and low returns. A resumption of aid to the Palestinian leadership based on hope, trust, and luck, will likely be dashed.
A more certain path might have been taken: we’ll consider the help, but not until this checklist of hatred, corruption, glorification of terror, and constant attempts to delegitimize Israel ends. For what is being offered now, this is surely not too much to ask.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Algemeiner.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
At the turn of the 21st century, much of the world feared computers around the world would crash, setting off all kinds of millennial chaos. It didn’t happen. Clocks continued to tick; computers continued to run.
For the United Nations, perhaps the time was right for another chance to rid the world of racism, end slavery, and sex trafficking of women and children. Perhaps it was time to conquer famine and disease. In 2001, planning for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance took shape. The site for this noble, if not symbolic event, was Durban, a location on the southern coast of Africa, a continent racked by all of the above problems.
As often happens with the United Nations, a space built on visions of peace, the event aimed at fighting humanity’s millennia-old maladies would devolve into a hatefest. Durban, instead, would become a battleground against an ancient people who’d build an identity from receiving a divine code of human behavior and entering a sliver of real estate bordering the Mediterranean. Four days into the event, the United States and Israel withdrew their delegations in protest.
Twenty years after Durban, the very United Nations that organized and promoted the original Durban Conference announced another round of fighting human rights and racism. Fast-forward 20 years into the 21st century. Something called the “Durban Declaration and Programme of Action” (DDPA) is planned to offer “discussions” that will become a report to be presented to the U.N. General Assembly at its 76th session in 2021 and the Human Rights Council’s 45th session. Can’t wait. And neither can Iran.
The representative of Iran requested that on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the DDPA, the Intergovernmental Working Group would “address the wide range of issues addressed in the DDPA, as well as the new manifestations of discrimination,” in particular issues of “xenophobia and Islamophobia.” So full of irony is this request from one of the chief violators of human rights in the world that one can only wonder if such a request from this member-nation makes the entire event a nonstarter, at least for the United States and Israel.
Other nations have requested that the 20th anniversary of Durban be celebrated with “one thematic event” in Geneva and one “high-level political event” in New York. Other groups requested producing promotional materials and “high visibility” from such countries as South Africa and Cuba, among others. Much, if not all, of the free world must wonder if the phrase “well-intentioned” has a chance to be relevant here. What’s more, the plans call for member states, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations, of which B’nai B’rith International is so credentialed, to organize and participate in the Durban 20th anniversary programs.
The framework for this meeting is beginning to sound awfully like something the world has already witnessed in the first Durban Conference. Are we headed for Durban déjà vu—another hatefest?
When the governments of Iran, Cuba and South Africa figure prominently in the planning, it’s reasonable to feel skepticism. Will the funds budgeted for this conference perpetuate United Nations bias against Israel? This funding could surely be better spent on reducing famine and sickness.
What else would make such a conference fruitful? Dream about these developments: the U.N. conference opens with a salute to Gulf States and other countries seeking peace and normalized relations with Israel. The Palestinian Authority declares the end of its covenant to destroy the State of Israel. Gone is the drumbeat of language declaring Israel an “apartheid state.” A new Palestinian government replaces its covenant and ceases uttering the refrain about how Israel targets innocent children and stops claiming the Temple Mount and the Western Wall have no attachment to the Jewish people. Imagine the progress in such a world. Nice dream. (Snap) Wake up.
Twenty years ago, while people from the free world were packing for Durban, pre-conference documents assailed Israel for “the racist practices of Zionism.” In 2021, contrary to popular belief, many in the world understand and appreciate positive contributions of Muslims and their faith in God. At the same time, no one can honestly deny Islamophobia or xenophobia of any kind, particularly when significant parts of the world live with extremist threats to kill other people, destroy other faiths or cultures and “annihilate” Israel.
Twenty years ago, delegations condemned Israel for her “treatment of Palestinians” in defending her borders. Never mind the relentless terror directed at Israel, the tunneling, kidnappings, stabbings of civilians, the firing missiles at Israeli towns from Gaza homes, schools, hospitals, even mosques.
The DDPA should try again to promote racial reconciliation, to construct a message of peace and harmony and do what the United Nations was designed to do since 1945 — “to prevent conflict, to help parties in conflict to make peace or to create conditions to allow peace to hold and flourish.” Avoid Durban Déjà vu.
Read President Kaufman's expert analysis in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
Two events last week have illustrated, once again, how much Europe’s tin ear on Iran, and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to function, despite a rapidly changing geopolitical environment in the region.
The United Nations Security Council, in a 2-2 vote, with 11 abstentions, refused to support an extension of the arms embargo on Iran, which has been in place since 2007. Russia and China voted against, which came as no surprise. The only country that joined the United States, which has for some time supported the extension, was the Dominican Republic. But among the countries casting an abstention were Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Nine votes were needed to adopt an extension of the embargo.
The embargo not only prohibits the sale of conventional weapons to Iran but also prohibits Iran from transferring weapons to its proxies. It’s been in violation of this provision through its repeated delivery of rockets and other weaponry to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.
In their explanation of why they voted as they did, the Europeans expressed concern that an embargo extension would chase Tehran away from the discredited 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), ostensibly agreed to in order to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The United States withdrew from the plan in 2018, citing its loose provisions and loopholes that would allow, after a period of 15 years, Iran to continue its nuclear weapons program. Effective, unannounced inspections of military sites, for example — a provision touted by supporters of the JCPOA — could not be carried out under the plan because of an arcane protocol of advance notice to the Iranians. Nor was Iran’s ballistic missile program, focused on being able to carry nuclear warheads as far as the heart of Europe, dismantled.
With cover provided by the JCPOA, Iran has set about to militarily and geopolitically meddle in the affairs of its neighbors. Its presence, or proxy connections in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and of course Lebanon are there for all to see. Lebanon has become part of “Iran Inc.” with its terrorist proxy Hezbollah having insinuated itself into the cabinet, and the terror group’s influence on the Lebanese army growing year-to-year. Not to mention its relationship with Hamas, in what amounts to a real time Shia-Sunni demonstration of the dictum, “the enemy of my enemy [Israel] is my friend.”
The final straw for those who cling to the JCPOA should have been Israel’s carrying off that trove of documents last year from a Tehran warehouse, that makes it abundantly clear that Iran has been developing nuclear weapons. What more could the Security Council want for evidence of Tehran’s intentions?
And as if that weren’t enough, the Gulf Cooperation Council, representing six countries with varying interests in the region, supported the extension of the embargo because of Iran’s constant threats to most of its member states.
So instead of sending a clear message to Iran that its malign behavior will no longer be tolerated, whether it be its nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorism or its hegemonist sweep across the region, by not voting to extend the arms embargo, Europe once again punted. Its lack of principle is not only disheartening, it is frightening.
Notwithstanding European expressions of “concern” over Iranian behavior, the real test — voting for the continuation of the embargo — has been failed miserably by governments whose modus operandi on this and many other vital issues is to do some can-kicking down the road of international diplomacy.
The other major event involving the region last week was the tremendously transformative announcement of the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Along with the Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Jordanian peace agreements which preceded it, the Abraham Accord is the third pillar of diplomatic achievements to bring stability to the region.
For decades the conventional thinking was that if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement could be achieved, peace between Israel and the rest of the Arab world would soon follow (see: the Fahd Plan, later called the Arab Peace Initiative, which promoted that approach to peacemaking). In fact, the 1979 agreement with Egypt, and the 1994 pact with Jordan did not wait for an agreement with the Palestinians, making the point that procrastination, where real strategic interests are at stake, makes no sense.
The Palestinians have walked away from numerous opportunities to negotiate a deal with Israel. Now, time has moved on, and they are looking at a train that is rapidly moving out of the station.
That approach has now been validated by the normalization agreement announced by President Donald Trump. Reaction among most European states was favorable. For months, though, the European Union and most of its member states were obsessed with warning Israel against an annexation plan in the West Bank that they were absolutely sure would happen. They might have spent that time more productively urging the Palestinian Authority to come to the negotiating table with Israel, but preferred instead to browbeat Israel, in the-sky-is-falling rhetoric.
Notwithstanding the encomiums that have flowed in from most European capitals, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn introduced a jarring assessment of the normalization agreement, in language reminding us that old speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still alive and well in Europe.
Said Asselborn of the diplomatic breakthrough, speaking critically of the UAE with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio: “…I think you can’t just let down your own brothers [Palestinians] in order to pursue economic interests and perhaps also have more security for yourself.”
Never have more hypocritical words been spoken. If Asselborn is right, what is Luxembourg doing in the European Union or as a member of NATO? Of course nation states pursue economic and security interests. Some also pursue policies aimed at bringing peace and stability to their neighborhoods, which is what the normalization agreement looks to accomplish.
Asselborn didn’t stop there; it gets worse: ”I am not an expert in theology, but I think that in all cultures and religions there is a well-established norm against theft. This is one of the basic norms of human co-existence….” He went on to say that “notwithstanding the Ten Commandments, seizing territory by force is a violation of Israel’s obligations under the U.N. Charter…and goes against a host of U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
Not only are Asselborn’s remarks an expression of sour grapes, but he has crossed a red line in diplo-speak. He is charging Israel, citing none other than the Ten Commandments, with stealing from the Palestinians, which takes it dangerously into blood libel territory. The old Yiddish expression — “vos iz oyfn lung iz oyfn tsung” — or what it is you breathe (really believe) is what you say,” — has never been more apt.
How can countries whose representatives hold such views, given the history of the region and the complexities of peacemaking, ever present themselves as honest brokers or even objective observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum?
The European abstentions in the Security Council vote on extending the arms embargo on Iran, and the Asselborn comments on the Israel-UAE normalization pact are stark reminders that in parts of Europe old attitudes and biases die hard. It’s not only imagination that’s lacking in Europe, it is an inability — or perhaps unwillingness — to act on principle. Standing up to bullies like Iran or recognizing that the diplomatic winds blowing out of the Gulf represent initiatives that might in fact lead to some kind of accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians, are the shape of things to come.
Stuck somewhere in the 20th century, Europe is late to the game, the one where tectonic shifts which present new opportunities to bring about positive changes in the world order, are taking place every day.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in the Times of Israel.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
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