Geneva, Security Council Maneuvers Signal Escalation in Campaign Against Israel – And Disconnect from Middle East Reality
This week mainstream Palestinian leaders’ explicit effort to “internationalize” their conflict with Israel—that is, to use global bodies to force Israeli submission to Palestinian demands without the need for bilateral negotiation and compromise—symbolically entered a new phase.
And, for now at least, symbolically is the operative word. By succeeding in prodding the Swiss custodians of the Fourth Geneva Convention to hold a meeting of its state parties scrutinizing Israel, and by having a resolution seeking an ultimatum for unconditional Israeli acquiescence formally submitted to the Security Council, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has not hastened the actual goals of Palestinians, let alone Middle East peace.
Israel will continue to prioritize the safeguarding of its security over other considerations. Moreover, while the PA may seek to score popularity points domestically for a confrontational posture toward Israel, the considerable futility of its global machinations will again spur disillusionment among Palestinians. As to the United Nations and other international institutions, exploitation as transparent political tools can only further undercut the standing of these bodies, above all among the Israelis who must be fully invested in any resolution of the conflict.
The Palestinians’ international efforts, then, may be largely symbolic for now, but they cannot be described as benign. The fact that, in the history of the Geneva Conventions, the state parties to these essential humanitarian protocols have been convened exclusively to scrutinize Israel speaks to the shoddiness of the global human rights architecture. The result is a cynical defaming of one small, beleaguered democracy—Israel; the neglect, in an era of North Korean gulags and ISIS mass beheadings, of the most systematic human rights violations worldwide; and the diverting of the Palestinians from a path of constructiveness to a path of, at best, more-of-the-same.
On Dec. 17, 126 signatory countries of the Geneva Conventions adopted, at the conclusion of a two-hour meeting, a ten-point declaration affirming belligerents’ humanitarian obligations, while also specifically reiterating the perceived “illegality” of Israelis’ presence in Palestinian-claimed territory, a position clearly contested by Israel.
Switzerland seems to have made an effort to keep yesterday’s “conference,” regularly demanded by Palestinian activists, low-profile, noting that its conclusions were not binding on states not present and asserting that a “tribunal” of any one particular state had not been intended. But at a time when, escalated Palestinian terrorism and incitement notwithstanding, the parliaments of the European Union and several of its member states are voicing support for expedited recognition of “Palestine,” the attempt to further smear and isolate Israel through the Geneva proceedings was apparent. Accordingly, a small handful of democratic allies, including Canada and the United States, declined to attend.
Now, focus shifts again to New York. After months of PA threats to submit a text in defiance of American and Israeli opposition, Jordan—the current Arab member of the United Nation’s most important body, the Security Council—formally tabled a council resolution insisting that a “solution” providing for the establishment of a Palestinian state be reached within a year and that Israel complete a withdrawal from relevant territories acquired in 1967 (with “limited, equivalent land swaps” accounting for any discrepancy).
The resolution draft, which does not include recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, also invokes U.N. resolution 194 and the 2002 Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Initiative. It fails to ensure that Israel’s Jewish identity and peace are protected by directing any influx of Palestinian refugees, or their descendents, to a future Palestinian state rather than to Israel itself.
If the Security Council—within which the U.S. holds veto power—declines to adopt the Palestinian-backed resolution, the PA has warned that it will dramatically intensify its unilateral diplomatic offensive against Israel, seeking a new foothold as a “state” member of major international institutions, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), which could then be used to initiate judicial proceedings against Israelis.
In one more symbolic step, the Palestinians were admitted as an “observer state” of the ICC’s Assembly of State Parties this month. The court could be used to try to constrain and penalize efforts to defend Israelis against the terrorism of groups like Hamas, with which the PA has been engaged in a tenuous governing partnership (but which retains effective dominance over the Gaza Strip). Israel could respond with charges of its own—and the Palestinian-Israeli stalemate, far from thawing, could grow yet more intractable.
Although a vote on the Palestinian motion at the Security Council may be held before then—and Western European countries have reportedly been weighing an alternative council resolution of their own—it might suit the PA to wait until January to push for a decision to be taken. If, as appears to be the case, there is not a minimum of nine council members in support of the Palestinian motion, the United States would not be forced to consider employing a lone veto for the resolution to fail. Beginning in January, a changed composition of the Security Council is expected to give the Palestinians the critical mass of support needed to push through a resolution, as long as none of the five permanent, veto-wielding members vote “no.”
Despite its record of siding with Israel against the importation of the conflict to the United Nations, Washington, meanwhile, has remained ambiguous about how it will react to the newest resolution before the council. Undoubtedly, the U.S. administration is engaged in private bargaining with Palestinians, Israelis and others on how to revive some semblance of a peace process and avoid a bruising, high-stakes battle of wills at the Security Council.
It is not clear what those deliberations will yield. But American commitment to disallowing unilateral Palestinian recourse to the United Nations will be vital to ensuring that direct talks—long urged by the world body itself—remain recognized as the only route to addressing the fundamental needs of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
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.To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
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