Palestine
Palestine & UN Structural Incapacity    - Palestine

Palestine & UN Structural Incapacity

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

(pic shows image of US Veto over question of Palestinian Nationhood in 2014)

If you have a circular mold, you will never get a square casting out of it. This article will attempt to conclude that the United Nations from its onset was not structurally designed to resolve matters like the Palestine Issue – and especially not designed to resolve the Palestine Issue.

Before the two World Wars there was no single International System that was meant to collect all states of the world under its organizational umbrella. There were several empires. Most empires would start from a central position of power and would slowly invade areas around them, eventually gathering under a single monarch, several adjacent states that may or may not be culturally congenial. Such empires existing at the time before WWI were the Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Ottoman, Austria-Hungarian, German, French and British Empires. The French and the British Empire were different from the rest of the traditional empires.

The French and British Empire were different in two basic ways. Firstly, because of the industrial revolution, they had assumed military speed and power that was exponentially greater than that of the un-industrialized traditional empires. Secondly they were different in the way, that instead of invading adjacent lands, they invaded states all around the globe. Because of having under their crowns far-off lands that were mostly culturally diverse to their own and because their invasions were much speedier and much more massive – there were less chances for cultivating harmonious agreeability betwee them and the invaded. Resultantly these empires had more of a master-slave relation with their ‘colonies’ compared to the same in the traditional empires, who had comparatively more ethnic, religious and linguistic affinity within the lands they ruled.

This prelude was necessary because the British and the French were the leading states that led forth the idea of setting an International System – the League of Nations after WWI. The League was founded in Jan 1920 in the Paris Peace Conference, wherein the end of WWI was declared. In Nov 1920, the headquarters of the League was moved from London to Geneva (highlighting British, French and Swiss leadership of the League). The primary goals of the League were maintaining world peace, preventing wars through collective security and disarmament and settling international disputes through negotiation and arbitration. The League proved to be a failure however, ending with WWII, after lasting for 26 years. The United Nations replaced it in April 1946 and inherited a number of agencies, organizations and obligations founded by the League.

In fact, to understand why the UN is structurally incapable of resolving the Palestine Issue, it is essential to understand that the United Nations was not entirely a new entity created with the League’s mistakes in view, but an extension of the League itself. In fact the League was terminated on April 18, 1946, with the transfer of its properties and assets to the United Nations. And one of the properties of the League was the Palestine Mandate, which the League had previously delegated to Britain, with a certain set of assertions and implications. But before we go further in the Palestine avenue, we need to know a little basics of what an International System is and what is to be expected of it! 

Two theories describe the International System. The Realist Theory is based on the idea that the causes of war are found in the nature and behavior of man and that ‘it is man’s selfishness, misdirected aggressive impulses and stupidity that are reflected collectively in wars’. The Neorealist Theory poses that ‘power is the most important factor in international relations’ and that ‘structural constraints’ constructed by power hierarchy within an international system creates a ‘distribution of capabilities’ and determines behavior in international relations.

The Realist Theory says that there is no hierarchy of authority in an international system as there is no international central government and authority resides with individual states – the anarchy that ensues, is balanced by the power-hierarchy that exists among states, making the international system quite orderly. So, it becomes highly likely that the international system would essentially becomes a social arrangement among states, whereby interests of the powerful are institutionalized; and where national interest (of the powerful) takes precedence over international interests. Therefore in 1945, when the US emerged as the victor from World War II and it became the principal sponsor in terms of political leadership and finance of the UN (Pres. Roosevelt and PM Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter on a ship, which became the blueprint for the UN’s creation) and the UN office was opened in New York – political scientists would know how the UN was going to become an instrument to further US hegemony over the world’s states. 

While Neorealism asserts that distribution of power and the hierarchy of prestige, stabilize the system, it also emphasizes that if states shift their aim from survival to maximizing their relative power, stability can be lost. And if/whenever ‘relative power’ and ‘hegemony’ come face-to-face, long-lasting peace is not likely.

This summary of intellectual thinking in the matter, highlights the passivism in the expectations one can associate with such a system for the good of the larger humanity. A system – wherein hegemony is swift to take the reins over ‘distribution of capabilities’ and where anarchy is more prone to exploitation then to order.

Coming back to the ‘Mandate of Palestine’, a document of the League, inherited by the UN; ‘inherited’ because of the fact that it was the League that allotted the Mandates and later the UN Charter by its Article 80 safeguarded prior agreements its members had, by saying that it respects the ‘rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments to which Members of the United Nations may respectively be parties’. So Britain being a member of the UN and also being allotted the Mandate of Palestine, the UN by its own obligation would respect the Mandate it was exercising. Now let’s read some lines from the ‘Palestine Mandate’:

‘Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917 (the Balfour Declaration), by the Government of His Britannic Majesty and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people …’, ‘Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country’.

‘….the Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home…’, ‘…shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes…’

The question is, how does the ‘establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine’ come into the folds of ‘maintaining world peace, preventing wars and disarmament and settling international disputes’? How does the League become obligated to respect a non-public letter written from UK's foreign ministry to ‘Dear Lord Rothschild’, a leader of the British Jewish community, which was a private entity and not a state entity of any sort? When at the same time the League does not give any mention of the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence, a parallel set to agreements on the same matter.  And how, when the objective of the League’s Mandate system was to administer parts of the defunct Ottoman Empire, as ‘a sacred trust of civilization’, ‘until such time as they are able to stand alone’ – could the League self-contradict and self-authorize itself the power of obligating Britain to create a state within Palestine, alien to the existing population? 

When in fact, the first article of the United Nations Charter reads: ‘The purposes of the United Nations are… To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…’ And the same has been reiterated many times in the UN sessions that followed, like in 1952, the UN recommended, ‘…States Members of the UN shall uphold the principle of self-determination of all peoples and nations… States Members of the United Nations shall recognize and promote the realization of the right of self-determination of the peoples of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories… States Members of the United Nations responsible for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories shall take practical steps, pending the realization of the right of self-determination and in preparation thereof, to ensure the direct participation of the indigenous populations…’

Yet to this day how has one ‘territory’ not been able to exercise its right of self-determination nor become sovereign upon its own land?

This is because, by structure, the UN is composed of states with varying power-positions, states that are constrained in their geographical limitations and entangled in their regional issues – states that can be intimidated and bribed with respect to their own national interests so that they would compromise on extra-national interests – so that, knowing well that in presence of such ‘structural constraints’ that ensure the will of the more-powerful, each states would lay it preference in maximizing its relative power, in a prevailing anarchic state of affairs – thus upending the UN’s status from a uniting one to a dividing one!

To alienate Palestine from statehood the League and consequently the UN have had to construct a thick web of lies. The foremost lie was and is, to consider the land of Palestine as a territory and not a state. Under the Ottoman the major political community in all its territory was based on the single identity of ‘Islam’. In the late 19th century, when the idea of nationalism were exported from Europe into Ottoman lands, the land split into Arab nationalism verses Turk nationalism – but still there was no politicization based on sub-ethnicities associated to Ottoman provinces. For the purpose of distributing the Mandates, the League referred to Ottoman provinces of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Transjordan and Palestine as territories and allotted them to Britain and France. Thus it was the League’s action that divided the Arab nationalism into Syrian nationalism, Iraqi nationalism etc. Had the League kept all these territories as one territory, allotted as a single mandate, the whole would have come out as a single state after its independence struggle. But because of this division, automatically these nationalities came into identification and thus each nation was led to liberate its own nation-state. Now that Palestine was separated, Palestinian nationality and statehood were but obvious, except only for those who wanted to thieve these rights from the Palestinians.

The hegemonic dominance of the powerful over the affairs of the International System, embodied in the UN, is constantly shown in behaviors that outline the political progression of affairs. In the League’s time when Britain was the dominant power this behavior was obvious in their duality of action with the Jews and the Palestinians. While the League explicitly wrote in the Palestine Mandate, article 4 that ‘an appropriate Jewish agency shall be recognized… as may affect the establishment of the Jewish national home and the interests of the Jewish population in Palestine’, when this Jewish Agency did not even exist at that time and the World Zionist Organization (WZO), which had offices in London, UK and Basel, Switzerland was ‘supposed to’ create this agency later – the British simply did not officially recognize the Arab Palestine Congress, which was an alliance of several Palestinian political parties – claiming that they were unrepresentative.

In March 1921, Musa Kazem, leader of the Arab Palestine Congress, led a delegation to meet the British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, at the Cairo Conference, where the British policy for the Middle East was being discussed. Churchill refused to discuss any issues with Musa Kazem until after the conference. On his way back, Churchill met the delegates in Jerusalem, where he told them that they had to accept the Balfour Declaration as an immutable part of British policy. Thus Britain with its behavior legitimized the position of a non-existing entity in Palestine while the entity that was very much present there was termed as ‘unrepresentative’.

This same behavior was reflected in the League and later in the UN, which both were unable to admit any entity as a representative of the Palestinians, until at length when the PLO was given that position in 1974 by UNGA Res. 3210. This lag of almost 3decades, eclipses the ‘sacred trust of civilization’ and the ‘recognize and promote the realization of the right of self-determination of the peoples’ ideals.

In place of such sacred principles, the UN proposed the Partition Plan for Palestine which recommended a partition of Mandatory Palestine at the end of the British Mandate. All this when the King–Crane Commission of 1919 that had been conducted by the US on behalf of the Allied Powers, had found that “in that old biblical city all the delegations (Palestinian political parties) showed very careful organization. They were in general agreement concerning the unity of Syria and Palestine, wanted complete independence, and were opposed to Zionism and Jewish immigration”. The US government did not officially publish the result of this commission until 1947, but surely the report must have been shared among the ‘powerful’ that were leading the UN.

Not only was the Partition proposal based on the controversial UNSCOP recommendation, the way its vote was conducted is also questionable. When Britain told the UN, it could not rule the Mandate any longer, the UN set the UNSCOP to make an inquiry into the case. At this time the UN could simply come to the conscious conclusion that since the Mandate is being ended, the promise for a Jewish homeland that was part of the Mandate could come to a termination with it, and that the UN can now rethink Palestine on the basis of its veritable principles – as Woodrow Wilson himself said, ‘no right anywhere exists to hand people about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were property’.

Well aware of the self-determination principle but outwardly oblivious to it, the UN said of UNSCOP, ‘During the course of a two-and-a-half-month investigation, the Special Committee went to Palestine and the neighboring countries of Lebanon, Syria and Trans-Jordan, and also visited displaced persons camps in Austria and Germany, which had been ravaged by the Second World War and had experienced the tragedy of the European Jews under Nazism’ – as in what the WWII had done to the Jews in some way implied that Palestine could not be granted freedom.  

Over and above that, the UN under its observance allowed a rigged vote. It was widely reported how the Jewish lobby intimidated Pres. Truman to support the vote and in turn how the US bribed/threatened the voting parties for a ‘Yes’. Indian PM Nehru spoke with anger for the way the UN vote had been lined up, saying that the Zionists had tried to bribe India with millions. Liberia's Ambassador to the US complained that the US delegation threatened aid cuts to several countries. Philippine representative General Carlos wrote, ‘after a phone call from Washington, the representative was recalled and the Philippines' vote changed’. So much for democracy and fair ballot that the UN preaches round the world…

On the other hand, the newly independent Arab states that considered themselves as champions of the Palestinians, who were still under the inspirational ideal of a united Arab empire (United Arab Republic was formed in 1958), out-rightly rejected any partition, as Palestine wholly belonged to the Palestinians. But the UN did not count this behavior as a civilized one, in the same report it said, “While Jewish organizations cooperated with UNSCOP in its deliberations, the Palestinian leadership in the Arab Higher Committee decided not to participate…”

Once the Partition Plan was passed, it was the moral obligation of the community of nations to have the Palestinian side at least take their part of the territory and make their sovereign state to start with. But the UN was just not structurally constructed to force a people to declare their statehood, because UN resolutions are ‘non-binding’, they are only proposals – in fact the UN has no jurisdiction on any entity/state that is not its member! Imagine the convenience, the interest of the WZO, which was not a ‘people’ of Palestine, which was responsible for illegal mass immigration of Jews into the Palestinian’s land, was allowed by vote to form a state, whereas the real ‘people’ are not a party of the UN, even when they were just a moment ago a Mandate that the League had issued, a Mandate that the UN had recognized.

Indeed the ‘structural constrains’ created by the web of legalities in the UN would require a doctorate to understand, but generally speaking, because Palestine was never a ‘state’ in the eyes of the UN and obviously therefore not a ‘member state’, the UN actually has no jurisdiction over it, and the UN was therefore in no positon to offer its land to another entity, namely the WZO, to make their state, namely Israel, in it. That would be equivalent to treating Palestine as a disposable ‘object’ that should be dispensed in order to satisfy the need of a member entity (WZO) or the interests of the sponsors of the UN. On the other hand, since Palestine is not a member of the UN, yet still a state in its own right, from Palestinian point of view, Israel is not a state but an occupier of its land, since the creation of Israel is an act of the UN, with which Palestine is not bound in any way – except for the fact that the powers that were behind the creation of Israel, intimidated the Palestinians to fall in line with the ways of the UN, as it was the most sophisticated instrument of peace and human rights humanity had ever had at the pinnacle of human civilization.

If Palestine is not a ‘member state’ and if it has not accepted the existence of Israel, this means that if there was another ‘international body’ strong enough to assert its will upon global affairs, Palestine could become its member as a self-declared state and register Israel as an occupier of its land – but such a body does not exist. However in the existing world order, wherein the UN is assumed to be the only such international body, the state of affairs is no less wishy-washy. Because the UN resolutions are non-binding, even after the Yes vote, the Partition Plan was only a proposal and it was up to the two contending parties to accept it or not. Once Israel ‘voluntarily declared’ itself as a state within the borders recommended by the UN, the UN accepted its application to be considered as a state and accorded membership. This shows how easy it is for the UN to breach the sovereignty of a people by just not recognizing them as a people – likewise, if on this day the powerful sponsors of the UN would want to create a state for the Palestinians inside, say ‘Germany’, they could create a similar trial of events just by terminating Germany’s membership, which off course is highly unlikely because it is impossible to negate Germany as a ‘people’ because of its ranking in the power hierarchy.

The question is, had Palestine ‘voluntarily declared’ its independence too, would it not have become a ‘state’ and a ‘member-state’ too like Israel? Surely the Arabs themselves were a reason for Palestine’s not declaring its statehood. The Arabs were furious over the Partition plan; the Syrian president, Shukri al-Quwatli said, ‘We shall eradicate Zionism’, Iraqi PM Nuri al-Said said, ‘We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in’, Egyptian Heykal Pasha said to the General Assembly, ‘the lives of 1,000,000 Jews in Moslem countries would be jeopardized by the establishment of a Jewish state, and Jamal Husseini of the Arab Higher Committee promised, "The blood will flow like rivers in the Middle East’. And the Arabs live up to their promise, as they relentlessly waged war upon war on the Israelis, from the first day of its inception to the 1973, Yom Kippur War.

When finally the Arabs fell off from their fervor of eliminating Israel with military might, they started supporting Palestinian freedom fighters. So Arab support and inability to understand the UN structural process at its depth, constantly put the matter of Palestine’s self-declaration in delays. Nor did the UN in its collective wisdom could come to a resolution that would guide, facilitate and conclude the issue to a Palestinian State. As late as in 1974, for the first time the UN recognized the PLO as the "representative of the Palestinian people" and granted it an observer status. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was admitted only in 1994 as a local police force, while Israel was to control external security and foreign relations of Palestine, in the Oslo Accord – how could the UN back such an Accord, that announced Israel’s control on the foreign policy of Palestine, over whom it has no jurisdiction whatsoever according to the UN itself.

In fact the whole peace process, that was upheld by the UN and that was mostly conducted under US auspices, is a sequence that conveniently always pushed the major issues of statehood, refugees and borders to later negotiations, while each new so-called peace-accord would add Arab neighbors to Israel’s list of friends or gain further compliance from the Palestinians for Israel’s hegemonic acts.

It is not as if the UN has not spoken in favor of the Palestinians, it always has, it has expressed deep concerns over the issue, several report have been made detailing the plights of this people, and several resolutions have been put forth for the just conclusion of the Peace Process – but because all this is non-binding, it has never availed anything substantial for the Palestinians. While on the other hand Israel gains from US’ hegemonic backing for its cause. Not only outside the UN but also inside it.

The Oslo Accords, 1993, had ended with the understanding that a permanent agreement ‘must’ be reached within five years. Yasser Arafat had announced that he would unilaterally declare independence of Palestine at the end of 5years if issues are not resolved. As expected the US/Israeli side had nothing substantial to offer, Yasser became adamant upon his statehood option. But, as reported, Yasser faced enormous pressure from Arab leaders and other international players to not to declare an independent Palestinian state, as planned for September 13, 2000. Hosni Mubarak explained why he was against such a declaration, he said ‘We don't want any clash between the two sides’. This means that Arafat had been threatened of whole scale war over the Palestinian people if he made the declaration, and the Arab friends would not be there to help him anymore! Inside the UN, Arab League members forwarded a resolution for an independent Palestinian state in 2014 and the United States Vetoed it. This Veto is in concordance with the over 40 previous Vetoes that the US has used in favor of Israel and against Palestine.

So will Palestine ever learn to dodge the ‘structural constraints’ of the UN and get to statehood – or will the UN be dissolved before that ever happens – because for the powerful that would means that the UN has lost its purpose…

Does the UN structure, embellished with such Veto powers, not serve as utterly undemocratic? How is there an assembly of supposedly democratically-elected, high-held representatives of 193 states, who sit together as people of equal conscience and equal human value, and 5 states veto whatever the majority of them think is right. 

The Veto is nevertheless essential, because it is the ultimate instrument that will save the world from another world war – because only if the world states accept the hegemony of the powerful, will they not wage it upon them. 

This article was originally published here