Since the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2334, there has been more heat than light shed on the continuing Israel-Palestine crisis and the faltering prospects for peace. Israel, claiming it has been abandoned and betrayed by its traditional supporters, especially the United States, has reacted with unprecedented rage.
But nobody has changed positions. The tendency in this crisis, more than any other, is to ‘adopt’ one side or the other and dig in, trench-fashion, responding predictably to each development in the 70-year-old saga. The Council resolution offers a way out of this.
A while back, as a UN official in the Middle East, I often had occasion to visit Israel and West Bank, and Gaza once. I was there during the 2nd intifada and during 9/11. I witnessed the final stages of demolition of a Palestinian house in West Bank. I have driven past Israeli settlements countless times. I had both Israeli and Palestinian friends and colleagues. I have visited Yad Vashem, on several occasions. In 2014 during the last Gaza conflict, I called for the deportation of the Israeli ambassador. I was, and remain, friends with him.
My personal lodestar is the unswerving commitment to international law, and an insistence that it be respected by all states. In that respect, I welcome the Security Council decision, in the full knowledge that it is politically unpalatable to Israel in particular. I am aware of the terrorist attacks by Palestinian activists inside Israel, and the obligation on both Fatah and Hamas to contain these and to hold perpetrators to account. The Council resolution is not unbalanced; it treats both issues in a politically proportionate manner.
What is portentous about SCR 2334 is its underlying message. The Security Council, carrier of international power, is acknowledging the integrity of international law. That is all it is doing. And because that modest affirmation is unprecedented, the political reaction from those used to getting by in violation of the law is extreme.
Israel warning New Zealand that the affirmation of international law amounts to a ‘declaration of war’ is simply over the top, and reveals the strain its current leadership is suffering. It says more about Israel than its Prime Minister recognises. The sad part is that this comes from a country with democratic roots and a strict respect for domestic law, including conviction and incarceration of a former national leader. The distinction here, between respect for domestic law and dismissal of international law, is stark.
SCR 2334 raises the question of the effectiveness of our current structures for peace. The UN Charter calls first for peaceful settlement of crises before it empowers the Security Council to enforce peace and security. Article 33 is unhelpfully vague in its vision of what it takes to ensure pacific settlement.
It envisions “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” But these are all quite different. Lumping judicial settlement into the grab-bag of political procedures for peace demeans the former. It encourages member states to assume that international law is simply another political tool for pursuing national interests in a crisis. This has retarded peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Whether or not this move by the Security Council opens up any real pathway to a real solution remains to be seen. The world, and within it the Israel-Palestine crisis, will need to survive the onslaught of US policy under the Trump Administration. A period of uncertainty, if not chaos, will ensue.
But it is unlikely to be long-lasting. At some stage, the international community, acting through the United Nations, will restore stable relationships, either through Trump policy modifications, or post-Trump policy developments, or alternative leadership from other major powers. Under Russian mediation, Fatah and Hamas have just announced a unity government, so SCR 2334 speaks to them equally now.
No question, the UN Security Council resolution, and the role that the NZ Government played in its development and passage, deserves genuine admiration.