When the League of Nations was created less than a century ago, in the aftermath of World War I, the principal purpose of its founders was the settlement of international conflicts peacefully. It was the first attempt towards establishing an international system capable of resolving conflicts in accordance with agreed upon rules and regulations, and that, henceforth known as international law, was meant to be the alternative to the old rules of settling disputes only by war. The league had failed for a number of accumulating reasons, but the breakout of the devastating World War II rendered, in the end, its continued existence unconvincing and unjustified.
The United Nations, which rose from the debris of a war-torn world, was supposed to be an improved version of its abandoned predecessor, since its founders at the time stood to benefit greatly from the lessons of the failed experiment of the league and because their resolve for creating a better order for international peace and security was evidently hardened by the wholesale suffering, the vast destruction and the many millions who had perished in that senseless and total war.
Apparently that was not the case. The UN has, in reality, inherited the very built-in defects that caused the demise of the league, and the veto power which the “victors” had carved for themselves turned to be a destructive privilege and a tool for serving superpower illegitimate interests, manipulation and outright political blackmail. The depressing outcome is a UN self-contradicting system, protecting aggression and injustice, deepening international discord, spreading despair and frustration and, therefore, threatening rather than protecting the world peace and security, as the charter had originally promised.
Gradually, and with the collapse of the bi-polar balance which was by no means ideal but serving a purpose, the situation at the UN, the Security Council in particular, became so scandalous that action is urgently required to restore some of the lost balance to a disintegrating international system.
If a member state these days resorts to international help, and indeed seeks justice, at the Security Council, either out of respect for the charter’s provision that peaceful means for settling conflicts should be sought first or simply because that state does not possess the necessary power to defend itself and its interests on its own, once subjected to aggression, neither help nor justice can necessarily be guaranteed. Recent examples, and of course a large number of previous ones, clearly attest to that.
The Arab group at the UN has three times in less than a month requested council action to deal with ongoing Israeli aggression in the region. In neither case was the council able to properly discharge its essential duties or offer any meaningful help.
They first went to complain to the council about the Israeli decision to deport or kill the democratically elected Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and to request council action to stop the threat. The Israeli action had already been rejected and condemned by almost every other member state, including the United States itself. And every condemnation was accompanied by a call on Israel to desist from carrying out such an illegal and dangerous threat. Supposedly, this should have erased any doubt in the Arab group that the council would again fail to endorse what had already been declared, and approve the proposed resolution condemning the Israeli threat, in line with the unanimous international consensus on this issue. To the contrary, and in full defiance not only of common sense and logic but also of international legality and justice, an American veto blocked council action, paving the way for Israel to claim that turning down the case against the decision to deport Arafat, at the council, could only mean an indirect endorsement of that decision. How could there be more threat to regional peace and security than such Security Council flagrant failure to discharge its basic duties?
Second was the recent Syrian complaint to the council against an uncalled for Israeli air raid in the depth of the Syrian territory, in retaliation (according to Israeli justification) for a suicide attack in Haifa, carried out by the Palestinian resistance, with no proven Syrian link to the Palestinian attack whatsoever. Again, in this case, the Syrians and their Arab backers at the UN must have been greatly encouraged by the widespread condemnation of the Israeli provocative aggression on the Syrian territory and by the numerous descriptions of such aggression as an unnecessary escalation and a dangerous widening of the scope of raging violence. Yet, despite the fact that Syrian territory has been occupied and settled by the Israeli army and settlers since June 1967, in open violation of previous Security Council resolutions ordering the end of such occupation, despite the fact that the Syrians do not now, and did not before, resist the 36-year occupation by force, council action is yet to come, and the possibility of another obstructive American veto is the most likely conclusion.
If Israel has any proof that Syria does indeed train “terrorists”, it should present such proof to the Security Council first, as international law requires. But because the Israeli government has no such proof and no valid case against Syria, and because it is in desperate need for an urgent distraction from its mounting failures, it benefited from the recent American precedent of avoiding the UN altogether, taking the law into its own hands, attacking at will in the name of fighting terrorism. How could the council’s failure to condemn such attack on Syria not be seen as an endorsement of the law of the jungle and the end of the already battered UN system?
Last was the Arab group’s complaint to the council, late last week, against the Israeli building of the apartheid wall, mostly on Palestinian territory, creating immense human tragedy and unprecedented cruelty for the occupied Palestinians. The construction of the separation wall was also opposed by the United States, becoming one of the thorniest issues between the two sides. It has also been condemned by most other nations, due to the fact that in addition to violating international law, it further robs the little left of the Palestinian territory and seriously obstructs any possibility of future reconciliation. And yet, the threat of an American veto to block the Arab draft resolution, currently under consideration, is the only action ahead. The great risk, again, is that Israel will read the expected veto of the resolution on the apartheid wall as an endorsement of yet another aggressive violations of anything lawful and constructive, as well as a whitewash of any previous condemnations and objections.
What is really worse than the failure to have the Security Council do anything to enforce the rules, check and punish lawlessness, and serve justice is the United States’ adversely, and so ironically, checking council action instead on any matter concerning mounting Israeli violations. Consequently, this superpower considers it audacious when a member state takes its case against Israel to the Security Council, due to the fact that such action continues to expose American bias and double standards, as it also pushes the United States further on the side of lawlessness when constantly defending and protecting Israeli aggression and Israeli violation of UN resolutions and international law.
The standard US response has, therefore, been either to dilute the language of any tabled resolution censoring Israeli behaviour, to the extent of rendering it completely meaningless and pointless, or killing it by the veto. On top of the failure, any complainant would reap American wrath if not hostility.
If the UN continues to degenerate at this speed, the message to all members is to be prepared to revert to individual action for settling their dispute and protecting their interests, as was the case before the international system emerged; that is, to go back to the law of the jungle.
The writer is former ambassador of Jordan to the UN. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.