The Magazine

The U.N. Also Rises

American power and Israeli security may never be the same

Oct 30, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 07 • By JOHN R. BOLTON
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WHETHER LAST WEEK'S heralded Mideast summit will achieve either its immediate goal of ending violence in Gaza and the West Bank or its larger aspiration of reviving the "peace process" is unclear at the moment. What is clear, regrettably, is that a fundamental and perhaps irreversible shift in Middle East diplomacy has occurred. If sustained, this shift will weaken the hitherto preeminent role of the United States and ultimately imperil Israel.


One sign of this important shift is that the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, was a key player in advocating and fashioning the summit. As he did in his dealings with Iraq a few years ago, Annan assumed an increasingly powerful and visible role in the shuttle diplomacy that led to the summit. In Baghdad, he torpedoed the U.N.'s own weapons inspection efforts, almost certainly at the Clinton administration's bidding. His recent Middle East efforts, too, were doubtless supported, if not initiated, by the floundering Clinton team. This development is a striking, 180-degree shift from a decades-long bipartisan policy of keeping the U.N. out of Arab-Israeli diplomacy.


A second sign of this tectonic shift was the American failure to veto the U.N. Security Council's Resolution 1322, which did little more than blame Israel for the violence it condemned. The Clinton administration abstained from voting in an effort to signal to the Palestinians their commitment to being an "honest broker." But make no mistake, an abstention by one of the five permanent members is the functional equivalent of a "yes" vote, because abstaining allows a resolution (with nine affirmative votes) to be adopted. Permanent members cannot be neutral, whatever the view of Clinton's diplomats, as everyone else understood.


Third, the U.N.'s ill-defined consultative role in the post-summit investigative commission is a time bomb for Israel and its friends. Kofi Annan will apparently help pick commission members, and is entitled to comment on the report in draft. Moreover, the final report is to be published, but it is unclear to whom or for what purpose. In the current logic of international human rights, if there are allegations of "criminal" behavior, the inevitable next demand is for a special tribunal to prosecute and punish those who committed such offenses. What will the "honest broker" Clinton diplomats do then?


Fourth, ignoring the investigative commission set up by the Sharm el Sheikh summit, the U.N. Human Rights Commission met in a rare, emergency session, and found Israel guilty of "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" -- two of the Nuremberg offenses -- in the "occupied Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem." The commission, albeit on a very close vote, created its own "human rights inquiry commission" to do essentially what the Sharm el Sheikh body is to do. It unleashed no less than six special rapporteurs to conduct separate investigations, and it invited High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, whose record of anti-Israel bias is near legendary, to grace the region with a visit. Thus, the commission, which is regularly unable to condemn human rights violations in mainland China or Cuba, handed Yasser Arafat what he hadn't won at Sharm el Sheikh.


Fifth, the U.N. General Assembly inserted itself into the complicated Mideast situation by considering a typically one-sided resolution. Doing so went against the U.N. Charter's own admonitions against assembly action in situations where the Security Council is engaged. Although the Bush administration succeeded in 1991 in repealing the assembly's despicable 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism, the General Assembly has remained an extraordinarily unhelpful place for U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. Obviously the intent of what has been laughably called the "Parliament of Man" was simply to damage Israel, and inferentially the United States. Not even the Clinton administration could bring itself to defend this particular outrage.