In banning a UN probe, Israel is joining the worst of clubs
It is doubtful there is any country that sees the UN as a fair arena, but it is the only arena in which there are reasonable and more or less agreed upon criteria for the conduct of countries.
The decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an investigative committee on the matter of the settlements is not the problem. This committee will, after all, not discover anything the American administration, the Quartet countries, the European Union and all of Israel's friends haven't known for years. No secret room will be unearthed all of a sudden. The damage caused by the settlements is obvious, documented and detailed in thousands of documents that have already turned yellow.
Nor will the UN be surprised by the findings. This is because the problem is not a probe of the damage caused by the settlements but rather the very fact that they have caused damage with the permission and encouragement of the governments of Israel. Openly, demonstratively and without fear Israel is taking control of territories, preventing the movement of civilians, confiscating at will funds belonging to the Palestinian Authority and enforcing separate legal systems for Israelis and Palestinians.
Nor do the Palestinians need this investigative committee. They, like no one else, are living the damages caused by the settlements and they, like no one else, understand that the X-ray the committee will present is not a substitute for curing the malignant illness.
It is in fact the citizens of Israel who need a committee that will assemble for them an orderly file containing the series of injustices and crimes the government and the settlers are committing in their name. They need this, but they aren't interested.
The committee is feared in Israel because it wil prove once again that Israel is not alone. Sri Lanka, Iran, China, Syria, Russia and Libya also abhor the UN Human Rights Council. On Saturday Russia announced it was rejecting the council's decision concerning Syria because it is "one-sided" and because it does not also place blame on the Syrian opposition for the killing and the violations of human rights. This is a formulation quite similar to the Israeli one explaining why it will not cooperate with the committee. "Don't even answer a phone call from the committee," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has ordered its representatives. Diplomatic heroism? Standing steadfast in face of the enemy? Doubtful. Apparently the Israeli aversion testifies more than anything else to the fact that stateless Palestinians have succeeded in establishing an interlocking system of weapons against Israel: the more the different agencies of the UN adopt Palestine as a state, the more Israel will remove itself from the organization. It's a zero sum game.
True, the UN is a difficult front and one that is sometimes hostile to Israel. Its main flaw is that it can act only where it is allowed to. It has difficulty resolving international conflicts, preventing wars and repairing damage caused by them. It serves mainly as an arena for games played by the major powers and not as a forum for all the states that need its protection.
However, its main strength lies in its ability to SULLY give a very bad name to anyone who violates the rules of the game, even if the offender is a major power. When Russia imposed a veto on the proposed resolution on Syria, it became an evil state in the eyes of the Western and Arab world (though not in Israel's eyes ); when the United States imposed a veto on a proposed resolution condemning the settlements, it was subjected to tremendous criticism - and not only from the Arab countries.
It is doubtful there is any country that sees the UN as a fair arena, but it is the only arena in which there are reasonable and more or less agreed upon criteria for the conduct of countries. It is the forum that affords some sort of significance to the concept of "the international community" to which everyone, even Israel, wants to belong.
Thus, despite Israel's deep scorn towards and historic quarrel with the UN and its institutions, even Jerusalem has to relate to the organization seriously. It is demanding of the UN that it impose sanctions on Iran; it has understood, too late, the meaning of its refusal to cooperate with the organization's investigative committees (as in the UN-commissioned Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead ); it brings before the organization Lebanon's security violations; it fought for Zionism's good name when the movement was defined as racist and it of course owes the UN for its very existence through recognition of Israel as a state.
A UN investigative committee does not need cooperation on the part of the government of Israel. It has managed pretty well in Syria, Iran, China and Sri Lanka without cooperation from those governments. And that is how those uncooperative governments look. And that too is how Israel looks. We know it. But we'd rather not let them rip the mask off our face.
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