In the coming weeks, an important debate will take place at the UN Security Council (UNSC) on draft resolutions to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. We should pay attention, because the positions taken by the main players at the UNSC will signal the diplomatic lay of the land that will shape political conditions for years to come. It is easy and understandable for many observers to view the upcoming UNSC debates with disdain, seeing this as a venue where a handful of big powers dominate the rest of the world and the weaker states only play an ornamental role.
The two draft resolutions presented to the Council by Jordan and France capture very well the two prevailing attitudes to the work of the Council and the UN system as a whole: Does it reflect the will of the powerful, or the dictates of attainable justice for all as manifested in international law and conventions? The debate on these resolutions therefore is not only about how to achieve a fair and permanent peace in the land of Palestine and Israel through peaceful negotiations, rather than the nearly century-long legacy of violence by all sides, including Western big powers.
The debate is also about the relevance of the UNSC and the wider UN system (the UN Human Rights Council, or High Commissioner for Human Rights, for example) to achieving international peace and security by implementing the rule of law, in a manner that all parties can agree to. The particular significance of the upcoming debate on Palestine/Israel relates to two facts that can no longer be ignored, which is why the matter has been brought to the Council.
First is that this issue has been in front of assorted UN bodies since its inception in 1947-48, without adequate action by the UN system. Second is that direct Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have taken place almost non-stop since the early 1970s — nearly half a century of negotiations — mostly mediated solely by the United States, without any serious progress on the central Palestine-Israeli conflict (though peace agreements were reached on the Jordanian and Egyptian fronts).
So the debate at the UNSC in coming weeks is important for what it will tell us about two corresponding issues: Can the UN system come together now in light of its conflict-resolution failures of recent memory, and devise a more effective peace process that respects the legitimate rights of both sides? Can a debate and decisions through multi-lateral action at the UNSC be more effective than the United States-managed failed bilateral negotiations?
The two draft resolutions forwarded by the French and Jordanians broadly reflect the views respectively of many Western and Arab parties. The important differences between them on issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and settlements have been well and succinctly analyzed by my colleague Daoud Kuttab in a column for Al Monitor this week (almon.co/2bq7), which I highly recommend. The fundamental question that emerges from his analysis, and from following the diplomacy of the United States-Israel and the Palestinians-Arabs since the early 1970s, is very clear, and will take center-stage at the UNSC. It is about whether peace-making diplomacy will be anchored in the balance of power on the ground that favors Israel and its demands, or on concepts of mutual, reciprocal and simultaneous justice that are anchored in the idea that the international rule of law can meet the legitimate needs of both sides without violence or occupation.
In many ways, the UNSC debates will not be mainly about Israel-Palestine, but about the UN Security Council itself. The Council has always been hobbled by the structural reality that any of its five permanent members can veto a resolution and thus immobilize it from taking action. This is what has happened often in relation to debates on the Israel-Palestine issue, with the United States vetoing countless resolutions that otherwise would have had significant majority international support. That approach has not achieved peace, security, justice, stability or anything else other than perpetual warfare and destruction.
The Palestinians became so exasperated with their lack of progress in the US-mediated bilateral negotiations with Israel that they finally decided to leave that unbalanced arena that favors Israel so heavily. Instead, they now seek a redress of grievance in international forums whose founding charters value the concepts of justice and the rule of law. The Palestinians have several options to pursue in international arenas, including the UNSC, the UN General Assembly, specialized agencies, the International Criminal Court, and others.
This initial move in the UNSC is likely to set the stage for others to follow, which in turn will test whether there is any credible capacity in the prevailing international system of states to resolve conflicts through negotiations, and thus to achieve peace, justice, security and stability that are the rights of all people, especially Palestinians and Israelis.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.
Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global