Issue 114: Middle East Conflict Events at the UN

On Monday, Geneva played host to two events related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  The first, an annual gathering sponsored by the UN, called for an “international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people.”  Inaugurated by the General Assembly in 1977, “Solidarity Day” solemnly remembers 29 November 1947, the day the UN voted to partition Palestine between Arabs and Jews.

The second, a first-time ceremony backed by the UN, brought together Palestinian, Israeli and world leaders for the symbolic signing of the Geneva Accord.  Despite its unofficial status and extra-governmental originsit is the result of an initiative between private citizensthe Accord has garnered support abroad and to a lesser extent, at home as well.

While the two events shared a common location, topic and base of support, the differences were profound.

True to history, “Solidarity Day” served as a forum for the most ardent of Israel critics to air their views, only now under the banner of the UN.  And in a bit of irony lost on seemingly everyone, the very resolution rejected by the Arabs in 1947 was now a symbol of international solidarity.

The representative from the Organization of Islamic States likened Israeli policy to “state terrorism,” as it targets “the defenseless Palestinian people” and “transforms [Palestinian land] into ghettos.”  This was mild.  “Dominant opinion shapers and international pressure groups”-i.e. Jews-were blamed by the African Union representative for casting “Palestinian resisters as terrorists” when in fact, they should be viewed as “mankind’s martyr.”

Meanwhile, the Permanent Observer of Palestine decried “the premeditated manner” in which “Palestinian women, children and men were killed” by Israeli forces.  Citing the recent EU survey that listed Israel as the premier threat to world peace, he suggested that only an end to occupation could usher in an era of regional and global stability.

The message was clear: Israel, the oppresser, has only responsibilities while Palestinians, all victims, only rights.

A couple of bus stops away on line 1, however, a different picture was unveiled.  The merits of the Geneva Accord notwithstanding, the tone of the event was of another kind.  Cautious optimism replaced bitter skepticism while mutual rights and responsibilities were underscored as central to settling the conflict.  Although inflammatory rhetoric made an appearance-“apartheid state,” “fascist” and “colonizer” among them-the overall mood was marked by talk of “painful compromise” and forward movement.

The message?  Rather than perpetuating antagonism with acid-tongues and finger-pointing, both sides need to look for solutions instead of culprits.  Feckless resolutions, like armed conflict, will not bring peace any sooner.

Two faces of the international community were thus revealed this week: one that winked at terror, grimaced at the occupation and closed its eyes to the future, and another that cast a serious look at all three.  What remains to be seen is which one will emerge in the weeks and months ahead as negotiations intensify and the stakes rise.

In a positive sign, the US has begun working to reduce the swarms of anti-Israel legislation miring the UN.
Also encouraging was the low turnout for “Solidarity Day” in Geneva; it seems as if its concurrent event down the
road attracted more attention.

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