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Turning a Battleship: the UN & Israel

This Monday, while surfing CNN’s news site, I happened upon a hopeful op-ed written by Nikki Haley, David Friedman, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt tilted, “For Gaza peace, tell the truth about Hamas.” i invite you to read this article, which presents an optimistic perspective of a changing paradigm in the United Nations with regards to its policies on Israel.  

The old cliché about turning around a battleship is true. It doesn't happen quickly. But something is happening at the United Nations that proves that changing course is possible, and it holds important lessons for how the world considers issues in the Middle East.

For decades, the United Nations has been a metaphorical battleship, and its direction has been relentlessly and blindly anti-Israel. But something remarkable happened on June 13, and if our international partners continue the trend, we have cause to be more hopeful for a peaceful future for Israel and the Palestinians.

On the surface, everything about the General Assembly session on June 13 appeared to be business as usual. Algeria offered a grossly one-sided resolution blaming Israel -- and Israel alone -- for the recent violence in Gaza. The resolution blatantly ignored the facts.

Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza, has been inciting the violence at the Israeli boundary fence for months, using Palestinian civilians as human shields. And Hamas and other terror groups have fired more than 100 rockets and sent untold numbers of flaming kites, some displaying swastikas, into Israel in the past month, hoping to kill as many Israeli civilians and destroy as much property as possible. And yet the Algerian resolution not only failed to hold Hamas terrorists accountable for their role in the violence, it failed to mention Hamas at all.

In response, the United States proposed a simple amendment to the resolution that called out Hamas for its role in the skirmishes. A minimum fealty to the truth demanded that the United Nations condemn Hamas by name for firing rockets into Israel and for allowing other terror groups to do the same. Basic decency demanded that the United Nations express concern about the damage Hamas purposely does to the border crossings that deliver desperately needed food and fuel to the people of Gaza. We offered our amendment to give countries the opportunity to put the truth above politics by holding Hamas to account.

Nothing like this had ever been done before at the United Nations. Hundreds of resolutions passed by the General Assembly dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have failed even to mention Hamas. What happened next was the beginning of a paradigm shift.

Algeria made a motion to dismiss our amendment without debate and called for a vote, a move that was essentially saying that condemning Hamas didn't even merit discussion. But when the voting was done, the assembled nations that voted rejected this contention. They voted 78-59 to go ahead with a vote on our amendment.

When the amendment came to a vote, a miracle by UN standards happened. Although the measure ultimately failed for technical reasons, more nations voted for holding Hamas accountable with the US amendment than against it.

For the first time in the United Nations, more nations than not acknowledged that peace between Israel and the Palestinian people must be built on a foundation of truth regarding Hamas. They recognized that reconciliation is impossible if reality is denied for the sake of scoring political points. And part of that reality is recognizing the primary responsibility Hamas bears in perpetuating the suffering of the people of Gaza.

Unfortunately, Hamas' malign activity is pushing Israel to engage in increasingly significant acts of self-defense. As in the case of past conflicts, Hamas starts a clash, loses the battle and its people suffer. That is the reality that needs to change.

That foundation of reality underscores our administration's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital was a reflection of reality. Any realistic person knows that Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel under any peace agreement. But as President Donald Trump said when he made that decision, he made no judgment about the final borders of Jerusalem; the President directly called on all parties to maintain the status quo at Jerusalem's holy sites. Those questions are for the parties to decide.

The peace proposal we will make will be similarly realistic, recognizing the legitimate needs of both Israel and the Palestinians as well as the interests of the broader region. No one will be fully pleased with our proposal, but that's the way it must be if real peace is to be achieved. Peace can only succeed if it is based on realities. We got a glimpse of that at the United Nations on June 13. We expect to see more of this in the days ahead. The battleship is turning around.