The Israel-Palestine conflict: Humanitarian assistance and Status Quo – Part II
History, Humanitarian Aid and the insolvable refugee crisis
Summary for Part I
The first part of this article focused on the politics of Humanitarian aid in Israel-Palestine and its role in the existing status quo of the dispute. It analysed the international response to the human rights violations in terms of humanitarian aid and the replacement of a political problem of Palestinian resistance for statehood with the problem of humanitarian catastrophe induced by human rights violations by Israeli forces to suppress the Palestinian resistance. Therefore, this resulted in a paradoxical situation without an exercisable solution.
In this article, we are going to discuss the role of the UN in the conflict and the implications of the realpolitik alliance of the US and Israel on the progress regarding the conflict.
United Nations and The Palestine Problem: The Timeline
1947 – 1990: Origin, The British Mandate, Successive Wars and Intifada
The origin of the Palestine problem evolving into an International concern dates back to the end of the First World War when Palestine was placed under the administration of Great Britain as the Mandatory Power in 1922 by the League of Nations under the adopted Mandates System. The objective of the mandate was to give effect to a transitory phase at the end of which Palestine was to attain the status of a fully sovereign nation, as recognised in the League’s Covenant. However, the historical transition of the mandate did not result in transforming Palestine into the independent nation previously intended. In addition to the administrative assistance, the British Mandate also incorporated the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
Furthermore, the British Government had given assurances to the Zionist Organisation concerning the establishment of the Jewish National Homeland. However, the decision was ignorant of the wishes of the Palestinian people, despite the Covenant’s requirements that ‘the wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in selecting the Mandatory’. The series of events resulted in a rebellion against the mandate by the Palestinian Arabs in 1937, followed by continuing violence and terrorism from both sides as the Second World War came to a close. Despite the UK’s many efforts and proposed solutions to the conflict, the problem was irreconcilable. Finally, in 1947 Great Britain turned ‘The Palestine problem’ over to the United Nations.
After surveying various alternatives, the UN suggested the termination of the Mandate and partition of Palestine into two independent States, one Palestinian Arab and the other Jewish, while internationalising Jerusalem (Resolution 181 (II)of 1947). However, the proposed plan failed to bring peace to the land ravaged with violence and further resulted in the 1948 war and a conflict that remains unresolved till date. As a result, the Palestine problem has become one of the major problems threatening world peace and the United Nations still struggles to find a just solution to all the injustices and destruction caused through a series of wars since 1948, exiling millions of Palestinians.
During the 1948 war, Resolution 194 was adopted by the United Nations, which enshrined the right of return for the Palestinian refugees to their homes and exist in peace with their neighbours in Paragraph 11. While accepted by Israel, this resolution has become a significant focus on peace negotiations and the prominent legal foundation for the claim of the Palestinian refugees regarding their right to return. It also led to the establishment of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine. Post the 1948 war, conditional to Israel’s acceptance and implementation of resolutions 181 and 194, an attempt to incorporate Israel into the UN membership as a ‘peace-loving country’ was made through Resolution 273 (III). This resolution was another attempt to resolve the problem of the Arab refugees. However, the Lausanne conference, which was organised to vote on Resolution 273 and reconcile the parties, failed to settle the refugee problem. After the Lausanne conference’s failure, UNRWA was established through Resolution 302 (IV) in December 1949 to provide humanitarian aid to the Arab refugees.
The 1967 war brought in the second exodus of Palestinians who were not included in the previous resolutions. Hence, Resolution 242 was adopted, which formulated the Land for Peace Principle based on two conditions: withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories and termination of all claims or states of belligerency. Another objective of this resolution was to incorporate the new influx of Palestinian refugees in the UNRWA mandate. Further, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People was created in 1968 to monitor Jewish Settlements on Palestinian territories.
The devastations from the ‘Yom Kippur War’ of 1973 brought in the Security Council Resolution 338, restating the necessity for peace negotiations between the parties to the conflict. Accordingly, in 1974 the General Assembly reiterated the absolute rights of the Palestinians to self-determination, national independence, sovereignty, and return. Subsequently, the General Assembly instituted the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and bestowed the PLO with the ‘Observer Status’ in the Assembly and UN conferences.
In 1983, following the Lebanon invasion by Israel, the International Conference on the Question of Palestine (ICQP) recognised and adopted the subsequent notions: Invalidation and opposition of the Israeli settlement while reiterating the applicability Fourth Geneva convention and condemning the Israeli actions directed toward altering the status of Jerusalem, recognising the right of all the States in the area to exist within secure and internationally condoned boundaries and the accomplishment of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Following the first Intifada of 1987, in 1988, the Palestine National Council declared the establishment of the State of Palestine.
1990 – Present: The Peace Process, Second Intifada, Separation Wall, Peace Plans.
The Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (DOP or ‘Oslo Accord’) was signed in 1993 as a culmination of a series of negotiations since the peace conference held in Madrid in 1991. This, with the involvement of the UN as the guardian of international legitimacy, helped in achieving partial withdrawal of Israeli forces, the election of the Palestinian council as well as Presidency of the Palestinian Authority, partial release of prisoners and the institution of effective authority in the areas under the autonomous Palestinian rule. However, towards the end of the 1990s and after the second intifada in early 2001, the peace negotiation came full circle for many reasons. The exhaustion of the political will of both sides led to a tremendous loss for everyone involved. Subsequently, Israel began constructing the separation wall, which was declared illegitimate by the International Court of Justice and the General Assembly based on its location within the OPT. Moreover, the UN upgraded Palestine’s status of ‘Observer’ to ‘non-member observer state’ in November 2012. Lastly, in 2016, the Security Council adopted resolution 2334 to emphasise concern regarding Israeli settlements.
The US – Israel Alliance and US Behaviour at UN
The United States has played a pivotal role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the very beginning of the dispute. It became the first country to acknowledge the sovereignty of Israel as a state in 1948. Throughout the year, the US has been actively involved in mediating the dispute between both parties and between Israel and the Arab nations. From hosting the Camp David peace talks between Israel and Egypt in 1948 to many more peace plans with a two-state solution proposed through successive US administrations, the US has actively played an influential role in the conflict by maintaining a dominant control over the many peace processes. The US has attempted to maintain a dominant position in the peace negotiations by minimising UN involvement in the conflict and undermining the existing UN resolutions favouring the balanced peace talks brokered by them. In the US – Israeli MoU from the 1991 Madrid talks, it was explicitly mentioned that the UN would not be allowed any role. However, some critics of the US’s involvement have also opined that amidst the attempts to broker a peace deal between the parties, the United States has offered unwarranted protection to Israel from international criticism and, as a result, has hindered the course from reaching any resolution in the process.
Since 1970, the US has exercised its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council on numerous occasions to shield Israel from censors attempted to be imposed by the UN. Since 1980, it has only once, i.e., in late 2016, allowed the Security Council to take any action condemning the Israeli settlements by abstaining from a vote on the matter. Under the disguise of averting friction in the Peace processes, the US has shielded Israel from United Nations supervision for the majority of the time, indirectly indicating a disregard for international law. Moreover, Based on the recent peace plans ‘Peace to Prosperity’ and ‘the Abraham Accords’ proposed by the Trump Administration, many analysts have opined that the US has failed to maintain its position as an honest and non-biased peace broker assuming a Pro-Israel stance.
The Peace to Prosperity plan, which attempted to broker a deal between Israel and Palestine, did not grant the Palestinian refugees the right to return as well as suggested a reduction in Palestinian’s territory in the west bank to 70 per cent by acknowledging Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley and its settlements there. The plan was formulated without the consultation of the Palestinian Leaders and majorly favoured Israeli concerns solely. As a result, it was rejected by the Palestinian Authority. The Abraham Accords, on the other hand, focused on the relations of Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in which the two parties agreed on normalising ties between them. This was viewed as a betrayal to the Palestinian cause by the opponents of such normalisation, as the 2002 Arab Peace initiative provided for the creation of the Palestinian State as one of the stipulations for the Arab League Members to establish any relations with Israel. The Biden Administration has acknowledged the Abraham Accords while specifying that it is not an alternative for the Israel-Palestine Peace. Regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Biden Administration has reiterated the United States commitment to the two-state solution, which emphasises a border solution based on the territorial division that existed before the 1967 war.
Today, Israel remains one of the most prominent diplomatic partners for the United States in the Middle East. It receives an enormous amount of military assistance from it in light of their shared interests. By law, the US administration must ensure their arms sales to other nations in the Middle East does not adversely impact Israel’s military position.
Implications of the US Realpolitik Behaviour at the United Nations on the Question of Palestine
The resolution of an international conflict through UN action is conditional to its accessibility to UN mediation. Unfortunately, the fate of any dispute on the UN agenda depends upon the actual players of the Security Council, i.e., the United States, Russian Federation, China, France and the United Kingdom, who determine the course of interference and the chosen plan is indispensable to any other significant action. Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the US voting pattern in the UN indicates an impasse with the UN actions. It brings us to wonder if the actual power lies with someone else as, during the most crucial moments, the voices and conscience of the majority render powerless and ineffectual. Another critique of the United Nations role is its inability to address the root cause of the Palestinian problem and attempting to establish a peace that is superficial in reality and devoid of any redressal to the wrongs suffered by the Palestinians. The same can be said for the Peace plans brokered by the US. Such critiques still have relevance today. However, the voting pattern of the US is not going to change anytime soon, and neither is the function of the veto power at the UNSC. Considering these patterns and facts, the future will replicate the past, and the Status Quo of Israel-Palestine will be maintained throughout the upcoming UN agendas.
On the United Nations front, the UN must imperatively take over an active role in the solution for the Palestinian problem and intervene to ensure the application of international law and norms protecting human rights and the inalienable rights of the Palestinians. If history is any indication, leaving the Palestinian problem with a third party has never resulted. On the American side of things, the US must first and foremost become an active advocate of international law in order to actually engage in peace-making. Maintaining bilateral relations should not come at the cost of condoning human rights violations. Secondly, US economic and military assistance should not only be proportional to the recipient country’s support to America’s interests but also to its commitment to international conventions, resolutions and norms. As for Israel, it must realise that security through the strength of its diplomatic relations with superpowers is not going to provide any absolute or perpetual security or strength. One country's security through oppression is another country's cause for defence through rebellion.
Shristhi Kedia holds an LL.B. from ILS Law College and a Postgraduate Diploma in Human Rights, Humanitarian Law and Refugee Law from the Indian Society of International Law. Her fields of interest are primarily Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.
Image: Credit to Latuff Cartoons