Should the United States try to reform the United Nations, or give up on it? Tough choice.
On the one hand, the United Nations is the only club that every nation can join. It has become the principal source of international law. It embodies humanity's hopes for international cooperation and world peace.
On the other hand, its overall record is one of enormous failure. It has regularly failed to prevent war and keep the peace, its primary purpose. In just the last 15 years, from Bosnia to Rwanda to Darfur, the U.N. has stood by and watched genocide take its bloody course again and again.
The United Nations has been not merely antagonistic, but positively vicious toward Israel. It has been the leading forum for attacking the Jewish state and undermining its legitimacy. The vileness goes far beyond the obscene "Zionism equals racism" resolution. The U.N. Human Rights Commission, whose membership is currently ornamented by such paragons of decency as Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, always focuses on Israel's relationship with the Palestinian Arabs, ignoring much more serious human rights crises.
The U.N. generally defines a "refugee" as an individual who was compelled to flee his or her home. However, the Palestinian "refugees" are uniquely favored with a definition that assigns refugee status to the children, grandchildren and endless generations of those who actually fled in 1948. This is one of the great Arab instruments for keeping alive their war against Israel.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), tasked with supporting Palestinian "refugees," employs terrorists. As Peter Hansen, UNRWA's commissioner general in the territories, blandly admitted, "I am sure that there are Hamas members on the UNRWA payroll and I don't see that as a crime ... we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another." Thus, U.S. tax dollars support those pledged to destroy Israel.
UNIFIL, the U.N. "peacekeeping" force in Lebanon, does little or nothing to prevent Hezbollah attacks on Israel. In October 2000, Hezbollah operatives disguised as UNIFIL peacekeepers kidnapped and killed three Israel Defence Forces soldiers. UNIFIL denied having a videotape of the kidnapping, until it turned the tape over to Israel in July 2001. There are reports that some UNIFIL soldiers actually helped Hezbolla carry out the kidnapping.
So, there's room for improvement, and even U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has recognized the need for deep reform. On March 21, he issued a proposed blueprint for change, titled, "In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All." Some parts make sense, some do not; many depend on governments just doing what they long ago promised to do (don't hold your breath). However, one proposal (paragraph 91) is of particular interest to friends of Israel:
"It is time to set aside debates on so-called 'state terrorism.' The use of force by states is already thoroughly regulated under international law. And the right to resist occupation must be understood in its true meaning. It cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians. I endorse fully the High-level Panel [on Threats, Challenges and Change]'s call for a definition of terrorism, which would make it clear that, in addition to actions already proscribed by existing conventions, any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act."
There are two important points here. First, "state terrorism" is the Arab code term for Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Annan is saying, "forget it" -- that's not what terrorism really means. Second and crucially, Annan wants to ring down the curtain on the Arab contention that the definition of terrorism doesn't encompass "the struggle against foreign occupation." In short, Annan would decisively reject the Arab claim that murdering Israelis isn't terrorism.
The Arab nations have already begun to register their disapproval. Abdallah Baali, Algeria's U.N. ambassador, tartly responded that "terrorism and the right to resist foreign occupation should not be confused." The Arab states may successfully obstruct this reform -- unless America leads the charge.
The American Jewish community may not be able to agree on, well, anything, but we ought to unite in demanding that the U.S. government regard as a top priority enacting the proposed definition of terrorism. On the rest of Annan's reform package there is room for disagreement, but the terrorism definition is the pivotal test for the United Nations. This is the minimal level of decency; below this, we can no longer avoid the conclusion that the United Nations is simply a dangerous engine of hypocrisy.
If the United Nations clearly defines terrorism to include Palestinian suicide murders and Hezbollah rocket attacks, there may be hope for the organization. If not, the U.S. must consider withdrawing. There are other, less tainted, avenues of international cooperation.
Paul Kujawsky is the president of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles, and a member of the Los Angeles Jewish Community Relations Committee. The opinions expressed herein are his own.