The UN Is a Major Obstacle to a Two-State Solution in the Mideast
In a year marked by so much misery and misfortune, a rare bright spot in 2020 was Israel’s historic diplomatic breakthroughs with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.
For decades, the operating assumption was that peace between Israel and the Arab world was contingent on a signed agreement acceptable to the Palestinians. That is no longer the case.
Still, peace with the Palestinians is not only desirable; it is essential.
But to achieve peace, the decades of demonization and delegitimization of Israel in the Palestinian media, mosques, and schools will have to be overcome.
The thorniest obstacle is the continued official Palestinian adherence to the so-called “right of return” — the demand that over five million Palestinians who are descendants (sometimes very distant) of refugees from the 1948 war be permitted to “return” to their original homes in what is now Israel. Such a move would alter the demographic nature of Israel and effectively end its existence as a democratic Jewish State.
Of course, no Israeli government would ever acquiesce to a demand that would lead to the country’s demise.
The United States has long recognized that the “right of return” is a non-starter, and will never be part of a final settlement. The “Clinton Parameters,” issued by President Bill Clinton on his way out of office in 2001 as a template for a peace settlement, required “the Palestinians to waive their claim to an unlimited ‘right of return’ to Israel proper. The Palestinian state would accept all refugees wishing to settle in its territory.”
Similarly, an official letter from President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 stated: “It seems clear that … a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.” Finally, the Trump “Vision for Peace” reiterated this concept, stating, “There shall be no right of return by, or absorption of, any Palestinian refugee into the State of Israel.”
Unfortunately, instead of playing a constructive role in advancing the prospect of a two-state solution, the United Nations explicitly encourages the Palestinians to maintain the demand of a “right of return.”
For the past 45 years, the UN has repeatedly demonstrated its opposition to the Jewish state and has created an infrastructure to perpetuate anti-Israel propaganda.
In 1975, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) passed its infamous resolution labeling Zionism a form of racism. This resolution led to the creation of two unique and nefarious institutions within the UN system: the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) and its staff body, the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR). Operating under an annual budget of approximately $3 million (reauthorized and funded every year), CEIRPP and DPR do nothing but disseminate harsh anti-Israel propaganda, organize one-sided international conferences that attack Israel, and openly encourage the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
Significantly, the mission statements of these UN bodies explicitly endorse the “right of return.” Thus, the UN propaganda apparatus gives this major obstacle to peace the official imprimatur of the international community.
Under these circumstances, why would the Palestinians ever give up this demand? Yet every year, the resolutions authorizing these bodies pass in the UN General Assembly by large majorities. It is highly unlikely that many of the leaders of the countries voting in favor of these bodies are aware of their true nature or intentions.
It is time for the Palestinians to join other Arabs in accepting the existence of the State of Israel and negotiating peace with it. Such a peace would greatly benefit Israelis, Palestinians, the Arab states, and the world as a whole.
A good first step would be abandoning the baseless claim of a “right of return.” But for this to happen, the international community, including the United Nations, needs to stop recklessly coddling Palestinian rhetoric and activities.
Over the past two years, more than a dozen European states have voted against the resolution authorizing the Palestine Division. As a result, support for that resolution has plummeted, from 114 “yes” votes in 2011 to only 82 last year –far less than half the number of UNGA members. The best contribution that the UN can make to the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace, is to permanently close down these anachronistic and obstructionist bodies.
Richard P. Schifter is chair and Gil Kapen is deputy director of the American Jewish International Relations Institute-Bnai Brith International.