UN General Assembly resolution on Palestine - GulfToday

UN General Assembly resolution on Palestine

A view of a session at the UN General Assembly.

A view of a session in progress at the UN General Assembly.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution calling the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to give an opinion on the legal consequences of Israeli illegal occupation of Palestinian territories received support from 87 members, while 53 abstained and 26 voted against it. Russia, China voted in favour of the resolution, the US, UK and Germany against it, and France and India abstained. Portugal alone among the European countries supported the resolution. The UNGA is not the most powerful body in the UN system, but it reflects world opinion more effectively than even the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) with its veto system.

It can be argued that the vote does not amount to much because the ICJ’s opinion has no binding value, but it would show that countries cannot violate the norms of international law. And this is exactly the sentiment expressed by Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The ICJ had in 2004 opined that the wall Israel had built to divide the West Bank from East Jerusalem violated international law, though it has had no impact on Israel’s stance. Israel had occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the 1967 war. Israel had criticised the resolution and called the UNGA ‘morally bankrupt’.  Even the countries like the UK which had voted against the resolution felt that it would not be helpful in negotiations, and that the ICJ can only intervene when both Palestine and Israel approach the court. The UNGA resolution however is a morale-booster to the Palestinians.

It is a strange paradox of the UN system that the largest representative body, the UNGA, which includes all members of the world body, is the weakest, while the UNSC with its five permanent members, also known as P5, with their veto power, can stymie the majority decision. Unfortunately, the demand for reforms in the UN is mostly confined to the expansion of the permanent members of the UNSC, and there is not much talk about the empowerment of the UNGA, and how UNSC should be less powerful than the UNGA, if one follows norms of a democratic system.

The reason that many of the conflicts in the world remain unresolved, and the Palestine issue is a prime example of this stalemate, is due to the fact that the UN does not have enough powers to impose its will on the warring parties. There is provision for UN peacekeeping forces to be sent to the conflict zones, and the UN peacekeeping forces have rendered commendable service in different parts of the world, but it has not helped in resolving the disputes. A stalemate is no solution as can be seen between North Korea and South Korea.

The UN has been pushing the climate change agenda with much vigour through the climate summits, and it looks like that it is more successful on this issue as most countries are willing to cooperate and collaborate to take measures to contain the effects of climate change. The question then comes up whether the UN can achieve a similar measure of success when two members of the UN are at war with each other, or whether the UN can facilitate the implementation of agreements between two sides as in the case of Israel and Palestine. The Oslo Accords provide a framework for a two-nation solution to the dispute, and everyone, including Israel, accept it. But Israel feels that conditions are not conducive to its implementation. And the efforts of the US, the EU and other mediators have been ineffective. It is in this context, the UN should be able to help implement an honourable peace.

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