With the outbreak of the Second Palestinian Intifada in September 2000, the environment in the U.N. became increasingly hostile towards Israel. Numerous General Assembly resolutions condemning Israel for its response to Palestinian violence and terrorism were passed with little or no mention of Palestinian violence and terrorism. At the same time, new efforts began to combat anti-Semitism and to promote Israeli- Palestinian negotiations.
The Durban Conference
The U.N. ‘s treatment of Israel hit a new low with the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. Members of the U.N. and a host of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) participated in this third international conference on racism, which was intended to examine effective mechanisms to combat racial discrimination and promote understanding and awareness of this global problem.
Despite these laudable goals, the conference was hijacked by a number of NGOs and Arab block states who attempted to focus on Israeli-Palestinian issues, and used their platform to delegitimize Israel and to promote base anti-Semitism, including a return to hateful anti-Jewish canards such as Zionism is racism.
The formal governmental conference ended with the adoption of a compromise proposal on the Middle East, which was reached between the European Union and Arab countries and facilitated by South Africa. Even at the final plenary session of the conference, Arab delegates led by Syria and Pakistan sought to add three paragraphs of the earlier anti-Israel language that had prompted the U.S. and Israel to abandon the conference. Brazil offered a motion of no action requesting that, having reached a compromise on the Middle East, delegates move forward to accept the declaration and leave aside paragraphs on which they were unable to agree. The motion was approved by a vote of 51-38. The compromise proposal therefore recognized the Palestinian right of return, but omitted language which would be critical of Israel.
Following the Durban debacle, and in the midst of a resurgence of anti-Jewish violence in Western Europe, efforts were made to address the issue of anti-Semitism at the U.N. In June 2004, at the first U.N. Department of Public Information Seminar on Anti- Semitism, Secretary-General Kofi Annan described what he called an alarming resurgence of this phenomenon. In his remarks to the conference, the Secretary General acknowledged that the United Nations record on anti-Semitism has at times fallen short of our ideals and made specific reference to the GA resolution of 1975, equating Zionism with racism, as an especially unfortunate decision. In concluding his speech, the Secretary General called on the U.N. to take up the fight against anti- Semitism and proclaimed that, Jews everywhere must feel that the United Nations is their home, too.
The Quartet and the Peace Process
In 2002, in an effort to create an international body to mediate peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Quartet on the Middle East was created. The Quartet - - including the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, as represented by the Secretary General -- was established in Madrid under the auspices of Spanish Prime Minister José María Anzar. The Quartet was entrusted with mediating peace between the two sides and designated a special envoy to the region to oversee and initiate talks between the parties.
Despite these efforts toward peace, Israel, which was suffering from a campaign of deadly Palestinian violence targeting Israeli population centers, continued to face excessive criticism and condemnation at the U.N. Nearly every response Israel undertook to defend its civilians from suicide bombings was condemned in resolutions adopted by the GA.
The Security Barrier and the International Court of Justice
Of particular focus in the GA has been Israel’s security barrier, which was devised and implemented to defend Israeli civilians by deterring Palestinian terrorist infiltrations. In an effort to halt the construction of the barrier, the Palestinian Authority and its supporters submitted a resolution to the Security Council which asked the Council to recommend the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Although the Palestinians were unable to find the support they needed in the Security Council, on December 8, 2003, the GA, in a special emergency session, adopted the Palestinian initiated resolution. That resolution, entitled “What are the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” called on the ICJ to issue an advisory opinion as to the legality of the barrier. The resolution passed 90-8, with 74 countries abstaining.
It should be noted that because Israel is barred from participating in U.N. Geneva-based regional groups, an Israeli judge cannot be elected to the ICJ, and the State of Israel cannot even participate in the voting for the makeup of the court.
The ICJ issued an advisory opinion on the Israeli security barrier on July 9, 2004. The Court concluded that Israel violated international law in the routing of the security fence and called on Israel to dismantle sections built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In the opinion from which U.S. judge Thomas Buergenthal and Dutch judge Pieter H. Kooijmans dissented, the court further called on the international community to refrain from rendering aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction (of the fence). Twenty-two nations had submitted briefs which voiced opposition to the case either because they supported Israel s right to self-defense or because they felt the ICJ should not rule on such a specific issue related to such a complex conflict. The court, however, rejected this opposition and accepted, without reservation, the arguments of the Palestinians and their supporters. Following the July 9 decision, the GA passed a resolution calling on Israel to abide by the non-binding ICJ decision and to remove the security barrier.