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The United Nations and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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The United Nations and its precursor, the League of Nations, have played a central role in the creation, development and current status of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. The Arab-Israeli conflict is about the territory that Israel now occupies in what used to be Palestinian land. The state of Israel was formed in 1947 with the support of the United Nations and immediately entered into conflict and war with Palestinians and Arab neighbors. Since then, Israel has strengthened its position through military action with the support of the United States. The United States has issued multiple resolutions condemning Israeli actions, but, to date, efforts for peace and the creation of a Palestinian state have been fruitless. The current position of the United Nations is that Israel should abide by the Oslo accord, returned occupied territories in the West Bank and negotiate with the Palestinians to achieve a peaceful two-state solution.

The creation of the state of Israel was motivated by Zionism, a 19th century movement to return the Jews to their ancestral home, and facilitated the League of Nations. In 1917 the British proposed the Balfour declaration for the creation of the a Jewish nation in Palestine. The League of Nations supported British control of Palestine with the formation of a Jewish state. Jews started to buy land in Palestine, mostly from absent landlords and to increase their population. As Nazis took power in Germany more Jews emigrated to Palestine. As the number of Jews increased, the Palestinians revolted against the British controlling the territory. The second critical intervention of the United Nations in the region was the approval in 1947 of a plan to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. The Partition Plan of 1947 stated “Independent Arab and Jewish States and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem, set forth in part III of this plan, shall come into existence in Palestine two months after the evacuation of the armed forces of the mandatory Power has been completed but in any case not later than 1 October 1948.” The fact that millions of Jewish people were killed by the Nazis motivated the formation of a Israeli state in 1948.

Palestinians and Arabs rejected the Partition Plan and war ensued, which involved other Arab states, and eventually was won by Israel. In 1967 there was another war, the Six-Day War, which resulted in Israel annexing Gaza and the West Bank and creating more Palestinian refugees. The United Nations issued the Security Council Resolution 242, proposing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and supporting the creation of a Palestinian state. As stated in Resolution 242, “ Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” To this day resolution 242 has not been implemented.

In the 70’s and 80’s Palestinians continued to fight the rule of Israel and the United Nations generally supported their struggle by issuing a number of resolutions critical of Israel. Still, the United Nations has not yet recognized the State of Palestine. In 1993 the United States moderated a peace process resulting in the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians. The United Nations softened its position on Israel and between 1993 and 1995 the Security Council recognized terrorism against Israel and didn’t criticize Israel policies directly. The most recent effort by the United Nations to define a process to achieve peace is the 2002 Roadmap for Peace. This process has not made progress and currently the hopes for a negotiated peace are not very high.

From a humanitarian point of view, the United Nations has provided support for Palestinian refugees via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and by helping the Palestinian voice their demands via the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and other organizations. In summary, the role of the United Nations has been central in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The League of Nations proposed the Balfour Declaration and supported the Partition Plan. Later it defended the Palestinians right to have their own state by publishing Security Council Resolution 242 in 1967 and the Roadmap To Peace in 2002.

The United States has been critical of Israeli actions against Palestinians, but it has also opposed terrorism by Palestinians against Jews. The Appendix shows that “out of the 1822 resolutions passed by the U.N between 1948 and 2009, 235 have involved Israel, which equates to 13% of all resolutions. This percentage rises if we look at 1948 to 1994 then 20% of all UN resolutions involved Israel.” As of today all the peace efforts during the last 30 years have not resulted in a permanent resolution to the conflict.

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