The United Nations continued to prove its position recently over Israel’s request to hold an exhibition at its New York headquarters. The exhibit, themed “The Knesset Celebrates 70 – Parliament Shaping Israeli Society,” contains references to Jerusalem as “the eternal capital of the Jewish people and their holy city.”
“This quote is not relevant to the picture and its erasure will help prevent contradictions with international law and political sensitivities,” the UN declared while calling for its removal.
According to Israeli media, the UN objected to parts of the exhibit based on Israel’s narrative on Jerusalem, which runs contrary to international consensus and final status negotiations within the context of the two-state compromise. “This is a most sensitive issue and the information in the slide contradicts international law,” the UN instructed with regard to Israel’s 1980 Basic Law that defines Jerusalem as Israel’s “complete and united” capital city.
The UN objected to parts of the exhibit based on Israel’s narrative on Jerusalem.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan called the UN’s demand for historical clarity “a request to rewrite Israel’s history,” and said that Israel “will not agree to that in any way.”
Erdan’s statement is wrong, of course. The UN is well versed in Israel’s colonial history, having inscribed its foundations through the 1947 Partition Plan. However, the UN has also allowed Israel’s fabricated historical narratives to weave with facts, resulting in unprecedented impunity for international law violations.
With the UN copying Israel’s stance – particularly its refusal to label Israel as settler-colonial – the decades following 1948 have been premised on Israel’s expansionist schemes, rather than implementing international law and calling for decolonization.
When the United Nations aligned itself with the Zionist colonial ideology and approved the Partition Plan in 1947, it set the scene for altering Palestine into the apartheid reality known today. While Palestine’s plight is usually fragmented and its narratives are tied to which US or Israeli government inflicted the most damage, the truth is that Palestine’s territorial loss is related to the UN’s hypocritical positioning on colonialism.
At a time when decolonization and independence were gaining ground, the UN enabled the establishment of the Zionist colonial enterprise on Palestinian territory and glossed over the Palestinians’ ethnic cleansing from their land by recognizing the state of Israel.
By eliminating references to settler-colonialism, the UN managed Israel’s international law and human rights violations in isolation and within the context of Israel’s security narrative according to necessity – such as the periodic aerial bombardment of Gaza. Earlier settlement building is not included in the UN’s current designation of illegal settlement expansion. This sets a tradition of double standards through which Israel benefits to date, particularly since the UN’s non-binding resolutions do not require action to be taken against Israel’s war crimes, as the International Criminal Court clearly defined the settlements.
The UN’s non-binding resolutions do not require action to be taken against Israel’s war crimes.
The US unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital in 2017 marks a case in point. When former US President Donald Trump issued the declaration, the UN General Assembly was swift to pass a non-binding resolution declaring the US position null and void. However, the UN failed to condemn Israel’s settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem within the context of its land grab in the city.
Succinctly, the UN’s condemnations of Israel are superfluous and concerned only with maintaining the image of an international institution masquerading as the guardian of human rights and international law.
If the UN were consistently anti-colonial, its stance would have been commendable. However, not only is the UN aiding Israeli settler-colonial expansion. It also requires the Palestinian people to abide by international resolutions and consensus. Meanwhile, its officials do everything in their power to maintain an imbalanced narrative about Palestine, one that is biased in Israel’s favor.
In this context, Israel’s removal of the quote would serve part of the major purpose, which is to set the narrative straight from the colonizer’s side. However, despite the UN ordering the elimination of incorrect information, the fact remains that the UN itself is responsible for many contradictions which emanate over colonized Palestine and the issue of Jerusalem.
Israel’s removal of the quote would set the narrative straight from the colonizer’s side.
With its rhetoric of “both sides,” the UN has mangled the difference between the colonizer and the colonized, perpetuating a myth of equity which is in fact non-existent. In regard to Jerusalem, the UN’s reaction to Trump’s statement was to call out the US for departing from the international consensus.
However, it took no action to prevent Israel from acting upon its usurpation. Israel is changing facts on the ground. And the UN is in no position to challenge the latest stages of Zionist colonization because it has no political will to look at the historical process, other than to prevent parts of an exhibition from raising temporary ire.
If one considers the recent comments by the US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, in which he condemned settlement expansion but extended recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while insisting that its final status “would have to be decided by both parties,” the UN adopts similar tactics through the two-state compromise. It will not declare Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, but its weak position on settlement expansion, as well as its refusal to consider Palestinians’ political rights in terms of their legitimate anti-colonial resistance, aid Israel’s colonization of the city.
So, is the exhibition the real issue? Or is it the fact that Palestinians have been deprived of Jerusalem through diplomatic violence and Israeli forced displacement, all because of Israeli and international complicity?
The Israeli exhibition is also part of the state’s narrative of oblivion.
Taking things a step further, the UN could also require a correct historical narrative, which defines the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and how the 1948 Nakba remains unacknowledged by the Knesset. The Israeli exhibition is also part of the state’s narrative of oblivion. Pinpointing slivers for the sake of avoiding conflicts with international consensus does not mean that the rest of the story is completely authentic.
Israeli and international actions have deprived Palestinians not only of their undivided city but also of occupied East Jerusalem as their capital city within the parameters of the hypothetical two-state compromise. If the UN is ready to allocate space for Israel to further its colonial narrative in its premises, alongside decades of UN coercing Palestinians to forfeit their rights, then the UN’s discrepancies in the narrative it created and forced upon Palestinians must be equally called out.