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Away from meddling eyes

Shortly after sundown Aug. 8, 2011, I took off on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv. I was one of 17 students travelling to Israel with the Anti-Defamation League, which organizes a yearly trip to introduce American students to some of the challenges in modern Israel. I longed to see the land with my own eyes and talk to policy makers and constituents in order to form my own opinions on key issues surrounding Israel. The country had been in the national news almost every day prior to my departure, as the Palestinians were preparing to submit a bid for independence to the United Nations. After learning about the region’s history, I realized this proposal would be detrimental to the peace process, as many U.N. members would make their determinations not with a goal of lasting regional peace, but rather to leverage their own national interests.

A nation at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe, Israel has been a virtual island since its independence, surrounded by countries that today still do not acknowledge its right to exist. The state declared independence in 1948 after the United Nations voted in 1947 to partition the territory between Arabs and Jews. Recognizing its power, Israel’s neighbors began using the U.N. to chastise the Jewish state frequently. Even though the United Nations was established to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations and promote social progress, better living standards and human rights, some of its agencies have become means for countries to fulfill selfish political agendas.

The U.N. Human Rights Council has produced more resolutions condemning Israel than any single country in the world. Indeed, the Council’s credibility is questionable: current committee members include Saudi Arabia, where religious freedom is nonexistent and women are not legally prohibited from driving. Until just recently, so was Libya—an excellent candidate, considering its former leader sponsored the eponymous Al-Gadaffi International Prize for Human Rights. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said resolutions against Israel (including one equating Zionism with racism) had no effect other than to strengthen the belief among member nations that the U.N. “is too one-sided to be allowed a significant role in the Middle East peace process.”

Oppressive leaders in neighboring countries have long used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to manipulate the masses instead of addressing pressing social issues. A devoted critic of Israel, former Syrian dictator Hafez al Assad personally ordered the Hama Massacre in 1982 to crush an uprising by Sunni Muslim citizens. Likewise, enemies of the State of Israel have actively prevented U.N. peacekeeping efforts when it did not correspond with their interests. When former Egyptian President Abdel Nasser made plans to attack Israel in 1967, he ordered the U.N. force stationed on the Sinai Peninsula to leave—and they complied passively. Arab leaders claimed to support the Palestinian cause while seeking only to distract their own citizens. In his book “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” New York Times war correspondent (and current columnist) Thomas Friedman said the Arab heads of state founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1964 “in order to control the Palestinians and to use them for their own military and political purposes.” Even Yasser Arafat, a prominent Palestinian independence leader who later won control of the group, was skeptical of the whether or not the group was founded with genuine intentions.

Public spectacles like the U.N. independence process distract from the real issues at hand. All of a sudden, every member nation seems to have a vested interest in the issue, directly or indirectly. Some countries will inject themselves in the debate solely to steer it in the direction they see most convenient. Even Iran now has a say in the matter, though its president has denied the Holocaust, claimed 9/11 was an inside job and insisted he wants to wipe Israel off the map during past speeches at the U.N.

Parties are more inclined to tackle the pressing problems when external influences are kept to a minimum. Realistically, politicians may be tempted to postpone discussion when it could cost them elections. That is why secret negotiations like the Oslo Accords have yielded the most compromises between Israelis and Palestinians. The outcomes of these talks were surprising: after decades of conflicts, both sides finally recognized each other’s right to exist. Similarly, in 1977 after several low-key negotiations, Egypt’s former President Anwar Sadat travelled to Israel and announced he wanted to make peace. Radicals, extremists and opportunists hold no influence over the final result in these meetings, unlike in U.N. meetings where they are present in the room and have a say and a vote.

Today, in spite of their disagreements, moderate Israelis and Palestinians concur that they want to live their day-to-day lives without fear of armed conflict. Unfortunately, many countries do not share this vision. U.N. intervention will no doubt influence the effect of the Palestinian bid. Unnecessary meddling in negotiations will only delay peace, which is the ultimate goal. The alternative is direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians only. Both sides have to make compromises: Israel will have to cease expansion of its settlements, just as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will have to part ways with his radical Hamas counterparts. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gone long enough; there is no reason it should continue indefinitely.

Alejandro Bolivar, Trinity ’13

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