World Cup and U.N. Provide Context for Assessing the Abrahamic Accords


The U.N. Security Council holds a meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at the U.N. headquarters in New York, on Nov. 28, 2022. U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland called for urgent steps toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (ESKINDER DEBEBE/UN PHOTO/HANDOUT VIA XINHUA)

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2023, pp. 12-13

United Nations Report

 By Ian Williams

CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING, and both the World Cup in Qatar and the United Nations in New York added their distinctive textures to temper the orthodoxies of geopolitics, not least about the Palestine issue. Sadly, I suspect you had to be on social media to see how the world trashed the Abrahamic Accords during the World Cup in Qatar. Were the Israeli TV reporters really as naïve and shocked as they appeared when fans gave them the finger? I watched with appreciation as fans from across the world scorned interviews with the oppressors. Brazilians, Japanese, and even seemingly stereotypical English soccer fans told them where to go. But the famous mainstream media ignored it, except perhaps in Israel where it followed the trope of how the rest of the world was out of step!

But since most Western media had been uncritically celebrating former President Donald Trump and Senior Adviser Jared Kushner’s triumph in securing the Abrahamic Accords, seeing the Arab Street response was so much more telling. Qataris, Lebanese and Saudis alike displayed a distinct lack of “accord,” more Cain and Abel than Abraham. Emblematic was the reaction of the Moroccan fans and team, which despite their king’s long-term attempts to cozy up to Israel, was triumphantly and in-your-face pro-Palestinian. 

Arabs and many others across the world know apartheid when they see it. Just as the people of Africa reacted viscerally to apartheid South Africa because it explicitly subordinated and suppressed people like themselves, Arabs can see Israel oppressing Palestinians—because they are Arabs. 

Over at the U.N., Arab delegations engaged in what their chums in Tel Aviv call “Israel-bashing.” Their degree of tolerance for Israel is in inverse proportion to popular involvement in government and foreign policy, but even their authoritarian elites dare not get too close to endorsing explicit apartheid against fellow Arabs. 

Western media tends to ignore that the explicit breaches of international law that they denounce in Ukraine are perpetrated routinely by Israel in the occupied territories. But there is a subtext poking up through the bowdlerized Western headlines which is gradually osmosing through into popular discourse. It is occurring to people that if we are so upset about Russian invasion and annexation, bombing and killing civilians in Ukraine, then why the international acquiesce when Israel does the same?

Some of this surfaced in the annual round of General Assembly resolutions in late November and early December. Following President Vladimir Putin’s on and off bluster about annexation and nuclear weapons, condemned by all Western countries, delegates called on Israel to renounce nuclear weapons and accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. 

Apart from the assorted atolls in the U.S. pocket, Israel, Canada and Australia voted against the resolution. It is of course all the more absurd since the resolution called upon Israel to renounce weapons it has never admitted having. Even more scandalously, France, Germany and Britain abstained. A British House of Commons report this July declared that “it is universally acknowledged that Israel possesses a nuclear weapons capability, outside of the framework of the NPT.” France knows this—it provided the nuclear know-how for the Dimona reactor and the original versions of the Jericho missiles, while Germany has provided nuclear capable submarines. 

But even the abstainers could not oppose the call for a Nuclear Free Middle East. Only Israel itself had the temerity to vote against the global equivalent of motherhood and apple pie even though it was not singled out for the criticism it so richly deserves. The U.S. delegation abstained, as though they could not make up their mind whether a nuclear free Middle East was desirable. 

The Putinesque diplomatic gymnastics of the U.S. were well expressed by U.S. “public delegate” to the U.N. Rep. Andrew Weinstein, nominated by Biden for his work with the ADL and Democratic fundraising in Florida, who complained, “we are engaged in the annual U.N. ritual of rubber-stamping outdated and ineffective resolutions that purport to advance the cause for the Palestinian people but instead reveal a profound anti-Israel bias” and reaffirmed U.S. determination to oppose “all one-sided resolutions that denigrate Israel.” Far from being outdated, the resolutions all describe the current state of affairs on the ground, the wall, the apartheid, the settlements, confiscations, demolitions and killings of 184 Palestinians since the start of the year, and recently several a day. If the resolutions are ineffective, it is only because of U.S. financial, diplomatic and military support for the perpetrator.

We trust the U.S. will just as vehemently oppose all one-sided resolutions denigrating Russia. But perhaps sometime the State Department could keep a straight face and propose a balanced resolution condemning Palestinian settlement building in the Galilee and Negev, or Ukrainian occupation of Siberia. The atmosphere is attenuated on planet AIPAC, where the delegations of the U.S. and its more slavish allies seem to live.

The Australian delegation tied itself in a moebius striplike knot. As every topologist knows, a moebius strip only has one edge and one side. The diplomatic equivalent is to do what Australia did: to evoke the rule of law to welcome the successful reference of the occupation to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion—but to stress that it should be recorded that the opinion is non-binding. It knows Israel is committing grossly illegal acts and wants to distance itself when Israel is inevitably called out. In other words, the Western paragons of international law and order cannot disavow the instruments of international legality, so they seek to deflect it in advance. 

So many at the U.N. drew at least spiritual comfort from the decision to dedicate next year’s work on Palestinian rights to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. It was even more satisfying that this provoked paroxysms of indignation from Israel and its supporters. It coincided with their massive campaign against the excellent Netflix movie “Farha” which movingly illustrated the realities of the atrocities of the Nakba as chronicled by survivors, Palestinian and other historians and many Israeli sources and denied by lobbyists and their paymasters.

The Nakba commemoration added spice to the decision to rename the U.N.’s program for Palestinian journalists after Shireen Abu Akleh. These are small triumphs but in the face of President Joe Biden’s stonewalling on investigating the Israeli murder of an American citizen, we have to celebrate them—“Lest we forget.”

On the “lest we forget” front, one could not help but wonder if the success of the Moroccan team, obviously so significant for Arabs everywhere, not to mention Africans, could have been made even more delicious if they had brandished the Sahrawi flag as well. However, we have to content ourselves with actual rather than imagined wins.

U.N. correspondent Ian Williams is the author of U.N.told: the Real Story of the United Nations in Peace and War (available from Middle East Books and More).

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