Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece is reprinted with permission and can be found on Abrams' blog "Pressure Points" here.
In the course of the Gaza war, several key European leaders have made tough, sensible statements supporting Israel's right to defend itself and demanding a cease-fire that does not give in to Hamas demands. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, Germany stands "by the side of Israel" and noted that the weapons used by Hamas were of "a completely new quality." French President Francois Hollande said Israel had the right to use "all the necessary measures" to protect itself from rockets and missiles. Britain's new Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said, "Everybody in the U.K. and the West is appalled by the scenes coming out of Gaza, but every country has the right to defend itself against attack."
But that is only half the story. Not one of those three countries could bring itself to vote against a foul and vicious resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council this week. Every single European country that is a council member abstained: Austria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Romania and the United Kingdom.
The resolution included this language:
"Noting the systematic failure by Israel to carry out genuine investigations in an impartial, independent, prompt and effective way, as required by international law, on violence and offences carried out against Palestinians by the occupying forces and settlers and to establish judicial accountability over its military actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.
"Deploring the massive Israeli military operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, since 13 June 2014, which have involved disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks and resulted in grave violations of the human rights of the Palestinian civilian population, including through the most recent Israeli military assault on the occupied Gaza Strip, the latest in a series of military aggressions by Israel.
"Condemns in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 13 June 2014, particularly the latest Israeli military assault in the occupied Gaza Strip, by air, land and sea, which has involved disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks.
"Calls for an immediate cessation of Israeli military assaults throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and an end to attacks against all civilians, including Israeli civilians.
"Decides to urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the president of the Human Rights Council, to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014."
Well, you get the idea: This is a biased, one-sided, mendacious resolution. The word "Hamas" is not mentioned. The firing of thousands of rockets into Israel is not mentioned. The massive system of attack tunnels through which Hamas terrorists have entered Israel is not mentioned. The fact that Hamas hides weapons in U.N. schools is not mentioned.
Western democracies should not have abstained. They should have called this resolution the offensive and useless piece of work that it is. They apparently tried to "improve" the text so that they could vote for it, but when that failed they chickened out. Having worked in those U.N. precincts for many years, it seems obvious to me that one reason the EU can so rarely persuade the Arab group to amend its drafts enough to be acceptable is that the Arabs know the EU will never oppose them. It should be obvious that only a series of "no" votes will move the Arabs, but the EU does not dare. Instead it takes a position where moral clarity is absent and the U.N. Human Rights Council becomes as biased and as worthless as its predecessor, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which was finally shut down in 2006.
It should be clear that the council is no better. In 2008, the Bush administration abandoned observer status at the council, with the State Department spokesman accurately calling it "pathetic" and "almost solely focused on bashing Israel." Unfortunately the Obama administration quickly joined up again in 2009, with the excuse that American participation would so obviously change things. Call it an experiment.
Has it worked? In this vote on the Gaza resolution, the United States was again completely isolated in voting "no." The council has since its creation in 2007 passed 50 resolutions against Israel, almost exactly the same number it has passed about every other human rights issue in every other country in the entire world, so it is no improvement on its predecessor.
The United States erred in joining up in 2009, and the returns are in. The experiment failed. Until the council stops its biased and one-sided actions, and stops throwing fuel on the flames in the Middle East, we should disengage. Council members such as China, Cuba, and Russia (yes, all three are, amazingly enough, members) will not recognize moral clarity, but very many Americans will.
From "Pressure Points" by Elliott Abrams. Reprinted with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.
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