Israel, the U.N., and Double Standards

The recent abstention by the United States in the Security Council of a resolution condemning “settlements” in Israel has raised the issue of how a Trump administration will treat both the U.N. and its treatment of Israel. Trump’s Twitter statements suggest that he will adopt a much more pro-Israel foreign policy. Already, some Senators have suggested that the U.S. should withhold its U.N. dues until the resolution is withdrawn.

The main problem for Israel in the U.N. is that it treats Israel in a discriminatory manner. While it strongly condemns Israel for certain actions, it refuses to condemn other countries for equal or far worse actions. Some have argued that the existing resolution falls into this category by condemning Israel for occupying territories, but not other countries, such as Russia or Vietnam.

One area where this discriminatory treatment is clear and indefensible is the blatant double standard against Israel as to refugees. Palestinian refugees are treated under one standard, other refugees under a much narrower standard. The reason is that “Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their descendants do not come under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees [which governs other refugees], but under the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which created its own criteria for refugee classification.”

In particular, while “the UN does not consider refugee status to be hereditary for any other group” it does consider it for the descendants of Palestinian refugees prior to 1949. Thus, the “vast majority of registered Palestinian refugees have not been displaced,” but have inherited their refugee status, even though such inheritance is not allowed for other refugee groups. (The one exception is that of Sahrawi refugees, who are also treated under the same standard as Israel.)

One possible response that the Trump administration could take to the U.N. would be to identify the most problematic discriminations against Israel and refuse to pay dues until these discriminations are eliminated. Leading the list would be the refugee discrimination. This response would serve several functions. First, it would publicize a discrimination that most people throughout the world do not seem to know about. Second, it is extremely difficult to justify such discrimination against Israel. As a result, the withholding of the dues not only increases the chances of the policy being changed, but also puts a spotlight on a policy that cannot easily be defended.