Can the United Nations bring security to the Middle East?'

Summary of a meeting in the House of Commons 10th October 2006


Over 75 people came to the House of Commons to hear three speakers and their host, Alan Simpson MP, tackle this thorny subject. The meeting was the first in what is hoped will be several dealing with the situation in Palestine and its effect on the wider Middle East.


Betty Hunter, General Secretary of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, referred to the 'brutal' war on Lebanon and Palestine; international action was essential. A UN conference of NGOs held in Geneva in September called for action including: a protection corps for Palestine; an end to the arms trade to the region; and support for an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions. A recent report from the UN's special rapporteur, John Dugard, highlighted the desperate situation in Palestine and said that despite Israel's repeated flouting of international humanitarian law, the UN was unwilling or unable to act. He has appealed to the wider world for action. Israel continues to enjoy 'special status' - it has hundreds of nuclear warheads and a nuclear submarine has been bought from Germany recently. The state of Israel was accepted by the UN on condition that the rights of refugees were respected, yet Israel imposes its discriminating laws even against its own Arab citizens. Only by ending the impunity which Israel enjoys will its expansionist policy be changed. Meanwhile the UN, EU and the US collectively punish the Palestinians. This has led to the oppressed being demonised by the international community while the oppressor was supported a reversal of roles.


Chris Doyle is director of the long-established Council for Arab British Understanding, a key organisation supported by many British and Arab diplomats. He said that most UN member states support the rights of Palestine to independence. However the UN, in dealing with the Middle East, has devoted more time to supporting Israel than any other issue. The UN has to change; it still reflects conditions at the time it was set up in 1945, but it remains the legal safeguard of Palestinian support, and the many resolutions against the Israeli occupation and ill treatment of Palestinians must be revived and applied. Chris questioned whether the billions of dollars ploughed into the Middle East, where 13 UN agencies are operating, are giving real value. He ended with several recommendations: Palestine should be made the 193rd member of the UN; refugees should be put under a UN protectorate mandate; there should be a UN protection force. Finally, he said, the UN should call an international peace conference which would "re-establish the UN as the prime organisation dealing with this issue".


Bruce Kent, a founder of Action for UN Renewal and now a patron, said that the UN could bring security - that was what it was founded to do. The obstacle is that a major power could exercise its veto to stop the UN from acting. Israel's old testament view of its place in the world should be challenged. For the UN to keep us properly informed about serious world issues the UN Information office (UNIC) for Britain should be re-established in London.


Alan Simpson MP first assisted Action for UN Renewal early in 2000 when he hosted the inaugural meeting of the campaign that combined Renew UN and the Forum for UN Renewal. Referring to the contributions from the earlier speakers he said that it was good to have 'propositional' as a change from 'oppositional' politics. The real dilemma is whether the two-state solution is possible, especially as both states see Jerusalem as their capital and Israel is unwilling to entertain this. There must be an international social justice campaign on a consistent basis. No progress on a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone could be made without consideration of Israel's illicit nuclear weapons. Alan said that removal of the UN from the United States has to be one aim of UN reform. Financial aid which is often promised by member states but not delivered is one of the problems that the UN should solve. Delivering aid is so important that Mr Simpson thought we should take it to Palestine unilaterally and challenge the Israeli forces to prevent it.


Proposals for reform and for progress in re-establishing Palestine rights made by those taking part will be taken to a further meeting. These would include the suggestion for a UN General Assembly debate on the Middle East and a recommendation for a UN High Level Panel which would include all interested parties, proposed by Action for UN Renewal.


Jim Addington (chair) Action for UN Renewal