United Nations

GENERAL ASSEMBLY

The General Assembly has presently 193 member states, each having one vote.

On 29 November 2012, the General Assembly voted to accept State of Palestine as a non-member observer state (the Vatican also has that status). This enables the State of Palestine to take part in UN Assembly debates and to join UN Agencies and Conventions. The Palestinian flag also flies outside the UN headquarters in New York.

SECURITY COUNCIL

The Security Council has 15 members, each representing a member state. There are five permanent members (China, France, Russia, UK and USA), with the other ten elected for two-year terms.

A resolution requires nine votes in favour to be adopted. Any one of the five permanent members can veto a resolution.

Between 1972 and 2018 the USA vetoed 44 Security Council draft resolutions critical of Israel, which would otherwise have been passed.

UNITED NATIONS AGENCIES

UNOCHA – UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs – http://www.unocha.org/

This agency is part of the UN secretariat and was set up in 1998. Its aim worldwide is to co-ordinate response to emergencies. There has been a ‘country office’ for the Occupied Palestinian Territories in East Jerusalem since 2002. Its website address is www.ochaopt.org. It comments that “many Palestinians continue to have humanitarian needs that are created by ongoing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including threats to life, liberty and security, restrictions on access and movement of people and goods to and within the OPT, and the risk of forced displacement”. Its publications include a weekly Protection of Civilians report and a monthly Humanitarian Bulletin together with other reports, maps etc.

ECOSOC – UN Economic and Social Council – http://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/

This body was established by the UN Charter of 1946 to advise on economic, social and environmental issues. Its regional arm is the Economic and Social Council for Western Asia (ESCWA), whose annual reports can be found HERE. It sees its role as to monitor and report the costs and impacts of occupation, and prepare the Secretary-General’s annual note on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan.

UNHCR – Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – http://www.unhcr.org/

This agency was set up in 1950 and reports to ECOSOC and the General Assembly. Its involvement in Palestine includes support and advocacy for refugees who are asking the Israeli government for asylum. 

UNESCO – UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – http://en.unesco.org/

This was created in 1945 on the basis that “Peace must be established on the basis of humanity’s moral and intellectual solidarity”.UNESCO maintains an office in Ramallah and its web address is http://www.unesco.org/new/en/ramallah/home.

On 31 October 2011 the member states of UNESCO voted by 107 votes to 14 to admit Palestine as a member. Within hours the United States cut funding to UNESCO. Palestine became a member formally on 23 November 2011. The first Palestinian World Heritage site is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, designated in June 2012.

Both Israel and the United States finally withdrew from UNESCO at the end of 2018.

UNICEF- UN International Children’s Emergency Fund – http://www.unicef.org/

This is the principal agency for promoting child welfare, created by the UN in December 1946. It has an office for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, whose web link is http://www.unicef.org/oPt/ . Besides offering material assistance, it issues updates, for example a telling report HERE on water supply.

UNRWA – UN Relief and Works Agency – http://www.unrwa.org/

This agency was set up by General Assembly 302 on 8 December 1949 for the assistance of “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” It provides assistance to more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. 

MILITARY AGENCIES

Those who say the United Nations could play a part in stopping the conflicts should know that the United Nations already has a substantial military force in the region.

UNIFIL (UN interim Force In Lebanon) – this was formed in March 1978 to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. At the end of March 2020 it numbered 10,180 troops and around 800 civilians drawn from 45 countries (including Ireland). More information HERE.

UNDOF (UN Disengagement Observer Force) – set up by the Security Council at the end of May 1974, this force is stationed in the ‘Area of Separation’ between Syria and the Golan Heights (also Syrian, but occupied illegally by the Israelis). At the end of May 2019 it had 940 troops and 124 civilians from ten countries (including Ireland). More information HERE.

UNTSO (UN Truce Supervision Organisation) – set up by the Security Council in May 1948 at the time of the Palestinian Nakba, this force had (in 2020) 153 military observers and 244 civilians drawn from 27 countries. It plays an observer role only. It currently provides observer assistance to UNIFIL and UNDOF. More information HERE.

MFO (Multinational Force and Observers) – this is not actually a United Nations body but was set up jointly by Israel and Egypt following the treaty signed between them on 26 March 1979. Its headquarters is in Rome. The force became effective on 25 April 1982, the day that Israel returned the Sinai peninsula to Egyptian sovereignty. It has responsibility for the whole of the Sinai (divided into three zones) and a very small sliver of Israel (along the border). In 2020 it had 1156 military personnel from 13 countries (including the United Kingdom).

INTERNATIONAL LAW

INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE

This body was set up by the UN Charter in June 1945. It rules on disputes submitted by member states and issues advisory opinions on matters referred by UN organs and specialised agencies. 

On 8 December 2003 the UN General Assembly voted to ask the Court for an advisory opinion on Israel’s Apartheid Wall. It was limited to an advisory opinion as Palestine (not being  member state) could not bring a formal case. The court’s opinion, handed down on 9 July 2004, was that the wall and its associated regime is contrary to international law. The opinion and the extensive case papers can be seen HERE. The fact that it is an ‘advisory opinion’ should not lessen its importance.

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT 

This is not in fact a United Nations body but was set up in July 1998 by the Statute of Rome (which became effective in July 2002). The statute has  been adopted by 123 states including Britain and (as of January 2015) the State of Palestine. Israel and the United States are among the states who have not adopted it.

The Palestinians have asked the ICC to investigate those responsible for the attack on the Mavi Marmara in 2010. The Palestinian group Badil has also prepared in February 2016 a dossier (see HERE) relating to Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza, entitled No Safe Place: Crimes against humanity and war crimes. In December 2019 – there have been delays – the ICC finally concluded that there are reasonable grounds to proceed on these allegations but have asked the court to rule on whether it has jurisdiction. That ruling is still awaited.