Lawrence Davidson: Palestine and the Fate of the UN





[Lawrence Davidson is Professor of History at West Chester University, West Chester, Pa and author most recently of Foreign Policy, Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest (2009).]

The United Nations celebrated its 65th birthday (1945 to 2010) on 24 October 2010. At 65 the world body has lasted 27 years longer than its predecessor, the League of Nations (1919 to 1946). Will the UN go another 65 years? To help answer that question a quick look at what did in the League of Nations is in order.

The League of Nations was certainly not a perfect organization, infected as it was with the colonialist notions of its European founders. We can see that aspect of the organization in its mandate system which served as a cover for imperialism. But ultimately the mandate system is not what brought the League low. The fatal flaw was its inability to achieve its primary goal of preventing war by transcending the power of nationalism and compelling all states to end their quarrels through negotiation or arbitration. What success the League did have in this effort was restricted to a category of relatively weak states. For instance, it successfully brought an end to disputes between Columbia and Peru, Greece and Yugoslavia, Finland and Sweden, and even, in 1921, Poland and a very weak Germany. However, when disputes involved aggressive "great" powers, as they did in the 1930s, the League failed utterly. It was ultimately destroyed by its inability to project authority and influence, as well as punishment, on countries like belligerent Italy and resurgent Nazi Germany. As Mussolini observed while, with impunity, using poison gas on the Ethiopians, "the League is very good when sparrows shout, but no good at all when eagles fall out." He thought of Italy as an eagle.

As the League was founded in response to the First World War, so the United Nations was founded as a response to the Second World War. Where once there was the horror of the trenches, now there was the horror of the Holocaust. Where once there was mustard gas, now there was something much worse, nuclear weaponry. Thus the prevention of war still formed the central and urgent mission of the United Nations. This time around it should have been easier for the new world body. Where the First World War spurred on imperialism, carving up the Ottoman Empire and introducing the facade of mandates, the Second World saw the dismantlement of empires and, finally, the fulfillment of Woodrow Wilson’s promise of self-determination for most of the non-European world. Most, but not everywhere. For at the end of World War II, as the United Nations Charter was ratified and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed, the members of the United Nations were coerced into committing a fatal mistake. Under heavy pressure from the United States, the General Assembly gave its blessing to an arrangement whereby the sin of European and American antisemitism was to be paid for by the Palestinians, a people who had nothing at all to do with Europe’s death camps or America’s death dealing immigration policy. The United Nations blessed the creation of Israel. By doing so it went a long way to assuring its own demise....

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