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Turning down the olive branch: Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, launches into a violently anti-Israel tirade at the UN

"If Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it," the Israeli diplomat Abba Eban once said of the United Nations General Assembly, "it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions." Eban died a decade ago, yet he predicted with uncanny accuracy what actually took place in the General Assembly (GA) on November 29, except that it was Sudan that introduced the resolution rather than Algeria. The actual wording of Resolution A67/L.28 extended non-member observer status to Palestine. Yet since Hamas in Gaza and Fatah on the West Bank are in bitter, sometimes lethal dispute over who represents the would-be state-and the US will veto Palestinian statehood in the Security Council anyhow-it was the precise equivalent of declaring the earth as flat. Yet despite its inherent absurdity, the resolution passed by 138 to 9 with 41 abstentions, so if anything Eban had overestimated the degree of support for Israel in his satirical quip. 

If you ever have a free afternoon in New York, do go down to 46th Street and 1st Avenue on the East River and walk around the Tower of Babel there. Find time to look in at a General Assembly debate. It will instantly cure you of any lingering doubts you might have about the wisdom of multilateralism, as delegates from hell-holes like Burkina Faso and Chad take enormous pleasure (and time) lecturing the "colonialist, racist" West on every crime imaginable. Try to get there before the present $2 billion refurbishment has ruined the authentic ramshackle Seventies look of the place, complete with its tiny ancient lifts, dodgy simultaneous-translation plastic earpieces, and 15ft-high damp stains on the walls which look uncannily like the modern art inside the General Assembly's huge chamber.

The rows of TV satellite vans outside the gates on November 29 alerted passers-by to the importance of the Palestinian debate, although in the context of the GA, the term "debate" is ludicrous. There is no sense of an interaction of ideas, of a thesis and antithesis coming together in some kind of Hegelian way to create a synthesis. Instead, a queue of delegates go to the podium with its famous green marble background, and make speeches largely for domestic consumption with no thought of attempting to persuade the unconverted. Furthermore, there is no consideration given to allowing both sides of the argument equal time to state their case. To make it even more ridiculous, much of the debate takes place after the vote has been taken. Although debates in the chronically unpunctual GA tend to start half an hour later than advertised, somehow they always end ten minutes before the delegation cocktail parties start at 6pm.

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January 11th, 2013
4:01 PM
Apt summary of the value and point of the UN, which begs the question, why do we continue to participate - and fund! - an organisation that is inimical to freedom, justice and sanity in this way? The UN is unreformable. The basic flaw built into the system is that it gives equal weight and import to genocidal tyrannies as it does to freedom loving democracies. And absent any moral fibre and leadership in the West (with Canada's Harper as one of the few exceptions) all the UN does is afford the odious regimes of the world a stage and forum (with mics and cameras) in which to spread their noxious malice. Why do we allow it?

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