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Let The UN Do Its Job
Published on Saturday, March 24, 2001
Let The UN Do Its Job
by Ian Urbina
It's been two weeks since Ariel Sharon took power and tensions are on the rise in Israel-Palestine. The Bush administration has said it wants the violence to end. Why then is the US vowing to block the best chance available to halt the bloodshed?

This week the UN Security Council again considered the deployment of a 'protection force' to calm the situation. The proposal draws strong international support. But upon Ariel Sharon's request, the US said it would veto any such effort. Both the US and Israel have even rejected proposals to send unarmed UN 'observers'. This intransigence is in no one's best interest.

As Sharon visits the White House, repression in the Occupied Territories increases. Encircling Palestinian towns with trenches and tanks, Sharon has intensified the collective punishment that sparked the uprising in the first place. Harsh military lock-downs promise to sow more anger on the Palestinian street as students are blocked from their universities, workers from their jobs and patients from much needed medical care. Since September, 428 people have been killed, seven out of eight of them Palestinian. It's not clear how high or how lopsided the death toll will need to be before intervention is sanctioned. The time has come for the US to step aside and let the UN do its job.

A lasting peace in Israel-Palestine must be based on international law and enforced with international oversight. Instead, for seven years the US spurned outside involvement, singularly promoting the Oslo process over the past seven years. Oslo promised an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, but led to 50,000 new settlers and the bulldozing of 1,000 more Palestinian homes. It pledged a sovereign Palestinian state but left all infrastructure (electricity, telecommunications, gas, water) in Israeli hands. The formula was "land for peace"; the reality was land in pieces. The proposed Palestinian state consisted of an archipelago with no free internal passage, surrounded by a sea of Israeli settlements, bypass roads and military checkpoints. The Palestinians demanded their home back, and Israel offered rooms for rent with police stationed in every hallway.

The Israelis want and deserve security. But to get it they must end the occupation immediately. Expanding settlements, as Sharon has promised, moves in the opposite direction. Each new settler planted in Palestinian territory requires Israel to garrison a platoon of soldiers around him, pulling the Israeli army further away from its own land. To increase security for all, the UN must help implement Israel's withdrawal of both soldiers and settlers to the 1967 borders, as mandated by international law.

The Israeli government must end the economic inducements for settlers to move into the Palestinian territories. These inducements violate UN resolutions as well as the Oslo agreements in which Israel agreed to freeze settlements. Last year, the Israeli organization Peace Now released a poll indicating that 53 percent of West Bank settlers had moved to the Occupied Territories for "non-ideological" reasons: cheap housing, hilltop views and income tax rebates. Nearly 34 percent of the settlers were prepared to evacuate in return for reasonable compensation. The UN is well equipped to monitor such a withdrawal.

But mere observers will not suffice. The UN must deploy a force with a clear plan for protecting civilians and ending the occupation. Had the UN sent only unarmed observers to East Timor, those massacres would still be occurring. Israel is in flagrant violation of international law. With the crime still in progress, the UN must dispatch protectors not photographers to the scene. If the Bush administration is serious about ending the violence in Israel-Palestine, it should stop obstructing the UN from carrying out its mission.

Ian Urbina writes for the Middle East Report, a publication of the Middle East Research and Information Project ( He can be contacted at: (202) 679-9104 or


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