Nothing changes

December 14, 2023 07:47
Photo: Reuters

The United Nations Organisation was established in the immediate aftermath of the 2nd World War and at the core of its objectives was the formation of a supranational body that would provide a forum for peaceful resolution of disputes between states.

Unquestionably, it is a creature of its time, the permanent members of the Security Council, its primary decision-making body, were the victors of a war that knew no boundaries and witnessed horrific violence visited on the populations of countries across all the continents.

Over the 78 years of its existence, the major conflicts such as the Korean War and Vietnam have been contained, relatively speaking, confined to limited geopolitical areas.

There is a reputable body of opinion that attributes the prevention of a Third World War to the endeavours of the UNO.

As Winston Churchill put it so succinctly, “Jaw Jaw is better than War War”.

But the UNO is not an international policeman. It has no standing army with which to bring the combatants to the negotiating table.

Though it is trite to observe, as with so much else in human affairs, almost everything depends upon the qualities of the leaders of the individual countries.

Perhaps it is invidious to pick out Secretaries General of the UN who have achieved much by the force of their personality, but other than Sweden’s Dag Hammarskjöld and Ghana’s Kofi Annan, none have had great success in the role.

To be fair, trying to persuade people with grossly overinflated egos to stop and listen to themselves, let alone to others, is akin to asking a mouse to referee a free-for-all between a bunch of pit bulls.

Historically, the periodical clash of economic, territorial, ideological and religious forces which mankind inflicts upon itself is invariably precipitated by one person – usually a man – whose megalomania is encouraged and supported by followers who ally their fortunes to these ill-starred autocrats.

The liberal western philosophy holds that the democratic process provides the essential checks and balances to prevent monsters from exercising unaccountable sway, but to my mind events since 2016 have cast doubt on this.

Absolute power not only tends to corrupt, it corrupts. Even democracies can be and have been taken hostage by fanatics, Hitler, Mussolini in the 20th Century to name but 2 and now the 21st Century is witnessing a new cohort.

The Israel-Palestine Conflict is complex, with origins that can be traced back to the very formation of Jerusalem and possibly earlier. Recent history, by which I refer to the establishment of the state of Israel carved out of the Palestinian Mandate which was a far-flung territory of the Ottoman Empire, saw the ebb and flow of Jews and Arabs across the region.

There is much to be said on behalf of both Israelis and Palestinians, just as there has been wickedness inflicted by both sides on each other.
There is a fundamental concept, albeit increasingly ignored, that warring states distinguish between armed combatants and civilian non-combatants, that hospitals and medical personnel are accorded respect and immunity from military violence.

Undoubtedly, in what is to all intents and purposes a guerrilla war, there will be fighters who disregard the neutrality of hospitals and use them as a base, which makes it notoriously difficult to weed them out without causing collateral damage to medical staff and patients. But that does not justify treating the hospitals as military targets, irrespective of their civilian occupants.

The Israeli cabinet’s objective of extinguishing all the Hamas fighters and Hamas’ wish to remove Israel from the face of the earth are both as realistic as Hitler’s intention to wipe out the Jewish race.

The obscenities perpetrated by Hamas on 7th October are horrific, as is what is being done to the civilian occupants of the Gaza Strip by the IDF.

But claiming, as Netanyahu does, that a solution, especially a lasting solution, can be achieved only militarily is a delusion.

Each freshly slaughtered child is a nail in the coffin of co-existence.

Unless the Israeli Cabinet is deluded enough to believe that it can impose governance over Gaza as the Ottomans did and the Romans before them, the Palestinian people have to be involved as free and equal partners to a genuine 2-state solution.

A cessation of hostilities is a sine qua non first step towards achieving peaceful co-existence and a return to civilised norms of behaviour.

Historically, we had grown accustomed to the Security Council veto only being exercised by selfish autocratic regimes ruled over by remote quasi-dictators.

That the United States chose to do so on this occasion is a terrible indictment of its responsibilities as a country that claims to lift its lamp beside the golden door for the masses yearning to breathe free.

The pathetic and cowardly abstention by Rishi Sunak and his unelected collection of misfits simply reinforces the fact that it has no moral compass.

J.S. Mill had it right in 1867 when he said “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

-- Contact us at [email protected]


King's Counsel