Can the United Nations reform?

United Nations General Assembly hall in New York City. (Photo: Patrick Gruban/Wikimedia Commons)

Following the now infamous Dec. 23 resolution at the United Nations Security Council calling Israel’s settlement building a “flagrant violation” of international law, President-elect Donald Trump commended the UN but condemned it as  “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Trump promised “things will be different after Jan. 20” when he takes office. He is likely to be even more strident if the UN votes to divide Israel before President Barack Obama’s veto at the UN expires with his presidency on Jan. 20.

The UN has indeed been accused of anti-Israel sentiment and actions:

  1. In 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted 20 resolutions against the democratic State of Israel, population 8 million, and a mere four resolutions concerning the rest of the world, a population of 7.5 billion, including 50 dictatorships.
  2. The UN has provided offices for the terrorist organization the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
  3. The UN Human Rights Council maintains scrutiny of Israel as the only standing item on its agenda.
  4. The UN provides a platform for blatantly anti-Semitic hate speech, such as that of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
  5. UNRWA, the UN’s Palestinian Refugee Agency, has been accused of perpetuating a “refugee hand-out culture” and “fostering terror”. It was established to temporarily support refugees in 1949, yet today supports 5 million recipients, employing some 32,000 Palestinian staffers in Gaza and Washington.
  6. UNESCO in 2016 promoted the lie that there is no Jewish (or Christian) tie to Jerusalem.
  7. The UN has been accused of allowing corrupt or non-democratic members, such as the 57 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to dominate decision making.
  8. The UN campaigns vigorously against corruption, yet many of its member states are considered corrupt. One highly respected international measure of corruption is run by respected think tank Transparency International – the Corruption Perceptions Index. Of the 15 UN Security Council members that recently voted against Israel, permanent members China and Russia in 2015 ranked no. 84 and 121 respectively out of 168 states. Non-permanent members Malaysia came 54, Senegal 64, Egypt 90, Ukraine 135, Venezuela 160 and Angola 163 – the low rankings call into question the integrity of these nation’s voting agenda and right to impact other nations.
  9. The United Nations has been accused of being passive in the face of most of the world’s 124 clear-cut territorial disputes, including China’s annexation of Tibet and harassment of Taiwan, yet disproportionately spends its resources arguing about Israel’s land.
  10. Outgoing UN Chief Ban Ki-moon has blamed Israel as the underlying cause for the actions of terrorists.
  11. Ban Ki-moon has admitted that Israel is not the primary cause of wars in the Middle East, yet under his leadership Israel has been targeted by the UN, rather than the true perpetrators of wars.
  12. Earlier this month Ban Ki-moon openly admitted anti-Israel bias in the very organization under his watch.

General criticism of the UN includes failure to issue clear spending reports to donor nations, failure to resolve corruption in response to Ban Ki-moon’s 2007 system-wide audit, accusations of corruption even within the UN internal audit office – the Office of Internal Oversight Services and a lack of clear oversight and leadership from leading member states – notably the US in recent years.

So what, if any, are realistic options for reform at the UN?

Trump, for one, can hold financial sway over the UN. The $8 billion the US contributes annually is 22 percent of the UN budget. Hence creatively targeted funding reductions would hurt, while financial incentives to reform might help. However, there is plenty of scope for the bloated UN to slim down without its core functions being affected. Countries like Russia and Iran have demonstrated that evil ends can be pursued even in the face of tough economic sanctions.

A second approach might be reform of the ‘one country one vote’ system. Unfortunately the existing system tends towards the lowest common denominator. The corrupt are in the majority and are therefore unlikely to vote themselves out of influence or office.

Furthermore, countries that do not have bad rankings on global indices of corruption can be manifestly corrupt in their anti-Semitism. For example, Israel PM has recently slammed the USA’s abstention, and the UK, France, Japan and Spain’s UN vote against Israel.

Another strategy to bring about reform is protest. Netanyahu has used this approach, ordering the Israel Foreign Ministry to temporarily limit working ties with the embassies of the 12 Security Council members with whom Israel has diplomatic relations, who supported Resolution 2334. Critics have argued that the approach is inflammatory, isolating and self-defeating. Israel’s protest alone will have little weight other than registering displeasure. However, when combined with the weight of the USA under Donald Trump and on-going reasoned argument for a negotiated peace process some progress might be made, although probably not enough to significantly reform the UN.

Recent events concerning football’s governing body FIFA might provide a model of how a highly corrupt international body can be reformed, with the FBI arresting numerous officials and a new president installed in February 2016. The problem with applying this model to the UN is that of immunity, “The United Nations, its property and assets wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall enjoy immunity from every form of legal process.” Similarly representatives of member states and high-level officials enjoy absolute immunity and are exempt from arrest, detention and legal process of any kind.

Time will tell whether incoming UN leader António Guterres will exercise the Secretary-General’s “right and duty” to waive immunity if “in his opinion, the immunity would impede the course of justice.” Exploring the possibility of a partnership between the Secretary-General and the FBI, probing corruption, waiving immunity exemption and making arrests of corrupt individuals, might lead to a significant degree of reform.

Furthermore, more rigorous enforcement of existing UN rules would surely result in the expulsion of a good number of member states. States are required to be ‘peace loving’ and many have accused Russia in recent days of being quite the opposite.

Can Trump help restore good governance to this key organization? If not, the UN will ultimately expel Israel making it even more of a pariah nation, thrown to the wolves by a global modern day Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of all responsibility.

If Trump can instigate reform, the world will experience a degree of grace in blessing the one nation whose land is uniquely covenanted to its people, the Jewish people, by Almighty God himself.

Ultimately God will judge the nations for dividing Israel, just as the prophet Joel expresses:

“In those days and at that time,
when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
I will gather all nations
and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
There I will put them on trial
for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel,
because they scattered my people among the nations
and divided up my land.”
Joel 3:1-2