To the Editor:
In his otherwise incisive review of my book, A Mandate for Terror: The UN and the PLO [Books in Review, October 1989], Allan Gerson errs in describing the chapter on Fidel Castro as the “main example” of “the international consequences of the UN-PLO ‘interaction.’” It is in fact one of three chapters dealing not with consequences but with the various reasons—most having little to do with the Middle East—that UN members give unconditional support to the PLO. An earlier chapter deals with the justifications which they offer for their support for the PLO.
Mr. Gerson cites the Castro chapter because, based on his experiences at the UN during the early 1980’s, he finds fault with my commitment to UN reform. But since he left, the United States has managed to push through a measure of reform in the fiscal and administrative areas. Peacekeeping has emerged with stronger adherents and important new tasks. And . . . the General Assembly appears likely to adopt a resolution which “unequivocally condemns, as criminal and unjustifiable under any circumstances, all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism, wherever and by whomsoever committed.”
Nevertheless, the most significant test of UN reform is yet to come. It will consist of a vote on a measure to cancel the libelous General Assembly resolution which in 1975 equated Zionism with racism and racial discrimination and, as a result, hobbled UN efforts to combat real forms of racism and racial discrimination, gave terrorists a new mandate for their outrages, and caused many to dismiss the UN as the gathering place of mad-hatters who may next declare that slavery is freedom.
This year, for the first time, a number of states, including Italy, Australia, the United States, and Israel, spoke in the General Assembly to this issue, while outside the UN, foreign ministers from Eastern Europe and Latin America, including former president of the General Assembly Dante Caputo of Argentina, added their voices to the call for repeal.
When this call comes before the Assembly for a vote, we will see for sure whether genuinely significant UN reform is achievable. Until that time, it would be premature to deny its possibility.
Harris O. Schoenberg
New York City
Allan Gerson writes:
If the Berlin Wall can fall, I suppose the UN could repeal the Zionism-is-racism resolution, but don’t hold your breath. Change comes last to the United Nations.
A better way to deal with the resolution would be, as I have suggested, to seek unilateral declarations from the United States and other governments, and from the UN Secretariat, declaring it null and void as having gone beyond the permissible mandate of the UN Charter. The appropriate subject of condemnatory UN resolutions is state conduct—e.g., specifically defined practices of states susceptible of judgment by applicable standards. Zionism falls short of this criterion on two counts: (1) as a national-liberation movement (if that is what is being condemned) it became defunct through the realization of its ambitions—i.e., the creation of the state of Israel; (2) as an ongoing practice, it was never clear what acts were being attacked, and how Israel’s conduct ostensibly departed from any universal standard.
In any event, I laud Harris O. Schoenberg’s efforts on behalf of charter reform; I do not deride them. I would only have him keep in mind, as his excellent book comprehensively documents, that it was not the PLO which “hijacked” the United Nations, but rather the United Nations—through a majority of its member-states—which hijacked itself. Any thoughts about the cavalry coming to the rescue might benefit from more attention to the question of who it is that would be rescued.