Rather than a new beginning in the New Year, I want a new kind of end, the truly permanent kind. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I want more than a ceasefire. I want more than a temporary truce. I want a permanent peace settlement. Peace in the Middle East should be the world’s New Year’s resolution. But if the success of most people’s New Year’s resolutions is any indication, then the realization of this one isn’t likely. The United Nations Security Council has, in its usual lackluster style, made the necessary overtures toward peace by passing a resolution of its own. Because in the past many UN resolutions have proven to be essentially impotent, this resolution is no more likely to be carried out than the average New Year’s resolution. Still, the hope, however slight, persists beyond doubt and reason.
We can’t lose that hope. Despite the importance of maintaining a practical optimism though, hope alone is never enough. We must use it as a foundation and then build upon it. The UN is an institution of hope for the future, but it was created over half a century ago. It is a skeletal structure for world peace. If it is to ever be more than that, it must be provided with muscle, an enforcement mechanism to ensure its directives are faithfully carried out. While the UN may be weak, it’s the only institution in existence with the potential to unite the world. I don’t think we need a new one, scrapping the UN and starting all over from scratch. Instead, we need to reform the one we have. This is, of course, easier said than done. The changes needed are slight, but the process of enacting them is torturously complicated, contingent on unanimity. Thus, the UN’s greatest strength is at once its greatest weakness.
Those expressing contempt with the incapability of the UN need to look in the mirror for the real culprit. It lacks power because we want it to. Until everyone, including the United States, realizes that the UN can be the best forum for international cooperation, then it won’t be. The UN must first be vested with the necessary powers. If foreign relations continue to deteriorate, if instability stubbornly persists as it has, then it is only a matter of time until the world willingly comes to the table. Because the worst is so utterly unimaginable, I don’t think the world will wait until it reaches rock bottom. It will certainly get worse before it gets better, as that is the nature of things. And although it is only a matter of a time, the cost of time cannot be dismissed. For many, time equals money, but in conflict it is so much more, it is lives.
As we continue to jealously guard our sovereignty against what is largely an imagined threat, we sacrifice true security. Let’s be honest, here. A tough UN, capable of issuing orders with teeth, is going to target the world’s real problem areas, such as the Middle East. It isn’t going to waste its time and resources by trying to knock the sole superpower down a few notches. That just isn’t realistic. There are too many actual conflicts that the UN has to solve. However, the United States wouldn’t be able to act unilaterally. This impingement on maneuverability in foreign affairs naturally causes hesitation. But the basis for this uncertainty is that the belief that the United States knows best. Most of the time the United States does know what is best for itself, but not always, and rarely does it know what is best for the world. Had the United States been constrained by the UN some years ago, we probably wouldn’t have entered Iraq the way we did. Today the situation would be different. I can’t say with any certainty that it would be better, but it might have been. The point is that we need not fear the consequences of restricting the thus far unobstructed flexibility that has characterized U.S. dominance. The United States would also benefit.
I think that respect for the UN, as it is, has only fallen. Israel and Hamas did not even pay the usual lip service to the UN resolution. Until the UN has the authority to command international relations, it is the United States’ responsibility to be a steward of justice. This requires a suspension of self-interest. Is this possible? I hope so, but I’m not sure. It means not being afraid to stand up to an ally if their actions are wrong. It doesn’t matter to me who broke the truce first, whether it was Israel or not is unimportant. The result is the same: spilled blood. The first thing that must be done is to put a stop to the violence, to reinstate the ceasefire. The United States has been too deferential thus far. Even in the UN vote (and we’ve already discussed how ineffective UN resolutions are anyway), the United States abstained. It didn’t even vote in favor of condemning the violence. This is unacceptable. The United States should be leading the cavalry.
Israel has suffered, certainly, but it is now causing suffering elsewhere. I don’t think this intentionally an eye-for-an-eye strategy, but that is what it has become. And I don’t want to live in a blind world. Of course, I believe Israel has a right to defend itself. But I don’t think civilian causalities on this scale counts as self-defense. The situation in Gaza is horrific, and increasingly resembles the conditions of a concentration camp, a similarity drawn by Cardinal Renato Martino. The analogy is meant only to emphasize the scope of human suffering. It has to end. I wish that Israel did not feel the need to break the people of Gaza to feel safe. I wish there were another way. But if this is the way it is going to be, then I hope the end comes swiftly and lasts. They say how you ring in the New Year is indicative of how you will spend the rest of it. Given the circumstances, this isn’t promising. But I’m not superstitious. I believe that people can keep their resolutions. It’s only a matter of wanting to.