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Keeping the UN in Line | The Nation

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Keeping the UN in Line

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So far this year, US diplomats have secured the removal of Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights; José Bustani, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; and Robert Watson, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They were ousted because they weren't doing what Washington told them to do.

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Ian Williams
Ian Williams is The Nation's UN correspondent. In addition to his work for the magazine, he frequently comments on...

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Although Kofi Annan's tenure was shadowed by political catfights, he leaves the United Nations as one of its most successful secretary generals.

In the line of fire now are UNRWA, the agency that for more than fifty years has fed and educated Palestinian refugees, and its head, Peter Hansen; and Secretary General Kofi Annan, once lauded by US Jewish organizations for opening doors for Israel. Both cases are egregious examples of blaming the victim.

At the time of Israel's takeover of Jenin, Hansen condemned the refusal of the Israel Defense Forces to allow ambulances and relief workers into the camp. He also protested the Israeli use of UNRWA schools as military posts and interrogation centers and the destruction of the agency's clinics. Around the same time, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres invited Kofi Annan to send in investigators. This suggestion was enthusiastically moved in the Security Council by US ambassador John Negroponte. Israel promptly announced that it would not accept Robinson, Hansen and UN Special Representative for the peace process Terje Roed Larsen as investigators. Then it made it clear that it would not cooperate with anyone sent by the Secretary General.

By then, Annan himself was under fire. Within a month of becoming president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Mort Zuckerman was assailing him and Hansen and declaring that "UNRWA is the godfather to all terrorist training schools, notably in Jenin." AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, joined in with a press release headed "Camps of Terror," alleging that "as the sole agency mandated to manage the Palestinian refugee camps, UNRWA has effectively turned a blind eye toward terror activities within the camps.... Inside the camps, where 99 percent of UNRWA's staff is comprised of locally recruited Palestinian refugees, food storage facilities and warehouses have become depots for ammunition and explosives to be used in terror attacks against Israelis."

That led to a joint call by Tom Lantos, ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, and Tom DeLay, the GOP whip, for Congressional hearings on UNRWA, with a suggestion of ending US funding, which pays for a third of UNRWA operations. Jumping on the bandwagon, Republican Eric Cantor of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism repeated the allegations.

Hansen has pointed out that the agency's sole responsibility is education, health and feeding the refugees: It has never administered the camps or maintained any police force. He added that from 1967 on, "We have not received from the Government of Israel any complaint related to the misuse of any of our installations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.... Since October 2000 to-date, and even though hundreds of UNRWA staff have been detained and subsequently released, the Israeli authorities have never provided any information or lodged any complaint with UNRWA concerning the official or private activities of any UNRWA staff member."

There is a very real fear that Lantos & Co. will soon demand Hansen's head as the price for continued UNRWA funding. He was recently reappointed to another term, but so was Bustani just before he got the boot. Also in his first year of a second term is Kofi Annan, who is about to produce a report on Jenin mandated by the General Assembly. Even Israeli government lawyers admit that the IDF breached international humanitarian law in Jenin, which was why Israel changed its mind about allowing the inquiry. People close to the Secretary General are beginning to worry that he will come under increasing attack in the same spirit of vilifying the messenger, and that the Likud-tinged alliance with the Christian and conservative right will revive the old attacks on the UN.

So far, the State Department has been defending UNRWA on Capitol Hill, and Colin Powell has a close rapport with Annan. But it remains to be seen how long this outpost of lucidity can hold against the faith-based foreign policy follies of the rest of the Administration and many members of Congress.

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