December 2, 2003
Playing With Double Standards- Much has been made that Israel continually violates UN Security Council Resolutions and should be punished for doing so, while Iraq was invaded for its violations of UNSEC Resolutions. So why arent the Israelis held to the same standards as the Iraqis have been? Why not impose sanctions or invade Israel in order to force Israel to comply with all of the resolutions passed against her? UN Security Council resolutions are written very specifically, under several different authorities, and have varying degrees of affect on the countries the resolutions are directed towards.
The UN distinguishes between two sorts of Security Council resolutions. Those resolutions passed under Chapter Six of the United Nations Charter deal with the peaceful resolution of disputes and entitle the Council to make non-binding recommendations. These types of resolutions do not allow the UN Security Council to take actions of any kind.
Those resolutions written under Chapter Seven of the UN Charter give the Security Council broad powers to take action, up to, and including warlike action, to deal with threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, or acts of aggression. Such resolutions are binding on all UN members, and were rare during the cold war. But they were used against Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait.
All resolutions passed against Iraq were under Chapter Seven; all resolutions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict fall under the umbrella of Chapter Six, and therefore not subject to the remedies of non-compliance found under Chapter Seven. That's the bottom line.
Since none of the resolutions relating to the Israeli-Arab conflict have ever been written under the Chapter Seven rules, the UN is merely acting in accordance with its own rules. It had the authority to impose sanctions including military ones against Iraq, but has never had that authority to do so against Israel,
The distinctiveness of Chapter Seven resolutions, and the fact that none has ever been passed in relation to Israel, is even acknowledged by Palestinian diplomats. It is, indeed, one of their main complaints and frustrations in the ongoing Arab-Israeli dispute. A Palestine Liberation Organization report, entitled Double Standards and published at the end of September of 2002, pointed out that over the years, the UN has upheld the Palestinians' right to statehood, condemned Israel's settlements and called for Israel to withdraw. But the United Nations Security Council has never ordered enforcement action or any other action to implement UN resolutions and international law against Israel. Why hasnt the UN authorized such actions? The Security Council can't and wont enforce non-binding resolutions under Chapter Six. And this is the common misunderstanding of those who claim that Israel continually violates UN Security Council resolutions.
Resolution 242 is the main UN document outlining the framework for exchanging land for peace between the Israelis and the Arab countries of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. It contains several provisos for how to exchange prisoners, negotiate land taken by Israel during the course of the war, and other items. It is a Chapter Six resolution.
Resolution 242 does not instruct Israel to withdraw unilaterally from territories occupied in 1967. It does not condemn Israel's conquest, for the good reason that most western powers at the time thought it the result of a justifiable pre-emptive war. It calls for a negotiated settlement, based on the principle of exchanging land for peace. This is a very different matter than the UN imposing a settlement on the parties involved.
Now let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the main Security Council resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict had actually been Chapter Seven resolutions, rather than the Chapter Six non-binding ones. A problem would then arise because Resolution 242 of 1967, passed after the six-day war, and frequently cited in the double-standards argument in comparisons with Iraq, does not say what a lot of the people who quote it think it says.
In the case of Iraq, the Security Council instructed Saddam Hussein to take various unilateral actions that he was perfectly capable of taking. In the case of Resolution 242, it cannot be implemented unilaterally, even if Israel wanted to do so. Why? One reason is the question of borders. Some of the diplomats who drafted Resolution 242 said afterwards that they intended to allow for some changes in the armistice lines that separated Israel and its Arab neighbors before the war of 1967. There has been an on-going argument for three decades over the meaning of the absence of a definite article (in the English text) before the phrase territories occupied in the recent conflict. The Arabs maintain that the resolution requires a complete withdrawal from every inch. But even if this were so, the resolution cannot be implemented without arriving at a negotiated agreement. This leads to the often-debated question of whether Israel is illegally occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
It is commonly asserted that Israel's occupation is illegal. This is questionable - at best. In March 2002, for the first time ever, Kofi Annan, the UN's secretary-general, called Israel's occupation illegal, but it is no accident that he has not repeated this claim. It was a serious legal mistake to describe the occupation itself, as opposed to some of Israel's actions as an occupier, in this way. It may have reflected Kofi Annan's true feelings, but was in no way a legal opinion regarding the legality of Israel's occupation. In a subsequent letter to the New York Times, Mr. Annan's spokesman admitted as much. The secretary-general, he said, had not intended to refer to the legality of Israel's occupation of the territories during the war of 1967, only to breaches of its obligations as an occupying power. This is a very important distinction.
If Israel was indeed illegally occupying the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, then both Jordan and Egypt would have been illegally occupying the West Bank and Gaza as well, from 1948 thru 1967, in contravention with the UN Resolution on partitioning the British Mandate. To pass any kind of resolution condemning Israel for such an illegal occupation would mean passing a resolution condemning Egypts and Jordans former occupations as well, and that would not happen, given the politics of the UN. Lastly, we come to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The last issue that comes up in regard to Israel and Iraq concerning double standards, is the nuclear issue. Iraq was invaded because it was suspected of developing nuclear weapons, but Israel, suspected of possessing nuclear weapons, has had no sanctions imposed upon it. In regard to claims of Iraq building nuclear weapons but that the Israelis secretly possess them and should have to allow in inspectors, this again is a canard.
Iraq was, and is, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, therefore obligating the Iraqis to the tenets and inspections of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Israel never signed the treaty. Since Israel is not a signatory, it is under no obligation to allow inspections, and cannot be subject to sanctions under the IAEA rules. Membership is voluntary, as is non-membership.
Israel is thought to possess a large nuclear arsenal, about which it is not being open and honest, and this is provoking to its neighbors. But it is not evidence of double standards. Being a nuclear-armed power is not, by itself, a breach of international law. -- Scott Schneider