israel, the united states, and the united nations

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    A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture & Society
    > May/June 2003 ||
    > Israel, the United States, and the United Nations
    > Stephen Zunes
    > In attempting to justify its invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration
    > claimed that the credibility of the United Nations Security Council
    > and its resolutions would be at stake if the enforcement arm of the
    > world body did not authorize the use of force against Saddam
    > Hussein's regime. Critics, however, correctly pointed out that Iraq
    > was not the only Middle Eastern state to defy such resolutions.
    > Israel, it was noted, by even the most conservative interpretation, is
    > in violation of no less than thirty-five UN Security Council
    > resolutions, more than any other nation. These critics observed how
    > the Bush administration was not only not threatening an invasion of
    > Israel, but had pledged to block the imposition of sanctions and
    > other measures to ensure Israeli compliance with these resolutions
    > and to continue to provide Israel with large-scale military and
    > economic assistance despite its ongoing violations.
    > How valid is such criticism? And is Israel indeed the world's number
    > one international outlaw?
    > Israel owes its very existence to the United Nations, which
    > partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine into a proposed Jewish
    > and Arab state in 1947 through General Assembly Resolution 194.
    > And yet the United Nations has been seen for at least three
    > decades to be hostile to Israel.
    > The two main bodies of the United Nations are the General
    > Assembly and the Security Council.
    > The General Assembly consists of all member states of the United
    > Nations, which was made up of just 51 nations at the UN's founding
    > in 1945 and now totals 191 countries. Each member has one vote
    > and most decisions are made by a simple majority. Though the
    > General Assembly's recommendations are an important indication
    > of world opinion and can represent the moral authority of the
    > community of nations, it does not have the power to enforce its
    > resolutions on other nations. As a result, most resolutions are
    > largely symbolic in nature.
    > The Security Council is a fifteen-member body. This includes the
    > five permanent members, which were the major victorious allies of
    > World War II: the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and
    > China. Each has the power to veto any Security Council resolution.
    > There are ten nonpermanent members representing regional blocs
    > that serve two-year terms and do not have the ability to veto. The
    > Security Council, unlike the General Assembly, has the power to
    > enforce its resolutions through sanctions, military force, and other
    > measures if they deem there is a threat to international peace and
    > security. As a result, Security Council resolutions are taken far more
    > seriously.
    > As decolonization led to a Third World majority in the General
    > Assembly by the 1970s, these former colonies=97in alliance with the
    > Soviet Union and its Communist allies=97passed a series of
    > resolutions that focused upon the major grievances of the world's
    > poor majority, particularly the maldistribution of global wealth and
    > other legacies of colonialism. Also of concern was what was largely
    > seen as contemporary manifestations of colonialism, particularly the
    > apartheid system then in effect in South Africa and the ongoing
    > Israeli occupation of Arab land since the 1967 war. A series of
    > resolutions critical of Israel were pushed through the General
    > Assembly, some of which were based on well-documented Israeli
    > violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and related international
    > covenants on human rights, and others which were largely based on
    > ideological opposition to Israel's very existence. The most notorious
    > was a resolution passed in October 1975 as an amendment to a
    > General Assembly resolution establishing the Decade to Combat
    > Racism and Racial Discrimination, which claimed that Zionism was
    > a form of racism and racial discrimination. Other initiatives of the
    > General Assembly included the 1974 decision to grant observer
    > status to the Palestine Liberation Organization, (similar status was
    > granted to the Southwest Africa People's Organization [SWAPO],
    > which was fighting for the independence of Namibia, then occupied
    > by South Africa). The General Assembly at this time also
    > established the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the
    > Palestinian People to advance the Palestinian cause, and invited
    > PLO leader Yasir Arafat to address the General Assembly.
    > While many of the concerns raised by the General Assembly
    > regarding Israeli violations of international law and internationally
    > recognized human rights were valid, the fact that Israel received far
    > more attention than any other member of the United Nations, and
    > that the majority of Israel's most vocal critics were among the
    > world's more serious human rights violators, raised the specter of
    > anti-Semitism. On the one hand, as an occupying power, Israel was
    > legitimately subjected to more intense scrutiny by the United Nations
    > than most human rights violators who are legally protected by their
    > right of sovereignty from most criticisms of domestic repression.
    > This does not mean, however, that there were not egregious double
    > standards. I recall witnessing an impassioned speech on the subject
    > of Palestine by one UN delegate stressing the fundamental right to
    > self-determination and the deplorable human rights situation in the
    > occupied territories. While there was nothing in the speech that was
    > in itself unreasonable, the delegate happened to represent the
    > government of Indonesia, which had invaded, annexed, and
    > colonized the island nation of East Timor in violation of a series of
    > UN Security Council resolutions, resulting in the deaths of 200,000
    > East Timorese civilians.
    > In more recent years, anti-Israel rhetoric in the General Assembly
    > has dramatically decreased. The resolution equating Zionism with
    > racism was overwhelmingly repealed in 1991. Still, the United
    > Nations has yet to live down its anti-Israel reputation.
    > In contrast to the General Assembly, the Security
    > Council=97dominated by Western democracies and with a firmer
    > commitment to international law and the United Nations
    > Charter=97has generally not displayed an anti-Israel bias. For
    > example, the UN Charter is explicit in its recognition of the
    > inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war. As a result,
    > s
    > 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait was not allowed to stand,
    > with the Security Council authorizing the use of force to enforce its
    > resolutions demanding Iraqi withdrawal. When Morocco invaded
    > Western Sahara in 1975 and Indonesia invaded East Timor that
    > same year, the UN demanded the withdrawal of the occupying
    > armies and underscored the right to self-determination. Similar
    > demands were made of Turkey when it seized the northern third of
    > Cyprus the previous year. Though none of these resolutions were
    > enforced=97in part as a result of the United States' close strategic
    > relationship with the invaders=97the Security Council did reiterate
    > basic legal principles against such territorial expansion.
    > By contrast, UN Security Council resolution 242=97passed after the
    > 1967 war when Israel conquered the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, the
    > Golan Heights of Syria, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem),
    > and the Gaza Strip=97did not include demands comparable to these
    > other resolutions for the occupying army to withdraw unconditionally
    > and grant the right of self-determination. Instead, Israeli withdrawal
    > was made conditional on neighboring states recognizing Israel's
    > right to exist within secure and recognized borders, free from acts or
    > threats of force. This principle=97reiterated in UNSC resolution 338
    > passed after the October 1973 war=97became known as "land for
    > peace."
    > Supporters of the Israeli Occupation sometimes claim that the
    > resolution spoke of "territories" rather than "the territories," implying
    > that there is no obligation for a full withdrawal. By this
    > the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1981 thereby fulfilled
    > Israel's obligations. However, the resolution's text in French (the
    > other official language of the United Nations) does use the definite
    > article. Furthermore, the authors of the original resolution=97the
    > American and British ambassadors=97explicitly stated that they were
    > thinking only in terms of very minor and reciprocal adjustments of
    > the jagged border that was based upon cease-fire lines in the 1949
    > armistice agreement.
    > The Arab states and the Palestine Liberation Organization initially
    > rejected these resolutions, though there were indications that some
    > of them were moderating this rejectionist stance as far back as the
    > mid-1970s. By the early 1990s, it appeared that the PLO and
    > virtually every Arab state was ready to accept the principle of land
    > for peace. In March 2002, at the Beirut summit of the League of
    > Arab States, a resolution endorsing a peace plan by Saudi Prince
    > Abdullah that essentially reiterated 242 and 338 was adopted
    > unanimously.
    > As the Arabs became more open to accepting the formula of land
    > for peace, the Israelis and the United States became more
    > intransigent. For example, the United States barred the PLO from
    > participating in the U.S.-sponsored peace process for nearly twenty
    > years in part because the PLO refused to accept UN Security
    > Council resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis of negotiation. Since
    > the resolutions did not recognize Palestinian national rights,
    > however, the PLO initially rejected them. A proposed UN Security
    > Council resolution quietly supported by the PLO and several
    > prominent Arab governments that reiterated 242 and 338 with the
    > proviso that a Palestinian state be established on the West Bank
    > and Gaza Strip was vetoed by the United States in 1976. When the
    > Palestinians formally accepted the resolutions without the proviso as
    > the basis for peace talks in 1988 and were finally allowed into the
    > peace process five years later, the U.S. essentially dropped these
    > resolutions as the basis of the peace talks. The U.S. has not
    > formally rejected them, but has called on the Arab parties=97after
    > they accepted them=97to be "flexible" and to be open to "new ideas."
    > The security guarantees called for in the resolutions were generally
    > interpreted to mean promises of non-aggression by neighboring
    > states, presumably enforced by some kind of combination of arms
    > control, demilitarized zones, early warning systems, and
    > international peacekeeping forces. The United States and Israel
    > have dramatically expanded this interpretation, however, now
    > insisting that the resolution essentially requires that the physical
    > safety of every Israeli citizen must be somehow guaranteed. In
    > effect, the Israeli and U.S. governments argue that Israel is under
    > no obligation to withdraw from the occupied territories unless there
    > is a total halt of attacks by suicide bombers or other terrorists. Since
    > most of these come from underground terrorist cells that are beyond
    > the effective control of any government (particularly a
    > disempowered Palestinian Authority under siege by Israeli
    > occupation forces) and who explicitly want to sabotage the peace
    > process through violence, this effectively means that the Israelis
    > need not be obliged to withdraw. Ironically, it is the Occupation itself
    > that is largely responsible for the suicide bombing campaign, as the
    > failure of Israel to abide by Security Council resolutions and the
    > failure of the United States to insist upon their enforcement has led
    > many Palestinians to give up on peaceful means of resolving the
    > conflict.
    > Indeed, there are other Security Council resolutions that the Israeli
    > government is undeniably violating. These include resolutions 446,
    > 452, and 465, which require Israel to cease its colonization of the
    > occupied territories through the establishment of Jewish
    > settlements, which are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention,
    > which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its civilian
    > population onto lands seized by military force. Despite this, the
    > Clinton and Bush administrations have declared that the fate of the
    > settlements must be determined through negotiations between
    > Israel and the Palestinian Authority. President Bill Clinton's
    > December 2000 peace plan=97like Israeli Prime Minister Ehud
    > Barak's plan presented at Camp David in July of that year=97allowed
    > Israel to annex huge swaths of occupied West Bank land so to
    > incorporate 80% of the settlers, even though every one of them was
    > living in these settlements in violation of a series of UN Security
    > Council resolutions. Given the asymmetry in power between the
    > Palestinians and their Israeli occupiers, it is not surprising that not
    > only has Israel refused to withdraw from these illegal settlements
    > but has nearly doubled them since the signing of the Oslo Accords
    > in 1993. The attempt to annex these illegal settlements into Israel
    > through the Clinton and Barak plans effectively divided up the West
    > Bank into a series of non-contiguous cantons which made the
    > prospective Palestinian "state" so unviable that Arafat was forced to
    > reject it. The result has been the horrific violence that has been
    > ongoing ever since.
    > Significantly, Article 7 of UN Security Council resolution 465 forbids
    > all member states from facilitating Israel's colonization drive. Given
    > that the United States has largely been funding the construction of
    > the so-called "bypass" roads and other infrastructure that reinforces
    > Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, one could make the
    > case that the United States is also in violation of this resolution.
    > Another series of UN Security Council resolutions deal with another
    > sticking point in the peace process: the status of Jerusalem. Israel
    > is currently violating UN Security Council resolutions 262, 267, 476,
    > and 478 which call upon Israel to rescind its annexation of Arab
    > East Jerusalem and surrounding areas seized in the early days of
    > the 1967 war, and to cease other activities which attempt to change
    > the city's status. Article 5 of Resolution 478 calls upon all member
    > states of the UN to accept this decision, yet through a series of
    > executive orders and Congressional resolutions over the past
    > decade, the United States has effectively recognized Israeli
    > sovereignty over all of greater East Jerusalem.
    > Other resolutions currently being violated by Israel include UNSC
    > resolution 487, which calls upon Israel to place its nuclear facilities
    > under the safeguard of the UN's International Atomic Energy
    > Agency; UNSC resolution 497, which demands that Israel rescind its
    > decision to impose its domestic laws in the occupied Syrian Golan
    > region; UNSC resolution 573, which calls on Israel to pay
    > compensation for human and material losses from its 1985 attack
    > against Tunisia; and, resolutions 1402, 1403, and 1405 which
    > require Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestinian cities on the
    > West Bank. There are also well over a dozen resolutions currently
    > being violated which insist that Israel abide by the Fourth Geneva
    > Conventions regarding the occupied territories, including ceasing its
    > deportations and assassinations of Palestinians, its demolitions of
    > Palestinian homes, and other forms of collective punishment as well
    > as controlling violence by settlers against the Palestinian population.
    > For twenty-two years, Israel remained in violation of UNSC
    > resolution 425 and nine subsequent resolutions demanding its
    > unconditional withdrawal from southern Lebanon. Even as a sizable
    > majority of Israeli public opinion supported such a unilateral
    > withdrawal by the late 1990s, U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin
    > Indyk told the Israeli media that the United States supported Israel's
    > continued occupation anyway. When the radical Lebanese Islamist
    > group known as Hizbullah finally drove the Israelis out of Lebanon in
    > a hasty retreat in May 2000, it demonstrated to many Palestinians
    > that reliance on UN Security Council resolutions was fruitless. By
    > contrast, the military victory by Hizbullah led many Palestinians to
    > believe that the only way to free themselves from Israeli control is,
    > like the Lebanese, to wage a sustained armed resistance led by an
    > extremist Islamic movement. Indeed, there are few Palestinians
    > engaged in the ongoing anti-Israeli violence who do not cite
    > Lebanon as their model. For a number of reasons=97particularly the
    > great difference in Israeli perspectives regarding the significance of
    > the occupied Palestinian territories as compared with southern
    > Lebanon=97it is a very inappropriate comparison. Still, the United
    > States' effort to undermine UN Security Council resolutions
    > regarding Israel and Lebanon is largely to blame for this radicalizing
    > shift in Palestinian attitudes.
    > Having renounced armed struggle and unilaterally recognized Israeli
    > control of most of Palestine in the 1993 Oslo Accords, the strongest
    > tool left at the Palestinians' disposal was these outstanding UN
    > Security Council resolutions dealing with settlements, Jerusalem,
    > and other matters. The Palestinians assumed that, as guarantor of
    > the Declaration of Principles, the United States would pressure
    > Israel to make needed compromises later, based upon UN Security
    > Council resolutions that the United States, as a Security Council
    > member, was obliged to uphold. However, both the Clinton
    > administration and the current Bush administration claim that the
    > United Nations no longer has any standing in the Israeli-Palestinian
    > conflict, arguing that the UN resolutions have been superseded by
    > the Oslo Accords. According to Madeleine Albright, when she
    > served as Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations, "resolution
    > language referring to 'final status' issues should be dropped, since
    > these issues are now under negotiations by the parties themselves.
    > These include refugees, settlements, territorial sovereignty, and the
    > status of Jerusalem."
    > This attempt to unilaterally negate the authority of the United
    > Nations, however, has not been shared by the international
    > community. No UN resolution can be rescinded without a vote of the
    > body in question. Neither the UN Secretary General nor any other
    > member of the Security Council agrees with the U.S. assessment,
    > which discounts the relevance of the resolutions. Furthermore, no
    > bilateral agreement between two parties can supersede the
    > authority of the United Nations Security Council. This is especially
    > true when one of the two parties (in this case, the Palestinians) has
    > made it clear that such resolutions are still very relevant.
    > Non-enforcement of existing UN Security Council resolutions is only
    > one part of the perceived U.S. bias. Since the early 1970s, the
    > United States has used its veto power in the Security Council forty
    > times to block resolutions critical of Israeli policies in the occupied
    > territories, more than all other countries have used their veto on all
    > other issues during this period combined. Most recently, this has
    > included vetoing a 2001 resolution calling for the stationing of
    > unarmed human rights monitors in the occupied territories and a
    > resolution this past December criticizing Israel's slaying of three
    > United Nations workers. In addition, there have been scores of
    > occasions when threat of a U.S. veto has led to a weakening of a
    > resolution's language or the withdrawal of the proposed resolution
    > prior to the vote. For example, in March 2001, the United States
    > scuttled a series of proposed resolutions by European nations by
    > threatening to veto any resolution that used the term "siege" in
    > reference to Israeli occupation forces surrounding Palestinian
    > towns, or said anything in relation to Israel's illegal settlements, the
    > Geneva Conventions, international law, or the principle of land-for-
    > peace.
    > It is not surprising, therefore, that the United States insistence that
    > an invasion of Iraq is necessary to maintain the integrity of the
    > United Nations and its resolutions comes across as hypocritical in
    > the extreme.
    > Defenders of the Israeli and American position point out that the
    > resolutions dealing with Israel fall under Chapter VI of the UN
    > Charter regarding the "Pacific Settlement of Disputes" while most of
    > those dealing with Iraq fall under Chapter VII, "Action with Respect
    > to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of
    > Aggression." While technically true, this ignores the fact that the
    > choice of which resolutions fall into which category has nothing to
    > do with the severity of a given nation's violations of international law
    > or the human impact of the country's transgressions as much as it
    > does with the violator's relationship with major powers on the
    > Security Council. For example, resolutions dealing with Indonesia's
    > invasion and massacres in East Timor were placed under Chapter
    > VI while a resolution addressing an extradition dispute between the
    > United States and Libya was placed under Chapter VII.
    > This flagrant politicization of the UN Security Council by the United
    > States on behalf of Israel=97as well as other allies such as Morocco
    > and Turkey=97has seriously undermined the legitimacy of the United
    > Nations, the international legal system, and basic principles of
    > multilateralism. Combined with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it threatens
    > the very legitimacy of twentieth century concepts of an international
    > system based on agreed-upon legal principles and replaces it with a
    > nineteenth century notion of power politics. Such an anarchic world
    > that could result cannot be good for the Israel, the United States, or
    > anyone else.
    > -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    > -------
    > Stephen Zunes is chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at
    > the University of San Francisco. He is the author of the recently-
    > released Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of
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