UNITED NATIONS REPORT: In U.S. Lexicon, U.N. Security Council Resolutions Are Binding on the Arabs but Not on Israel

By Williams, Ian | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, February 1998 | Go to article overview

UNITED NATIONS REPORT: In U.S. Lexicon, U.N. Security Council Resolutions Are Binding on the Arabs but Not on Israel


Williams, Ian, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


UNITED NATIONS REPORT: In U.S. Lexicon, U.N. Security Council Resolutions Are Binding on the Arabs But Not on Israel

How sacrosanct is a U.N. resolution? The question is not theological, since in different ways both the U.S. and some Arab states are trying to have their cake and eat too.

Of course, according to the Charter any U.N. Security Council Resolution, especially one invoking Chapter 7 that authorizes sanctions and force, is binding. When Libya tried to set aside the U.N. resolution over the Lockerbie case, the International Court of Justice ruled that such Security Council decisions superseded any previous international law.

However, it has long been clear that, in the real world, resolutions against Arab states are considerably more binding than those against Israel.

Nevertheless, in legal terms they all have the same standing. So the contrast between the world according to the United States and the world according to the rest of humanity is now very acute. There is growing disquiet, for example, among the Arab states about the sanctions against Iraq above all, and also about those against Libya and Sudan. Needless to say, the United States is firmly for application of every jot and tittle of these resolutions.

However, the Arab states, and most other members of the U.N., firmly uphold the justice and legality of all the resolutions that promise rights to the Palestinians. Equally needless to say, the U.S. regards these as scraps of paper to be torn up when Israel finds them inconvenient -- which is most of the time, except perhaps for the U.N. partition resolution back in 1947 that made Israel possible, despite the objections of all of its Middle Eastern neighbors.

The U.S. now maintains that all of these resolutions have been superseded by the Oslo agreements and that their reaffirmation is therefore "unhelpful." What U.S. delegates really mean is that they are infuriating.

Over the past year, says Nasser Al Kidwa, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., he and his colleagues in the Arab group have "achieved full success. We've been able to reiterate all the political points, and we've even taken some of them farther than ever before at the emergency special session."

In addition, the resumed emergency session in November laid the groundwork for a conference of signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deals with the behavior of occupiers. The Europeans originally procrastinated and talked about the need for further study by legal experts. Firm yet flexible, the Arab group agreed to a meeting of experts -- to be concluded by February 1998, after which the conference should begin -- with Palestine admitted as a delegation.

The conference is certain to decide, or rather reaffirm, that Israel's past and present behavior, not to mention its future intentions, are illegal. The voting to authorize the conference was predictable. Israel, the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia voted against it, and the rest of the world voted for it or abstained. The Palestinian delegation could scarcely conceal its glee at Micronesia's support for America's made-in-Israel position. The lonely vote of a tiny atoll totally dependent on the U.S. treasury highlights Washington's isolation.

The Arab group also seems to regard the new Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Dore Gold, as a secret asset. Rumors suggest that his real job is to boost Netanyahu in the U.S. as opposed to the mission of the Israeli ambassador in Washington, whom Netanyahu regards as a political rival. However, Gold can't resist interfering at the U.N., and every time he opens his mouth, the Palestinians gain. His hard-line and fact-free speeches would play well at a convention of West Bank settlers, but would have mainstream Israelis cringing with embarrassment.

In December, Palestine tried tightening the noose of legality around Likud. The first was a proposal that the Palestine Observer Mission, which presently sits to one side of the Assembly Hall along with the Vatican, Switzerland and other non-member states, should get all the rights of U. …

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