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U.N. resolution over the Lockerbie case, the International Court of Justice ruled that such Security Council decisions superseded any previous international law.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The U.S. now maintains that all of these resolutions have been superseded by the Oslo agreements and that their reaffirmation is therefore "unhelpful."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.N. membership except the vote. The U.S. put a tremendous amount of arm-twisting into its campaign to move a "maana" amendment that would have put it off for another year. However, in the end, it was not the U.S. but the European Union that forced the Arab group to drop the resolution. The Europeans felt that it begged too many questions about the attributes of statehood, and that this had implications beyond the Middle East. And, of course, it helped that the U.S. wanted them to oppose it, regardless of their reasons for voting.

The battle was fought on the seemingly esoteric front of whether the European proposal was a genuine amendment or not. The Arabs said that it wasn't -- and suffered a surprise defeat. They now admit that they had misjudged the opposition, but as a result postponed offering their proposal until the end of January.

The defeat also persuaded the Arabs to pull back a little on the second front, which was to have been the credentials committee. Three months into the session, the committee has yet to report on the eligibility to vote of the various delegations. It's not laziness. The U.S. did not want it to report because the Palestinians had promised an amendment that Israel's credentials do not extend to representation of any part of the occupied territories. Al Kidwa points out that Israel is the only U.N. member named as an occupying power by the Security Council, and in no less than 25 resolutions as well. Legally, of course, the amendment would be entirely correct. It is perhaps indicative of the U.S. approach under the administration of President Bill Clinton that it should resist a restatement of what was until recently an official U.S. policy. However, following the defeat, the Arab group will now restrict itself to making a "strong" statement, when the credentials' committee comes up.

IRAQ: CONSISTENT INCONSISTENCY

In consistent pursuit of inconsistency in all Middle East matters, Clinton administration Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson signaled to Iraq and the world that the U.S. would be amenable to expanding the "oil for food deal" in return for a solution to the crisis over the exclusion of the Americans from the Special Commission's inspection teams. Then, after Russia's foreign minister worked out such a solution with Iraq, the U.S. blocked any increase on Dec. 5. The administration was concerned that even the normally subservient U.S. press was beginning to suspect that there had indeed been an implicit deal with Baghdad.

And, of course, there was. From the beginning of sanctions, the U.S. had let it be known that whether Iraq fulfilled all the terms of 687 or not, Washington would still veto any attempt to lift sanctions while Saddam Hussain was in power. At the height of the crisis, other diplomats detected a subtle change in Washington rhetoric, which implied that while the U.S. thought it was unlikely that Saddam Hussain would be willing to fulfill 687, it was prepared to consider lifting sanctions if he did.

The Iraqis also won acceptance of the idea of "leveling up" the weapons inspection teams, recruiting other nationals to dilute the American presence -- if they have hidden the evidence successfully, that is.

Sanctions have become an embarrassment to everybody but the unembarrassable. They have been hurting the Iraqi people, Saddam Hussain's first victims, without affecting the regime's power. At the end of November, UNICEF, the U.N. Children's Fund, released an embarrassing report that showed nearly one million malnourished children in Iraq -- 32 percent of those under five. Around one-quarter of Iraqi children are underweight, double the rate in neighboring Turkey and Jordan. "What concerns us now is that there is no sign of any improvement since Security Council Resolution 986 (Oil-for-Food) came into force," said Phillippe Heffinck, UNICEF representative in Baghdad.

A few days later, in his report on the oil-for-food program, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported that "The population of Iraq continues to face a serious nutritional and health situation, and there is an urgent need to contain the risk of a further deterioration, as indicated in the present report." He also criticized the "slow and unsatisfactory pace at which humanitarian inputs arrive in Iraq." And, he added, even if they all arrived on time, the supplies provided under the resolution "would be insufficient to address, even as a temporary measure, all the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people."

Annan recommended that the program be extended for another six months, and called upon the Security Council to consider increasing the revenues available -- which means increasing the amounts of oil Iraq is allowed to sell -- to meet Iraq's needs, as well as working on the efficiency of the distribution plan.

While on Dec. 5 the oil-for-food program was extended for another six months, the amount involved was not increased, because of U.S. fears that it would be seen as a trade-off. In fact it looked like a broken promise to the Iraqis -- and indeed to many others. The first reaction of the Iraqis was to stop pumping the oil. They are unlikely to stop there. Next time, the U.S. may need to make its compromises more explicit, and more humiliating. You could almost feel sorry for the Clinton administration, which seems, very belatedly, to have realized that uncritical support for Israel exacts an increasingly steep price in other areas of foreign policy -- like Arab opposition to further action against Iraq.

Articles may be reprinted with proper attribution, except for photos and cartoons. Article copyright American Educational Trust.

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