The Economist’s Informative Article on Israel, Iraq and the UN

While coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Economist magazine has been severely skewed in the past, recently the magazine published a highly informative and balanced article on the so-called “double standard” being applied to Iraq and Israel, as well as other hot button issues.

The article, entitled “Double Standards,” (Economist, October 12, 2002, pp.22-24) explains the difference between binding and nonbinding UN Resolutions, and points out that Iraq is in noncompliance with binding UN resolutions, whereas Israel is not. It further explains that UN Resolution 242 does not require Israel to withdraw from all the land gained in the ’67 War, and, in fact, that the resolution drafters envisioned that through negotiations, Israel would likely keep some of the land. On virtually all of the issues it raises in the article, the Economist provides both sides of the argument, and then commendably notes whether each one is accurate. While the article does contain some objectionable assertions, it is generally very informative.

According to the article, the linkage of Iraq’s compliance with United Nations resolutions to that of Israel’s was first attempted by Saddam Hussein after his ill-fated invasion of Kuwait in 1990 but has now been adopted in a new form by anti-war protesters across Europe and the United States.

The article asserts that the “double standards” debate which “holds that Israel stands in breach of Security Council resolutions in just the way Iraq does, and therefore deserves to be treated by the UN with equal severity” is clearly incorrect, pointing out that:

The UN distinguishes between two sorts of Security Council resolution. Those passed under Chapter Six deal with the peaceful resolution of disputes and entitle the council to make non-binding recommendations. Those under Chapter Seven give the council broad powers to take action, including warlike action, to deal with “threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, or acts of aggression.” Such resolutions, binding on all UN members, were rare during the cold war. But they were used against Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait. None of the resolutions relating to the Israeli-Arab conflict comes under Chapter Seven. By imposing sanctions — including military ones— against Iraq but not against Israel, the UN is merely acting in accordance with its own rules. [emphasis added]

The article exposes a further problem with the “double standards” position:

…Resolution 242 of 1967, passed after the six-day war and frequently cited in the double-standards argument, does not say what a lot of the people who quote it think it says. It does not instruct Israel to withdraw unilaterally from the territories occupied in 1967. It does not condemn Israel’s conquest, for the good reason that most western powers at that 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…[emphasis added]

Thus in the case of Iraq, UN Security Council resolutions impose only unilateral actions capable by Saddam Hussein, while Resolution 242 requires joint action by both Israel and the Arab states.

For example, the issue of borders must be negotiated, with the knowledge that “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 neighbours before the war of 1967.” While the Arabs claim that the resolution requires a complete withdrawal from every inch, it is clear that the extent of withdrawal has been left to negotiation. Israel, furthermore, says that “it has already implemented much of 242, and that it stands ready to implement the rest of it. It returned land to Egypt and Jordan in return for peace” and “subsequently withdrew from the main Palestinian population centres (although it has returned to them since the intifada) pending negotiation of a final settlement.”

The article also points out that “it was the Arabs who rejected Resolution 242. They certainly did not accept Israel’s new post-war borders, but nor did they recognise its pre-war borders. They did not, in fact, acknowledge Israel’s right to exist at all.”

There is reference to the “questionable” nature of the argument that Israel’s “occupation” is illegal, and it is noted that while UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan referred to Israel’s “illegal occupation” for the first time in March, “it is no accident that he has not repeated this claim.” According to the article:

In the view of Sir Adam Roberts, professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, it was a “serious mistake” to describe the occupation itself, as opposed to some of Israel’s actions as an occupier, in this way. 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.

While the article clearly acknowledges the legality of Israel’s occupation of the territories captured in 1967, it takes issue with Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem (though it does admit that Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since the 19th century) and its building of settlements. Israel, the article claims, “cannot plead innocence” but can only “enter a plea of mitigation.”

The article also posits that under the rules of “belligerent occupation,” Israel should not have “mucked about” with the status of the captured lands during the two decades following the ’67 war. However, it acknowledges that “given the [Arabs’] continuing rejection and siege,” it is no wonder why Israel did not resolve this issue. It further admits that as soon as “the Palestinians decided that they were no longer bent on its extirpation, Israel reponded.”

Regarding the issue of Israel’s undeclared nuclear capability, the article emphasizes that this is “not a breach of international law,” nor does it “put it on par with Iraq” which has tried to become a nuclear power.

In summary:

In the long and intractable conflict over Palestine, both sides consider themselves victims. The Palestinians say that their national rights were usurped by an intruder; the Israelis that the Palestinians never accepted the Jewish right to self-determination. The UN’s approach has been to recognise the complexity of these respective claims, lay down broad principles, and urge a negotiated peace. The case of Iraq could hardly be more different. That country is in conflict with the UN itself, having refused to comply with the clear instructions, under Chapter Seven, to give up its weapons of mass destruction.

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