A new Palestinian report on UN resolutions exposes the double standards at the heart of Bush's rationale for action against Iraq, says Brian Whitaker
Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, Tuesday September 24, 2002
In his speech to the United Nations earlier this month, President George Bush emphasised the need for action rather than words.
"We created the United Nations security council, so that, unlike the League of Nations, our deliberations would be more than talk, our resolutions would be more than wishes," he said.
"All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment," he continued. "Are security council resolutions to be honoured and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? [...] Right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime."
The same could be said of various other countries, but most notably Israel. Throughout its history, the security council has never once taken enforcement action over Israel's flouting of UN resolutions or its violations of international law.
Largely as a result of American pressure, criticisms of Israel in security council resolutions also tend to be softer than the criticisms of other countries for similar offences.
Not only that. Thirty-two draft resolutions criticising Israel since 1972 have never seen the light of day because the US used its security council veto to block them.
A report published today by the PLO's negotiations affairs department looks at a series of UN resolutions relating to Israel, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Rwanda and Iraq - and compares the follow-up action taken in each case.
The report discusses existing resolutions in four categories: grave human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law; colonies and demographic manipulation; the right of return for refugees and displaced persons; and the withdrawal of forces from territories under to armed occupation.
In the first category, action taken by the security council on human rights violations included tribunals for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity (in Bosnia, Kosovo and Rwanda), an arms embargo (Kosovo), an international presence (Kosovo and East Timor), and "all necessary means" (ie military action) in the case of Iraq.
Not even the mildest of these remedies was adopted in the case of Israel, whose violations - assassinations, deportations, house demolitions, restrictions on freedom of movement, etc - are well documented.
In the second category - demographic manipulation - Israel has sought to consolidate its occupation of the Palestinian territories by changing the population balance in two ways.
One is to encourage Palestinian emigration through economic disruption and land expropriation, as well as direct expulsion in some cases. The other is through the establishment of illegal Jewish colonies whose population has risen, since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, from 200,000 to 400,000.
In 1980, the security council issued a resolution saying that these activities had "no legal validity" and constituted "a flagrant violation of the fourth Geneva convention". It decided to establish a commission "to examine the situation".
Israel refused to co-operate with the commission and the security council responded with another resolution "strongly deploring" Israel's refusal.
Elsewhere, it has been a different story. In Kosovo, for example, efforts to drive out the majority ethnic Albanian population and replace them with ethnic Serbs were denounced by the security council and backed up with international action.
Similarly in Bosnia and Rwanda, strong condemnation was followed by comprehensive sanctions and enforcement action.
In the third category - the right of refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes - there is no relevant security council resolution about Palestinian refugees, though there have been resolutions regarding Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and Rwanda.
"In contrast with the compared cases where the right of return formed a key component of all peace settlements and was enforced by international operations", the PLO report says, "no attempts have been made to enforce the Palestinian right of return and there have been attempts [by Israel] to declare the Palestinian refugee return issue a 'non-negotiable' one."
In the fourth category - withdrawal of occupying forces - the strongest action taken by the security council was against Iraq, following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Member states were authorised to "use all necessary means" to end the occupation.
In the case of Bosnia, which in 1992 was occupied by Yugoslav and Croatian army units, the security council ordered "a general and complete embargo on all deliveries of weapons and military equipment to Yugoslavia".
In Kosovo, the security council backed up its withdrawal demand with action to deploy an international security presence. Unlike these rather short-lived occupations, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has continued for 35 years.
The only specific action taken by the security council during this long period, according to the report, was in 1968 when it sent a special representative to the occupied territories and requested Israel "to co-operate with him and to facilitate his work".
The trouble with this pussy-footing approach is not simply that it lets favoured countries get away with things that others would be punished for. It also sends them a signal that in future they can act as they please.
"We cannot stand by and do nothing", Mr Bush told delegates to the UN. He was talking, of course, about Iraq. But in the case of Israel, we not only can do nothing - we do do nothing.