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Why Should Iraq Comply with U.n., and Not Israel? Arab Diplomats Ask

October 2, 2002
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On the surface, it might seem like a fair question: Why does the world insist that Iraq comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, while Israel ignores reams of them?

As pressure mounts on Baghdad, Arab diplomats are accusing the United Nations and the United States, especially of “double standards” when it comes to enforcing U.N. dictates.

But how valid is the comparison?

In terms both of substance and accordance with international law, it’s a false parallel, pro-Israel advocates say.

Essentially, they say, the argument is a smokescreen designed to take the heat off Iraq.

“If we compare the situation generally, there’s the political argument that these are two very different types of states: Israel is a liberal democracy, Iraq is a totalitarian state; Iraq has used weapons of mass destruction, Israel has not,” said Andrew Srulevitch, executive director of the Geneva-based U.N. Watch.

That’s not just an academic difference, supporters of Israel say: Israel is committed to trading land for a durable peace with its neighbors, while Iraq is an aggressive dictatorship that has tried to conquer its neighbors and has used weapons of mass destruction against them. Therefore, they say, Iraqi compliance is more urgent.

In addition, Srulevitch noted, “While the Arab world poses this seemingly simple and convincing question, we have a simple and convincing answer in response: There’s a fundamental legal difference between resolutions against Iraq after the Gulf War and those against Israel.”

After Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Persian Gulf War, Baghdad surrendered in accordance with the terms of Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter: “Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression.”

U.N. Security Council Resolution 687 — the cornerstone of all subsequent Iraq-related resolutions — branded Iraq the aggressor in the conflict and legitimated the sanctions that continue today. It also mandated that U.N. weapons inspectors fully disarm Iraq, a mandate that Iraq blocked.

As for Israel, the 1967 Six-Day War largely was seen in the international community as a “defensive war.” Neighbors Egypt, Syria and Jordan had massed troops on the border and were prepared to attack. After the brief conflict, Security Council Resolution 242 laid the groundwork for later negotiations and, crucially, was passed under Chapter VI of the U.N. Charter: “Pacific Settlement of Disputes.”

Resolution 242 called for an Israeli withdrawal from “territories” it had captured but, after intense negotiations, intentionally omitted the definite article. That was taken to mean that Israel did not have to withdraw from all the territory seized in that war, but that final borders would be negotiated.

The resolution also acknowledged the right of all parties “to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

Since then, Israel has become far and away the most popular target of Security Council resolutions. This is due primarily to the large, influential bloc of Arab and Muslim member-states and the alliances the bloc enjoys because of energy needs, regional trade and Third World solidarity.

Dozens more anti-Israel resolutions have emanated from the 190-member U.N. General Assembly, whose declarations, unlike Security Council resolutions, are merely symbolic and do not carry the weight of international law.

To neutral observers, the defense of Israel and its noncompliance with resolutions smacks of hair-splitting: noncompliance is noncompliance. But Israel advocates justify the Jewish state’s resistance because the resolutions are one-sided and politically motivated.

For example, there are instances where Israel alone is called to task. In April, the Security Council passed a resolution calling for a U.N. investigation of Israel’s assault on Jenin, while ignoring Palestinian actions that prompted the operation. Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation — and, in the end, was vindicated when the United Nations itself said that no massacre had taken place in Jenin.

Iraq runs a close second to Israel as the target of Security Council resolutions. But Arab leaders have complained over the years that more pressure is applied to Iraq to meet its obligations than to Israel, because of Israel’s backing from the United States.

Another Security Council resolution was added to the Israel file last week. Borrowing from President Bush’s Sept. 12 exhortation that the United Nations must “enforce its own resolutions” vis-a-vis Iraq, pro-Palestinian advocates demanded on Sept. 23 that Israel be given the same treatment.

The 15-member panel assailed Israel for its siege of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters and ordered its withdrawal from Ramallah. The vote was 14-0, as the United States abstained.

With that, Arab diplomats once again vented their frustration.

“Why these double standards?” Yanya Mahmassani, permanent U.N. observer for the League of Arab States, was quoted in The New York Times. “Why aren’t United Nations Security Council resolutions on Israel enforced the way they are on other countries? Israel violated 28 resolutions of the Security Council. Why should not the Security Council shoulder its responsibilities?”

Later in the week, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa weighed in.

“Why should the world request Iraq to adhere to Security Council resolutions, while Israel is allowed to be above international law?”

In fact, Israel did comply with the resolution on Sunday, ending its siege of Arafat’s office.

At the same time, it appeared highly unlikely that pressure would be exerted on the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its obligations under the resolution to bring terrorists to justice. While Arab diplomats did not address that apparent double standard, they followed a pattern of pressing Israel to honor resolutions while ignoring the obligations those same resolutions imposed on the Arab side.

Thus, for example, Arab nations for years demanded that Israel withdraw from its southern Lebanon security zone under Security Council Resolution 425. Since Israel’s withdrawal in May 2000, however, no pressure has been exerted on the Lebanese government to honor its obligation to assert its authority in the south, where the Hezbollah terror group has continued attacking Israel across the border and has stockpiled missiles that threaten Israeli cities.

In addition, Syria listed by Washington as a state sponsor of terrorism, yet which enjoys a two-year post on the Security Council breaches U.N. sanctions on Iraq by importing some $1 billion of Iraqi oil a year, according to Dore Gold, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N. from 1997-99 and now a top adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In any case, Gold deflected any comparison between Israel and Iraq as “baseless.”

“Comparing the illegal production of biological and chemical weapons with Israeli bulldozers in Ramallah? There’s just no comparison in terms of magnitude,” said Gold, who also is president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

In most resolutions dealing with Israel, Gold noted, the Americans press for language that also makes demands of the Palestinian side.

Infuriated by Israel’s refusal last week to let up on Arafat, Syrian Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe reportedly pressed the council last Friday to drag Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Lancry before the panel for a public upbraiding.

A U.S. diplomat reportedly countered that Palestinian U.N. Observer Nasser al-Kidwa should likewise be summoned to answer for the Palestinians’ failure to bring terrorists to justice.

In the end, the council released a bland statement calling for “full implementation” of the new resolution, but making no specific mention of either Israel or the Palestinians.

Pointing the finger at Israel often is an attempt by the Arab world to change the subject when a debate becomes uncomfortable, Gold said.

The Arab world “is not so much interested in Israeli compliance, but in maintaining Iraqi noncompliance,” he said. “Many of these regimes feel threatened by the prospect of regime change in Iraq and the spread of democracy in the region.”

But when it comes to the Iraq-Israel comparisons, Israel’s supporters may face a challenge in educating the public.

Media such as the Times, BBC, Le Monde and El Pais publish quotes from Arab diplomats uncritically, uncontested and without context, Srulevitch said.

“The journalists have one of two problems: They should know” the context behind U.N. resolutions and “are not reporting it, or they don’t know the subject and just buy into this argument that there’s this comparison,” Srulevitch said.

“It’s a convincing argument to those who don’t know better — the wider public,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to get out the message that this is a comparison between apples and oranges, not apples and apples.”

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