Israel doesn’t follow UN resolutions, so why attack Iraq?


by Chuck Chriss
President, JIA

That question is being heard frequently during the debate on US policy and plans against Iraq. The full question seeks to know why the US supports Israel with aid and military cooperation and the US does not condemn Israeli "violations of international law". Yet the US wants to attack Iraq for such violations. If both countries are in violation of UN resolutions, what is the difference?

The real agenda with such questions is to try to focus attention on Israel’s alleged "violations of international law" and to undermine US support for Israel. The answer requires a review of what UN resolutions have been passed on the subject of Israel and its neighbors, what is their actual content, and what have been the actions of the parties involved, not just Israel?

In the 1940s, the United Nations was formed by the victors in World War II. The new body explicitly took over the existing agreements made by the League of Nations, including the British-administered Mandate for Palestine. When the war-exhausted British decided to abandon the Mandate in 1947, the UN General Assembly voted for a plan that would partition the 22% of the Mandate for Palestine that was west of the Jordan River into a Palestinian Jewish state and a Palestinian Arab state, each in a shape that attempted to encompass most of their respective populations. Jerusalem was left out, to be a separate internationally-administered area. The 78% of the Mandate for Palestine that was east of the Jordan was left as the British had decided — to be the Arab country of Jordan, no Jews allowed. [See Events Surrounding the Independence of the State of Israel (1947-1949)] [See The Partition Plan, UN Resolution 181 Map]

Notwithstanding the manifestly unfair nature of this division, against the Jews — especially in light of the thousands of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who had nowhere to go but Palestine — the Jews accepted the division and declared the State of Israel within the UN-determined borders on May 15, 1948. Palestinian Arabs could have done the same and had a State of Palestine right then and there. But the Arab leadership rejected the plan, solely on the basis that they wanted no Jewish state at all. That is, it was not a dispute about the details of borders or any other issue. They rejected any Jewish presence in the region and went immediately to war to destroy the newborn Israel. The Arab actions were in defiance of the UN partition plan and all other international laws against aggression.

When the Arab war of aggression failed, armistice agreements (not peace treaties) were negotiated with UN help and the long, twilight, underground war of the Arab countries and the Palestinian Arabs against Israel began. Israel’s borders were not permanent, internationally recognized limits but only lines where troops happened to be when the cease-fire was arranged. This fact made them hard to defend and allowed terrorist operations against Israel from day one. Jordan occupied the areas of the Mandate called Judea and Samaria (renaming the area "the West Bank", a name that only makes sense if you are in Jordan). And Egypt occupied the strip of coastal land called Gaza. These occupations were not internationally recognized, but were not condemned either. Palestinian Arabs did not object or demand a state.

UN Resolution 194 of November 12, 1948 dealt with the issues of the then-in-progress War of Independence. It set up an international Conciliation Commission to mediate between the parties and made provisions for the return or resettlement of refugees. The resolution says nothing solely about "Arab refugees" and clearly applies to both Arab and Jewish refugees of the Arab-instigated war. But Resolution 194 is only mentioned when demanding rights for Arabs to return to Israel, something that is neither in the wording of Resolution 194 nor would be considered rational except in a different world, a world in which Jews could freely return to Arab lands and live there in peace.

The pattern was established:

  1. Israel is attacked.
  2. Israel defends itself.
  3. The UN or other international group steps in to end the violence, calling for both sides to take certain actions to resolve the situation.
  4. Israel attempts to comply but the intransigence and non-compliance of Israel’s enemies delays any resolution.
  5. Israel is blamed for failing to comply and the failures of Israel’s enemies are ignored.

This pattern repeats over the decades: Sinai, 1967 war, 1973 war, Lebanon, and recently with Israeli actions in the territories, action taken in reaction to the wave of homicide bombings.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 997 passed on November 2, 1956 in response to the Sinai Campaign, calls for all parties "to desist from raids across the [1949] armistice lines into neighboring territory", specifically referring to the hundreds of fedayeen attacks carried out against Israel in the early 1950s. But even though Israel withdrew from Sinai as required, Egyptian violations of this provision continued through the years, eventually one of the causes leading to the 1967 Six Day War. [See What led to the Six Day War in 1967?]

When Israel has been subject to a "UN Resolution" you first have to ask what type of resolution it was. Resolutions of the General Assembly are merely recommendations and many Security Council actions are too. There is no force of law and Israel cannot be accused of anything more than deciding the resolution is not in Israel’s national interest. Resolutions of the Security Council that are meant to be implemented are more serious matters. Israel has been very good on compliance when the entire resolution is taken into account, not just the sentence the pro-Palestinian advocate wants you to look at.

The most famous example is UN Security Council Resolution 242 (UNSCR 242) — the "land for peace" resolution passed after the Six Day War. Palestinian advocates consistently maintain that Israel has to pull out of the West Bank based on 242, but UNSCR 242 doesn’t say that. UNSCR 242 actually calls for a dual requirement, Israeli withdrawal coupled with:

"Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;"

Since there are no "secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force", Israel is under no obligation to withdraw. [See What was United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 and what does it say?]

On March 30, 2002 in response to Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield against terrorist bases and operatives in the territories, the UN passed UNSCR 1402. One line of that Resolution "calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah" — that is the line you hear about. But another, equally valid line calls for "an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction." Why should Israel withdraw until the acts of the latter sentence have ceased, including provocation and incitement that continue among Palestinian Arabs at a fever pitch? [See: UNSC Adopts Resolution 1402 on Middle East]

In response to accusations against Israel based on UN Resolutions, the question must be asked: "Exactly what UN Resolution is Israel violating?" It is certainly true that many of the UN Resolutions have not been implemented, but is Israel at fault? Does Israel have to implement its obligations before others implement theirs? And what about resolutions where Israel has complied? What have been the results? Resolutions 425/426 regarding Lebanon led to Israel’s withdrawal and Israel has been certified by the UN as being in full compliance. But attacks against Israel across that border continue to this day. [See Why did Israel withdraw from the security zone in Lebanon in May 2000?]

Contrasted with Iraq’s defiant and evasive performance, Israel is a model international citizen. This is true despite the fact that Israel has been subject to a barrage of attacks by its enemies using the UN as a platform. [See What is the evidence that the United Nations is biased against Israel?]