Iraq & Israel: Double Standards



This is a moment to seize. The Kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.”


Those were the Prime Minister’s words to the 2001 Labour Party Conference.  Not only was he going to heal the scar on the conscience of the world, that is, Africa, he was going to “breathe new life into the Middle East Peace Process”.  “Re-ordering” Iraq into a failed state wasn’t mentioned.


Eighteen months later, the “new life” in the Middle East Peace Process finally appeared on the horizon, in the form of the so-called roadmap, just in time to help him persuade Labour backbenchers to vote for the invasion of Iraq.  The roadmap had yet to see the light of day but it featured in the resolution in favour of the military invasion of Iraq, passed by the House of Commons on 18 March 2003, which welcomed:


“… the imminent publication of the Quartet's roadmap as a significant step to bringing a just and lasting peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians and for the wider Middle East region and endorses the role of Her Majesty's Government in actively working for peace between Israel and Palestine.”


At that time, Her Majesty’s Government’s active work was chiefly to join with Israel and the US in applying pressure to the Palestinians to change their leadership, or at least give the appearance of so doing.  Their democratically elected leader, Yasser Arafat, having refused to give in at Camp David, had been declared by Israel/US to be an unfit person to lead them.  Of course, they didn’t propose that fresh elections be held to select new leadership, because they knew that Palestinians would re-elect Yasser Arafat, but the leadership had to be changed.  The publication of the roadmap was conditional upon that. 


The roadmap was duly published on 30 April 2003.  Phase I was due to be complete by May 2003, with the freezing of settlement building and the dismantling of settlement outposts built since March 2001.  Phase II, involving the creation of a Palestinian state, was due to be complete by the end of 2003.


In practice, progress has been so rapid since April 2003 that the Prime Minister was able to announce on 12 November 2004, as he stood beside President Bush at the While House, that once Israel has “disengaged” from Gaza (if it ever does) the road mapped out in April 2003 will (possibly) begin: the roadmap is now the fifth step in his five-step “plan” for bringing peace to Palestine, Israeli “disengagement” from Gaza being the fourth.


The most important “step”, as far as Blair is concerned, is the third, which will take the form of a conference in London, neatly timed to take place just before he calls a General Election, and allowing him to give the impression that, at last, he is doing something about Palestine.  It also has the advantage of being guaranteed not to fail, since it is not concerned with solving the problem, which is the Israeli occupation and colonisation of Arab lands.  Rather, it is about patronising the Palestinians – about telling them that they must establish perfect institutions of government in lands they don’t control and must suppress all opposition to Israeli control of those lands – and then, and only then, will they stand a chance of being accepted by Israel as “partners for peace”. 


As Blair put it during his press conference with Sharon in Jerusalem on 22 December:


“The third step was then to make sure, prior to disengagement actually happening, that there was a clear plan for the Palestinian side in respect of the measures necessary for the political institutions, economic transparency and security that ensured that we could indeed have proper partners for peace on either side.  That is the purpose of the meeting in London, and I thank Prime Minister Sharon for his welcome of it. …


“So in other words we set out an overall vision, we have the election of the Palestinian President, we have a plan, a proper plan, a viable plan for the Palestinian side in terms of politics, the economy, security. And then what we can do is have the disengagement and after that, provided there is a complete and total end to the terrorism that has disfigured so much of what has happened in this area, we can then get back into the road map that people want to see. …


“Everybody wants to see that overall vision of Israel, confident of its own security, and a viable Palestinian state put in place.  But viability cannot just be about territory, it also has to be about proper democratic institutions, about proper security and proper use of the economy.  In other words, the viability has to be that of a state that is democratic, that is not giving any succour or help to terrorism, and that uses the help that is given from the outside in a proper and transparent way.”


So there is now a roadmap to the roadmap, in which the victims of Israeli occupation are required to jump through hoops before they qualify to negotiate about (possibly) ending the occupation.  And it will be for the occupiers to decide when they have jumped through enough hoops to qualify.  Of course, the occupiers don’t have to do anything in order to qualify as “proper partners for peace”: despite being in breach of some 30 Security Council resolutions, they are already “proper partners for peace”.


*  *  *  *


Despite its many acts of aggression against neighbouring states, and some states further afield, contrary to the UN Charter, Israel has never been subject to a Chapter VII Security Council resolution, incorporating economic or military sanctions.


In 1948 Israel used force to extend the area assigned to it in 1947 by resolution 181 of the UN General Assembly and drove out large numbers of Palestinians, who have never been allowed to return.  Around 55% of mandated Palestine was assigned to it; in this area, nearly 50% of the population was Arab; this area was extended to 77% by force.


In 1956, in conspiracy with the UK and France, it used force against Egypt.


In 1967, it used force against Egypt, Jordan and Syria and occupied the West Bank and Gaza, annexed parts of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and proceeded to colonise the area it conquered and still occupies nearly 40 years later.


In 1978 and again in 1982 it used force to invade Lebanon, and it didn’t finally withdraw until 2000.


Despite these major breaches of the UN Charter, plus lots of, by comparison, minor ones, such as bombing an Iraqi nuclear power station in 1981 and attacking the PLO in Tunis in 1985, Israel has never been subject to enforcement measures under Chapter VII.


Iraq, on the other hand, was subject to enforcement measures under Chapter VII from when it invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990 until March 2003, when the US/UK invaded Iraq, ostensibly because of its failure to comply with Security Council resolutions.


Within hours of the invasion of Kuwait, a Chapter VII resolution (660) was passed demanding Iraqi withdrawal; within days, on 6 August 1990, another Chapter VII resolution (661) was passed imposing economic sanctions on Iraq until it withdrew; and within a few months, on 29 November 1990, another Chapter VII resolution (678) was passed authorising military action to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait and a force of half a million men was assembled to do it.


But that wasn’t the end of it:  a further Chapter VII resolution (687) was passed on 3 April 1991 demanding that Iraq give up its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and missiles with a range greater than 150 km; to enforce this, economic sanctions were continued, and continued until after the invasion.


By contrast, Israel has occupied and colonised the West Bank and Gaza for nearly 40 years and annexed parts of it, and it possesses chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them to most of the Arab world.  Yet there has never been a Chapter VII resolution passed against it, let alone a Chapter VII resolution imposing economic or military sanctions.


Of course, Israel has been subject to countless Chapter VI resolutions, which it can simply ignore, since they don’t include any enforcement measures.  In addition, Israel has cleverly convinced most of the world that all these resolutions place obligations on parties other than itself, so there needs to be negotiations with other parties for compliance to be complete.  In fact, the vast majority of the 30 or so, of which Israel is in breach, demand action by Israel and Israel alone.  For example:


252 (21 May 1968) on the annexation of parts of Jerusalem:

2. [The Security Council] Considers that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, which tend to change the legal status of Jerusalem are invalid and cannot change that status;

3. [The Security Council]  Urgently calls upon Israel to rescind all such measures already taken and to desist forthwith from taking any further action which tends to change the status of Jerusalem;


 446 (22 March 1979) on the establishment of Jewish settlements:

[The Security Council] Calls once more upon Israel, as the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories;


497 (17 December 1981) on the annexation of the Golan Heights:

1. [The Security Council] Decides that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect;

2. [The Security Council] Demands that Israel, the occupying Power, should rescind forthwith its decision;


These resolutions place obligations on Israel, and Israel alone, and it is obviously within its power to carry out these obligations.  None of them require negotiation with other states.  Israel doesn’t need to negotiate with anybody before undoing the annexation of the annexed parts of Jerusalem or of the Golan Heights.  Nor does it need to negotiate with anybody before dismantling the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, as the proposed “disengagement” from Gaza demonstrates.


Yet, it is often said that this is not so.  For example, defending his government’s belligerent attitude to Iraq for non-compliance with Security Council resolutions, while condoning Israel’s non-compliance, Blair told the House of Commons on 24 September 2002:


“I think that one thing, however, must be stated clearly: the UN resolutions in respect of the Middle East impose obligations on both sides. They impose obligations in respect of support for terrorism and recognition of Israel as well as withdrawal from the occupied territories.”


It follows from this that there should be a process of negotiation, and meanwhile there is no obligation on Israel to comply with any Security Council resolution.  And Israel can stall indefinitely about entering into negotiations, confident in the knowledge that the Security Council will never endorse any enforcement action against her, since the US would veto any attempt to do so.  The only pressure on Israel to negotiate comes from the Palestinians themselves, from military action, which, given Israel’s military superiority, is a mere pinprick, and from their growing numbers, both inside Israel and in the occupied territories. 


The US/UK invaded Iraq and overthrew its regime in March 2003, ostensibly for failing to comply with Security Council resolutions (which it had in fact complied with).  If the same standard were applied to Israel as has been applied to Iraq, the Security Council would insist that Israel comply with those resolutions that require action from it alone.  Failing that, Chapter VII resolutions incorporating these demands would be passed applying economic sanctions against Israel until it complied.  Failing that, further Chapter VII resolutions incorporating these demands would be passed authorising military action against Israel to enforce compliance, and armies would be assembled to do so.


Once it had complied with all these resolutions, Israel would be a proper partner for peace, and it would then be appropriate to have a peace process to bring about a wider settlement in Palestine.



Labour & Trade Union Review

January 2005