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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

October 11, 2002

A Balanced Article in the Economist?!

I never thought I'd see this, but this article in the Economist lays out a pretty fair explanation of why Israel's refusal to follow UN demands isn't similar to Iraq's, contary to the beliefs of the anti-war, anti-American, anti-Israel left.

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.
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 (see article). 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. This is a very different matter. In the case of Iraq, the Security Council has instructed Mr Hussein to take various unilateral actions that he is perfectly capable of taking. Resolution 242 cannot be implemented unilaterally, even if Israel wanted to do so.
Over the past two years, the intifada has given rise to a new batch of resolutions. Some rebuke the Israelis for using “excessive” force, others make specific demands. Resolution 1435, for example, calls on Israel to pull out of the Palestinian cities it has recently reoccupied and back to the positions it held before the violence started in September 2000. It has been ignored. But like most recent resolutions, this one cuts both ways. It makes demands of the Palestinians, too, which have also been ignored. In this case, the Palestinian Authority is instructed to cease all violence and incitement, and to bring “those responsible for terrorist acts” to justice.
What, though, about Israel's nukes? Does its status as an undeclared nuclear power put it on a par with Iraq, which has tried to become one? No. In 1981, Resolution 487 scolded Israel for sending its aircraft to destroy Iraq's Osiraq reactor, which Israel said was being used to manufacture a nuclear weapon, despite having been given a clean bill of health by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Noting that Israel had not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), as Iraq had, the UN called on Israel to put its own nuclear facilities under the IAEA safeguards, as the NPT requires.

Two decades on, Israel has still not signed the NPT. This infuriates the treaty's supporters, who have been striving to make it “universal”. But, as with any other treaty, governments are free not to sign. What they are not free to do is sign, receive the foreign (civilian) nuclear help to which signing entitles them, and then try to build a bomb secretly. This, it is now ruefully accepted, is what Iraq tried to do, and may still be trying to do. Israel is thought to possess a large nuclear arsenal, about which it is not being open and honest, and this is provoking to its neighbours. But it is not evidence of “double standards”. Being a nuclear-armed power is not, by itself, a breach of international law.

The article does make a few comments about Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria that are wrong, but at least the Economist seems to be trying to do a better job than it has in the past, as explained here by Bret Stephens. There was a response by the editor of the Economist, and a rebuttal to the response by Stephens, but I can't locate them.