Lessons to be Learned From 66 U.N. Resolutions Israel Ignores

By Donald Neff
Former Time Magazine Bureau Chief, Israel
Fifty Years of Israel
Originally printed in the Washington Report in March 1993

Donald Neff has been a journalist for forty years. He spent 16 years in service for Time Magazine and is a regular contributor to Middle East International and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He has written five excellent books on the Middle East.

There is a disturbing lack of historical perspective to the Clinton administration’s efforts during its first days in office to shield Israel from United Nations sanctions. Like former Secretary of State James Baker’s repeated assertion that both sides must want peace for it to occur, the Clinton-Rabin agreement ignores the sorry record of the 26 years since Israel’s conquest of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. During that period Israel has unequivocally demonstrated that it does not want peace in exchange for territory. Its insistence on expelling Palestinians who oppose the occupation and on establishing Jewish settlements in the occupied territories are only the latest manifestations of its desire to retain them. Equally important in revealing its true policy is Israel’s successful record of resisting American and other peace initiatives over the years.

These include defeating such imaginative initiatives and tireless mediators as the U.N.’s Gunnar Jarring in the late 1960s, Secretary of State William Rogers’ major peace proposals of 1969, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy of the mid-1970s, the lackadaisical journeys of Secretary of State George Shultz in the 1980s, and the intense Bush and Baker efforts of 1991 and 1992. The one success was Jimmy Carter’s Camp David process.

However, the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was unique. It came at the expense of the Palestinians, which was by Israeli design, and in exchange for Sinai, to which Israel never laid claim. Moreover, Israel received in return for signing the peace treaty with Egypt commitments from the U. S. that have now reached a level of economic and military aid unsurpassed in our history.

The result is that Israel has managed to retain what it has wanted most: East Jerusalem and the West Bank. After so many diplomatic initiatives, it seems fair to conclude Israel does not want peace on any terms but its own.

An end to expulsions is only the latest demand of the international community on Israel, whose defiance goes back to its very beginnings. There remain on the books of the United Nations a collection of resolutions criticizing Israel unmatched by the record of any other nation.

These resolutions, which now number 66, contain the international community’s list of indictments against the Jewish state. The basic issues were all spelled out even before the 1967 Security Council resolution calling for a land-for-peace settlement.

Core Issues and Major Themes

The core issues, as contained in resolutions passed before 1967, remain the Palestinian refugee problem, the status of Jerusalem, and the location of Israel’s boundaries. These are the basic issues. They spring from 1948, not 1967.

The early U.N. resolutions call for Israel to repatriate or compensate the original 750,000 refugees of 1948-9 and to renounce Jerusalem as its capital and regard it as a corpus separatum, an international city dominated by neither Arab nor Israeli. (The U. S. position on Jerusalem is slightly different and, not surprisingly, closer to Israel’s. It says Jerusalem should not be a divided city and its final status should be decided by the parties.) Finally, the original U.N. partition of Palestine awarded Israel an area only about three-quarters of its current official size. Israel’s increase was gained at the expense of the Palestinians in the earlier conquests of 1948.

Other unreconciled issues from this earlier period include such sticky situations as a demilitarized zone that Israel had shared with Syria near the Sea of Galilee. Israel forcefully and unlawfully occupied this zone in the 1950sand 1960s, in defiance of its 1949 armistice with Syria. This deception predates Syria’s complaints about Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights in 1967. The zone is now integrated into Israel’s economy and infrastructure. But Syria retains a legitimate claim to it as disputed territory to be decided only after negotiations.

Aside from the core issues—refugees, Jerusalem, borders—the major themes reflected in the U.N. resolutions against Israel over the years are its unlawful attacks on its neighbors; its violations of the human rights of the Palestinians, including deportations, demolitions of homes and other collective punishments; its confiscation of Palestinian land; its establishment of illegal settlements; and its refusal to abide by the U.N. Charter and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

A History of U.S. Vetoes

There is another major area, largely ignored, that at some point must be faced. It involves the serious distortion of the official Security Council record by the profligate use by the United States of its veto power. In 29 separate cases between 1972 and 1991, the United States has vetoed resolutions critical of Israel. Except for the U.S. veto, these resolutions would have passed and the total number of resolutions against Israel would now equal 95 instead of 66.

These resolutions would have broadened the record by affirming the right of Palestinian self-determination, by calling on Israel to abandon its repressive measures against the Palestinian intifada, by sending U.N. Observers into the occupied territories to monitor Israel’s behavior and, most serious, by imposing sanctions against Israel if it did not abide by the Council’s resolutions.

Such a list of resolutions passed and resolutions vetoed is unparalleled in United Nations history. The list in itself forms a stunning indictment of Israel’s unlawful and uncivilized actions over a period of 45 years and of America’s complicity in them.

Yet references to this damning record are totally absent from the vocabularies of American leaders as they go about saying they are seeking peace. If they are really serious about peace, then at some point they must act with the same firmness they displayed toward Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. Had they approached Iraq with the same timorous tactics they are applying to Israel, Iraqi soldiers still would be in Kuwait.

The point is that aggressors have always answered the question of whether they want peace by their actions. If the United States really wants peace in the Middle East, it must insist that Israel abide by the judgment of the world community as expressed in resolutions by the United Nations. The U.S. can do this at any time simply by forsaking the use of the veto and joining the world consensus. Anything less makes a sham of the peace process, and is demeaning to leaders of a democratic country.

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Organizations

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