Undermining the Security Council

Established American policy on many important issues seems not to apply to Israel, particularly on issues such as human rights, respect for instruments of international law, nuclear armament and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In this regard, U.S. positions related to Israel seem to depart completely from its established policy, thus creating a strange situation wherein U.S. credibility is undermined and interests are threatened, generating accusations of double standards and hypocrisy. The same applies to the important issue of maintaining the authority of the United Nations Security Council and the integrity of its resolutions.

It is obvious that the U.S., as the dominant power in the Security Council, has a vested interest in promoting the Council and its resolutions. However, the U.S. does exactly the opposite when it comes to Israel, improvising plans and applying complex techniques to undermine the Council and its resolutions on Israeli actions and Palestinian issues.

Over the years the Security Council has adopted twenty-five resolutions, affirming the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem. Many of these resolutions specifically address the issues of Jerusalem and settlements, reaffirming that Jerusalem is an occupied territory and rejecting all Israeli actions aimed at changing the status and demographic composition of the city, as well as affirming that all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal. In one resolution, the Council also asserted that the settlements should be dismantled.

The U.S., and more clearly the Clinton administration, has not found it objectionable to challenge and undermine such a formidable legal and political foundation. The irony is that real U.S. actions in this regard started with the beginning of the Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative in 1993, and it took the following forms:

The first has been an effort to de-link the Council from the situation in the Middle East and to neutralize its resolutions and even to try to delegitimize Palestinian attempts to seek redress from the Council following Israeli violations of international law and the agreements reached between the two sides. The U.S. has actually prevented the Council from discharging its responsibilities under the Charter of the United Nations through the casting of its only three vetoes on substantial issues since the end of Cold War on draft resolutions related to the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. (The last two resulted in the convening of an Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly for the first time in fifteen years.)

The U.S. has also prevented the Council from taking any action after a formal debate at least twice. Further, on the two occasions when the U.S. abstained, thus allowing the Council to adopt two resolutions, it did so only after trying to weaken the language of the resolution prior to the vote and with U.S. delegates making very strong explanations of vote. On one of these two occasions, the U.S. requested a paragraph-by-paragraph vote on the resolution, which was followed by adoption of the resolution without a vote. In the latter instance, on 18 March 1994 after the adoption of resolution 904 on the massacre in Al-Khalil (Hebron), the U.S. Permanent Representative, at the time Madeleine Albright, said: "The U.S. asked for these unusual procedures this afternoon in order to make it clear – for all to see – that we cannot and will not support any effort by the Security Council to prejudice the outcome of the Middle East peace process."

On 21 March 1997, after casting the second U.S. veto in less than two weeks on the Jabal Abu-Ghneim settlement, U.S. Permanent Representative Bill Richardson said: "Simply stated, the U.S. does not believe that the Security Council or the General Assembly should be in the business of inserting themselves into issues that the negotiating partners have decided would be addressed in their permanent status talks."

The second form of U.S. actions has consisted of devising new, illegal positions on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention and on the status of Jerusalem and attempting to impose them on the Council, with the hope that the new language would be accepted or that the traditional Council language would be dropped. This dangerous trend was made obvious for the first time by the U.S. delegate to the Special Political and Decolonization Committee of the General Assembly on 8 December 1993 in explanation of the U.S. abstention on a resolution concerning the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In that statement, he said: "The U.S. objects to references such as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem’ or ‘Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem’. The U.S. believes that is important not to prejudge or prejudice the outcome of negotiations."

Further, in the above-mentioned statement of then Ambassador Albright, she stated: "While my government reaffirms our view that the Fourth Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 applies to territories occupied by Israel since 1967, we oppose the specific reference to Jerusalem in this resolution and we will continue to oppose its insertion in future resolutions." She added: "We simply do not support the description of the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’. In the view of my government, this language could be taken to indicate sovereignty."

The last two quotations mean that for the U.S. the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply to Jerusalem and that it applies only to "territories" and not to "the territories" occupied by Israel since 1967. Similar positions have been expressed by U.S. delegates on several other occasions. This runs contrary to the established position of the Council on the matter and it reverses the U.S. position on the matter, including several previous positive U.S. votes on the language used in the resolutions.

The third form of U.S. actions has involved attempts to change the determination of the Security Council on settlements as illegal and to market new definitions in this regard regionally and internationally. To be accurate, it must be stated that changes in the U.S. position on settlements began to occur years ago with the Carter administration shifting from describing settlements as illegal to describing them as "an obstacle to peace", a term which could still be reconciled with the fact that settlements are illegal. The U.S. stance continued to deteriorate until it reached the Clinton administration, where terms such as "unhelpful", "complicating" and "provocative" began to be used to describe settlements.

The U.S. delegate to the Special Political and Decolonization Committee, in the same explanation of vote referred to above, stated: "While the U.S.’s views on settlement activities are well known, we consider it unproductive to debate the legalities of the issue." In this regard, Ambassador Richardson, in his statement before the Security Council on 7 March 1997, said the following in explanation of the U.S. veto: "Furthermore, this draft resolution makes sweeping statements concerning the legal status of Israeli settlements." It is odd and ironic that many of these U.S. changes were coupled with an assertion that "the U.S. position remains the same".

Recent U.S. positions calling for the cessation of unilateral acts, which are taken to mean Israeli settlement activities, are being formulated in isolation from any position on the illegal status of settlements. In fact, the Secretary of State made as big an error as stating the settlements are legal, which prompted explanations the next day by the spokesman of the State Department.

All such actions by the U.S. are being done in violation of provision of the Charter of the United Nations, as well as its own responsibilities as a permanent member, and in violation of relevant resolutions and international law. Moreover, it is highly cynical of the U.S. to use the existing agreements between the two sides to justify attempts to neutralize both the Council and international law at a time when Israel continues to create new facts on the ground in violation of those agreements. It is even more cynical to ignore the fact that by coming to the Council the Palestinian side is primarily complaining in reaction to such Israeli actions and policies, therefore seeking the protection of international law and not taking unilateral measures.

It is important to note at this point that the U.S. position has been rejected by member states of the United Nations, including members of the Security Council, and that there has been consistent Palestinian rejection of all such attempts. The Palestinian position is clear in this connection: International law and Security Council resolutions must be upheld in all circumstances and the Council must fulfill its responsibilities.