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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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Baseless Comparisons: UN Security Council Resolutions on Iraq and Israel

Filed under: International Law, Iraq, Israel
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 2, No. 7     September 24, 2002

Since Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the 1991 Gulf War that followed, Arab diplomats at the United Nations have charged the international community with a policy of “double standards” regarding UN actions against Iraq for failing to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. Thus, in the debate leading up to the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1435, concerning Israel’s presence in Ramallah, the representative of the Arab League charged on September 23, that the UN was pressing Iraq while ignoring Israeli violations of UN resolutions.1 Last May, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz complained that sanctions were imposed on Iraq for non-compliance but not on Israel.2

The effort by some Arab diplomats to draw comparisons between UN action on Israel and Iraq misses the fundamental differences between the different kinds of resolutions in the UN organization. First of all, there are UN General Assembly resolutions, non-binding recommendations that reflect the political currents in the world body. Then there are UN Security Council resolutions, which have their own hierarchy.


Chapter VI and Chapter VII Resolutions

Two chapters of the UN Charter clarify the powers of the UN Security Council and its resolutions. Resolutions adopted under Chapter VI of the UN Charter – that deals with “Pacific Resolution of Disputes” – are implemented through a process of negotiation, conciliation, or arbitration between the parties to a dispute. UN Security Council Resolution 242 from November 1967 is a Chapter VI resolution which, when taken together with Resolution 338, leads to an Israeli withdrawal from territories (not all the territories) that Israel entered in the 1967 Six-Day War, by means of a negotiated settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The resolution is not self-enforced by Israel alone; it requires a negotiating process.

The most severe resolutions of the UN Security Council are those specifically adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter – that deal with “Threats to Peace, Breaches of the Peace and Acts of Aggression.” When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the UN Security Council adopted all its resolutions against Iraq under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The implementation of those resolutions was not contingent on Iraqi-Kuwaiti negotiations, for Iraq engaged in a clear-cut act of aggression. Moreover, UN resolutions on Iraq are self-enforcing, requiring Iraq alone to comply with their terms. However, the UN recognized, under Article 42 of the UN Charter, the need for special military measures to be taken if a Chapter VII resolution is ignored by an aggressor.

It is noteworthy that in 1967, no UN body adopted a resolution branding Israel as the aggressor in the Six-Day War, despite Soviet efforts, for it was commonly accepted that Israeli actions were the result of a war of self-defense.

The debate over compliance with UN resolutions, however, has called attention to flagrant violations of Chapter VII resolutions on Iraq by Syria, which is ironically a member of the UN Security Council. Currently, all of Iraq’s oil trade is under UN sanctions. UN Security Council Resolution 661 provided that no state was to trade in Iraqi oil; subsequently, the UN created, for humanitarian reasons, the oil-for-food program, which permitted Iraqi oil sales as long as the UN could strictly control the expenditure of any resulting oil revenues for food and medicine.

However, in the last two years, Syria has agreed to illegally pump Iraqi oil through its pipeline to the Mediterranean in violation of UN Chapter VII sanctions on Iraq. Syria is earning approximately $1 billion per year from this illegal trade that circumvents the UN oil-for-food program. Additionally by harboring known international terrorist organizations, like Hamas, Hizballah, and the Islamic Jihad, Syria is violating the specific terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1373, adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The present effort to draw comparisons between Iraqi non-compliance with Chapter VII UN Security Council resolutions and UN Security Council resolutions on Israel under Chapter VI is baseless. This campaign may have been launched to divert attention away from other states like Syria, violating Chapter VII resolutions with respect to Iraq or with respect to the current American-led campaign against international terrorism.

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1. Julia Preston with James Bennet, “At U.N., U.S. Calls for End to the Siege of Arafat,” New York Times, September 24, 2002.
2. Ewen MacAskill, “Iraq Hits at UN for Hypocrisy on Israel,” Guardian, May 2, 2002.
3. Meir Rosenne, “Legal Interpretations of UNSC 242,” in UN Security Council Resolution 242: The Building Black of Peacemaking (Washington: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1993), pp. 29-34.