Annan’s equivocation

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United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement on April 11, saying that Israeli-Palestinian violence “threatens to get out of control, with unpredictable consequences”. Annan noted that “security measures alone will not halt the growing violence” and he “insisted on the need for a halt to all violence, and full implementation of the Sharm Al Sheikh understandings”.

According to his office, the secretary-general believes that “Israel should end its six-month-old blockade on Palestinian areas, and transfer to the Palestinian National Authority all outstanding revenues,” and “that these steps could serve as a basis for getting the parties back to the table”.

While these statements are positive, notably absent from Annan’s declaration is any mention of the need for Israel to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1322 of Oct. 7, 2000, among others, which “Calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of Aug. 12, 1949”.

Annan’s statement came amid extreme and escalating Israeli violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and of UN Security Council resolutions, including the military assault on the Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza and Israel’s announcements of new settlements in the occupied territories. Against this backdrop, his pointed failure to reiterate the duty of Israel, a UN member state, to abide by these instruments may be interpreted as undermining the authority by which he acts, and signaling that he is unwilling to publicly uphold the very decisions of the body of which he is the chief executive.

Annan’s reliance, instead, on the dubious and vague Sharm Al Sheikh agreement, brokered by former US president Bill Clinton, raises suspicions that his first source of authority is not the Security Council and the General Assembly, and therefore the legally expressed will of UN member states, but rather the will of the United States alone.

International law makes it quite clear that the rights and responsibilities of a military occupier are not the same as those of an occupied people. Yet, Annan’s call for “parallel confidence-building measures and a resumption of security cooperation”, in the absence of a clear demand for an end to the occupation and scrupulous adhesion to the Fourth Geneva Convention, appears to put the occupier and occupied on the same level.

An end to Israel’s brutal measures should not be requested by the secretary-general as a voluntary gesture of “good will”, and in the context of reciprocal measures from an occupied people, but demanded as mandatory and unconditional compliance with international law.

The secretary-general’s website states that he “would fail if he did not take careful account of the concerns of Member States, but he must also uphold the values and moral authority of the United Nations, and speak and act for peace, even at the risk, from time to time, of challenging or disagreeing with those same Member States.” It is not clear how failing to insist on compliance with UN decisions is consistent with this role.

Annan recently announced that he plans to seek another term in office, something that requires the political support of the United States.

His predecessor, Boutros Ghali, came under severe pressure and was eventually denied a second term by a US veto, in large part because he insisted on publishing the results of a UN inquiry into the April 1996 Israeli massacre of civilians in Qana, Lebanon. In light of this history, Annan would not be exceptional if he did not weigh his own personal interests before speaking and acting. But nor would he be right if he did so. For if the United Nations secretary-general will not clearly uphold United Nations decisions and resolutions, then who will?

Mr. Ali Abunimah contributed this article to the Jordan Times.

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