In the pre-war rumblings going on in the United States, a strange argument is being made. War supporters are chiding permanent members of the UN Security Council for reflecting international (as well as some American) public opinion by contemplating the possibility of a veto to any resolution that will approve war. Countries like France, Russia and China are being accused of making the world body “irrelevant” and “obstructing and paralysing” the work of the UN. William Safire went as far as to call this anti-war position a “further abdication of collective security”.
No better situation could justify the form the Security Council was shaped in than the present. When one country decides that it knows better than the rest of the world what is good for world peace and is ready to start a war for that purpose, the opinion of the rest of the world does count.
Also troubling is the intellectual dishonesty of the same commentators when the US was using its veto power to stop any anti- Israel resolution. Unlike the present attempt of the United States, many of those resolutions were based on sound legal arguments and were meant to prevent real violation of international humanitarian law, unquestionably contradicting specific UN Security Council resolutions. The US vetoed many Security Council resolutions that the rest of the world, including America’s best ally, the United Kingdom, voted in favour of. These pundits didn’t fear then the irrelevance of the UN nor did they blame the US for abdicating its collective security responsibilities. Even in cases in which, by virtue of being signatories to the Fourth Geneva Convention, countries are required by law to enforce its clauses in defence of people under occupation, the US refused to allow the world body to impose on Israel respect for these international conventions.
When Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1990, the world body moved, sanctioning the use of force to reverse the occupation. That was followed by the longest period of sanctions imposed on a member country. Yet Israel, which came into being as a result of a UN resolution, has been allowed to get away with murder and occupation. It has occupied Palestinian territories since 1967, yet no resolution has been passed with the kind of teeth that the anti-Iraqi resolutions have.
If there is any party responsible for making the UN an irrelevant body, it is the US. And if there is any cause where the international community has failed, it is the cause of Palestine.
Instead of waging a war against Iraq, the US and the international community should be striving for a peaceful settlement to the Arab- Israeli conflict. Removing Saddam Hussein from power will not cause a dent on the root of the problems in the Middle East. Those who argue that having a politically moderate regime in Iraq will suddenly produce a different Palestinian position are wrong. The possible loss of Iraqi financial aid to Palestinians killed in the Intifada is unlikely to make Palestinians change their long-held demands for a free democratic and independent state in areas occupied since June 1967.
Those who think France and others should join in beating the drums of war because the US is asking for it are wrong. The voice of conscience of the world, as represented presently by these countries, and not American unilateralism, should be heard. If simply to be consistent, those who are unhappy with permanent members using the veto power should apply the same stick to the US when it uses it to sanction Israel’s acts of occupation and settlement in Palestinian territories.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University which owns and runs Al Quds Educational Television. In May 2001, Mr. Kuttab received the International Press Institute’s award as one of fifty press freedom heroes in the last fifty years.