Count The UN Security Council Among The Losers

Hasan Abu Nimah

Security Council Resolution 1701 did not come a minute too soon if only because it blew the whistle on an Israeli assault that was killing dozens of Lebanese civilians daily, destroying the country and forcing nearly a million people to seek refuge from its escalating war crimes. The so-called “international community” provided cover for extending the war under the guise of prolonged negotiations at the UN, hoping that Israel would win a decisive victory. But what Israel failed to win on the battlefield, its friends helped to deliver in the UN resolution.

Resolution 1701, adopted unanimously, “calls for a full cessation of hostilities.” Those seven words are the most important ones in the entire resolution. The rest is neither fair, nor compatible with the Security Council’s duties and responsibilities as defined by the United Nations Charter. Even after the resolution was passed, Israel escalated its aggression, sending thousands of troops towards the Litani River. The move, perhaps meant to seize more ground before the ceasefire took effect, was a disaster, as Israel lost dozens of soldiers and much equipment. Hours after the resolution was passed, Israel ceased its aerial bombardment of Lebanon, but shot dead at least one Hizbollah fighter. This last minute invasion, like Israel’s initial assault on Lebanon, seems to have had a green light from council members.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan declared on Sunday that hostilities would cease by dawn on Monday at 05:00 GMT. Normally Security Council resolutions should take effect immediately, unless a specified time is mentioned in the resolution, which was not the case this time. Why Annan gave Israel an additional 48 hours to kill and destroy is a pressing question, but questions like that are never answered.

Resolution 1701 is flawed, both in form and content, much like many others of its kind lately. The bitter reality is that the work of the Security Council has been reduced to a mere reflection of the will of the big powers rather than international law. The council does not take the immediate initiative when necessary — as was the case in Lebanon when war broke out — to protect world peace and security as mandated by the charter. Instead it waited for the results of the war on the ground to tailor its actions in a manner that would give the greatest advantage to the winner, which the international community assumed would be Israel. In other words, the council’s actions have been confined to legitimising the desired outcome of any conflict regardless of how unjust, unlawful or potentially threatening to peace and security it is.

This war could have been easily prevented if the Security Council was called to intervene following the Hizbollah military action against Israeli soldiers on the border. The council, at that point, could have taken a decision ordering their release peacefully, utilising international pressure, which would normally be on Israel’s side against Hizbollah. If Israel was truly the victim of an unprovoked attack, as it claimed, why did it not ask the Security Council to intervene rather than launch its pre-planned destruction of Lebanon?

Article 51 of the UN Charter does indeed recognise the right of every nation to exercise the right of self-defence when attacked by another military power, but only until the Security Council acts following the victim’s notification. Israel was not under an ongoing attack. There was a border incident, which resulted in deaths on the Israeli side and the capture of two soldiers. Israel had every right to pursue its case against Lebanon or Hizbollah by peaceful means at the Security Council. There is no provision anywhere in international law to justify a total war on Lebanon, its infrastructure and its civilian population, under the false premise of self-defence; a war which ended without freeing the captured soldiers.

The Security Council said nothing about the fact that Israel responded to a military incident by immediately attacking civilians. It totally ignored the mountain of evidence of Israeli war crimes committed in Lebanon, and has said nothing about Israel’s obligation to compensate Lebanon and its people for the wanton destruction and killing which went far beyond the “military necessity” that limits a state’s actions in wartime. Based on the testimony of UN officials alone, let alone reports from groups like Human Rights Watch, the Security Council should have demanded that Israel bring to justice those alleged to have committed war crimes, or referred the matter to the International Criminal Court.

Although it “recalled” its many previous resolutions, the Security Council made no mention of the reports from UNIFIL peacekeepers in southern Lebanon who have documented hundreds of aggressive violations of Lebanese sovereignty by Israeli armed forces and warplanes, all prior to Hizbollah’s “unprovoked” attack.

All these discrepancies are reflected in the resolution. The US, through its permanent representative John Bolton, exerted enormous pressure to produce such a lopsided resolution intended mainly to secure a political victory for Israel, which in practical terms meant allowing Israel to maintain the status quo ante.

Hizbollah appears to be giving Israel a brief pause to withdraw its defeated army from Lebanon. If Israel delays, or tries to reinforce its positions, the resistance will not be able to remain inactive, and that will create new conditions for another showdown at a certain moment. This does not look at all compatible with what Condoleezza Rice said: Address root causes. That means ending the occupation, not only of Lebanese territory, but also of Syrian and Palestinian land as well, and dismantling all racist, discriminatory and exclusionary Israeli policies that keep millions of Palestinians oppressed. It is very unlikely that she meant any of that. The definition of her “root causes’ ” must be different: Removing any object from Israel’s offensive path.

Any lessons learnt, any meaningful appraisal?

Revelations about the longstanding Suez-like US-Israeli conspiracy against Lebanon, supported by some regional states, and President George W. Bush’s claim that Hizbollah was defeated, indicate that there is little chance of such a realistic appraisal. The US insists on trivialising the situation to “Hizbollah’s arms,” or the failure to implement Security Council Resolution 1559, or the Taif accord on Lebanon’s internal governance, or instead using Israel’s occupation of Lebanon as a way to provoke a confrontation with Iran. All of this merely marks the countdown to the next war.

Hasan Abu Nimah is the former permanent representative of Jordan at the United Nations.

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