The United Nations began its annual session this week, and Israel will be prominent on the agenda. Many fear the Security Council may consider a resolution setting definite territorial parameters, and a deadline, for the creation of a Palestinian state.
President Obama has hinted that in the final months of his term, he may reverse the traditional U.S. policy of vetoing such resolutions. The General Assembly, meanwhile, is likely to act as the chorus in this drama, reciting its yearly litany of resolutions criticizing Israel.
If Mr. Obama is seeking to leave his mark on the Israeli-Arab conflict—and outside the negotiated peace process that began in Oslo—there is no worse place to do it than the U.N. New research we have conducted shows that the U.N.’s focus on Israel not only undermines the organization’s legitimacy regarding the Jewish state. It also has apparently made the U.N. blind to the world’s many situations of occupation and settlements.
Our research shows that the U.N. uses an entirely different rhetoric and set of legal concepts when dealing with Israel compared with situations of occupation or settlements world-wide. For example, Israel is referred to as the “Occupying Power” 530 times in General Assembly resolutions. Yet in seven major instances of past or present prolonged military occupation—Indonesia in East Timor, Turkey in northern Cyprus, Russia in areas of Georgia, Morocco in Western Sahara, Vietnam in Cambodia, Armenia in areas of Azerbaijan, and Russia in Ukraine’s Crimea—the number is zero. The U.N. has not called any of these countries an “Occupying Power.” Not even once.
It gets worse. Since 1967, General Assembly resolutions have referred to Israeli-held territories as “occupied” 2,342 times, while the territories mentioned above are referred to as “occupied” a mere 16 times combined. The term appears in 90% of resolutions dealing with Israel, and only in 14% of the much smaller number of resolutions dealing with the all the other situations, a difference that vastly surpasses the threshold of statistical significance. Similarly, Security Council resolutions refer to the disputed territories in the Israeli-Arab conflict as “occupied” 31 times, but only a total of five times in reference to all seven other conflicts combined.
General Assembly resolutions employ the term “grave” to describe Israel’s actions 513 times, as opposed to 14 total for all the other conflicts, which involve the full gamut of human-rights abuses, including allegations of ethnic cleansing and torture. Verbs such as “condemn” and “deplore” are sprinkled into Israel-related resolutions tens more times than they are in resolutions about other conflicts, setting a unique tone of disdain.
Israel has been reminded by resolutions against it of the country’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions about 500 times since 1967—as opposed to two times for the other situations.
In particular, the resolutions refer to Article 49(6), which states that the “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” This is the provision that the entire legal case against Israel settlements is based upon. Yet no U.N. body has ever invoked Article 49(6) in relation to any of the occupations mentioned above.
This even though, as Mr. Kontorovich shows in a new research article, “Unsettled: A Global Study of Settlements in Occupied Territories,” all these situations have seen settlement activity, typically on a scale that eclipses Israel’s. However, the U.N. has only used the legally loaded word “settlements” to describe Israeli civilian communities (256 times by the GA and 17 by the Security Council). Neither body has ever used that word in relation to any other country with settlers in occupied territory.
Our findings don’t merely quantify the U.N.’s double standard. The evidence shows that the organization’s claim to represent the interest of international justice is hollow, because the U.N. has no interest in battling injustice unless Israel is the country accused.
At a time of serious global crises—from a disintegrating Middle East to a land war and belligerent occupation in Europe—the leaders of the free world cannot afford to tempt the U.N. into indulging its obsessions. Especially when the apparent consequence of such scapegoating is that the organization ignores other situations and people in desperate need of attention.
Mr. Kontorovich, a professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, heads the international law department at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a think tank where Ms. Grunseid is a researcher.