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State Department Being Pressed to Explain U.S. Vote in the UN

The State Department is hard-pressed to explain convincingly why the United States agreed in the UN Security Council to censure Israel less than two weeks after President Ford was telling American voters his Administration was supporting Israel in every way and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger said only a few days ago he would not “preempt” the incoming Carter Administration in the transition period.

The Department is explaining that the Council’s condemnation of Israel for its settlements in administered areas and other policies is a “consensus statement” and not a “resolution” and therefore it is not binding on any country. This explanation was questioned by reporters as a distinction without a difference in the anti-Israeli impact it is designed to make on Western public opinion by Israel’s enemies.

The “resolution” and “statement” argument was offered by State Department spokesman Robert Funseth when he was asked Friday why the U.S. had blocked similar Soviet-Arab proposals in the Council last March and May.

He pointed out that those resolutions called on Israel to “rescind” those policies while the “statement” said “refrain.” Also, he said, no country is named as “profaning holy places.” Since Israel alone is in control of the Holy Land, reporters were mystified as to what other country could be involved in the Department’s explanation about “profaning” in the statement.

REFLECTS PREVIOUS U.S. POSITION

As for Kissinger’s pledge not to “prempt” before the Ford Administration leaves office Jan. 20, Funseth explained that the Administration is still the government and has “responsibility.” Since the censure was deliberately delayed from presentation in the Council by its backers during the election campaign, Funseth was asked whether the U.S. would have agreed to it two weeks ago.

He claimed it would have, contending the statement reflects the U.S. “previous position” and “we consistently held to that.” This “consistency” was questioned by reporters who wanted to know how it was logical that the position was consistent when for five years the U.S. had resisted such condemnation in the Council and this was the first time the U.S. agreed to it. Early this year, William Scranton, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, criticized Israel’s policy of establishing settlements in the administered territories as an obstacle to Mideast peace.

Funseth would not discuss a question on whether the U.S. delegation at the UN was divided on the position it had taken. He pointed out that the delegation received its instructions from the Department. The question arose because one U.S. delegate, Albert W. Sherer, publicly acknowledged its unfairness. He told the Council: “The criticism of Israel which dominated these proceedings has been largely one-sided and excessive.”

THREE REASONS FOR U.S. STAND

The U.S. agreement to join with the 14 other Council members last Thursday to condemn Israel at this time was seen as based on at least three other reasons. One is that Egypt sponsored the condemnation and Egypt is seeking to regain its leadership in the Arab world. President and Mrs. Sadat both publicly hoped for a Ford victory in the Presidential race. A political “thank you” from Washington was thus in order.

Another factor is that the OPEC nations meet next month on whether to raise oil prices which the importing nations, including those in the Security Council, oppose. Joining them was considered an inexpensive way for the U.S. to show its solidarity both with the importers and the oil-rich Arabs.

A third, more subtle factor, is that Arabists within the U.S. Administration are believed to be bent on recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization, and this was an opportunity to move a step closer towards that goal.

Pro-Israelis, embittered by the U.S. attacks on Israel’s policies in the administered territories last spring, were not mollified by the softening in the latest censure by “consensus.” An Israeli Embassy spokesman said “It is another obstacle to peace. It poisons the atmosphere.” Similar reactions were issued by major Jewish organizations.

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