News Analysis: Moving U.N. Session to Geneva May Be Mixed Blessing for Israel

The Security Council’s decision late Tuesday night to convene a special session of the council at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva came as somewhat of a relief to Israel and American Jewish organizations concerned about the possibility of a visit to the United States by Yasir Arafat.

The 22 Arab nations of the world body had requested that the Palestine Liberation Organization leader be allowed to come to New York to participate in an emergency debate on the current violence in the administered territories, following the killing of seven Palestinians by a lone Israeli gunman said to be mentally unstable.

But the mood in Jewish circles was far from celebratory, as worries persisted as to whether the United States would make concessions to the Arab bloc at the Geneva session, which is set for Friday.

“I wouldn’t call this a victory,” Johanan Bein, Israel’s acting U.N. ambassador, said of the decision to move the Security Council session. “What should have been decided is that Arafat is not coming here and that the debate will go on without him.”

In Jerusalem, officials reacted coldly to the news that the Security Council had decided to meet in Geneva. The Prime Minister’s Office said it expected the session would be used as a forum for verbal incitement against Israel.

The U.S. government sidestepped a major confrontation with Israel and backlash from the American Jewish community by apparently convincing Arafat not to formally apply for a visa.

STATE DEPARTMENT DENIES TRADE-OFF

But Jewish groups expressed concern Wednesday that the United States may view Arab proposals in Geneva more favorably because of Arafat’s cooperation.

“While we are pleased that Arafat is not coming to the United States, we are concerned about what the trade-off might be,” said William Rapfogel, executive director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that as part of the agreement to move the Security Council meeting to Geneva, the United States said it would try to convince Israel to allow a U.N. team to be sent to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem to investigate alleged mistreatment of Palestinians.

In Washington, the State Department categorically denied the report. “There was no deal other than the agreement that we would not oppose moving the session to Geneva,” said a State Department official who asked not to be identified.

But concern intensified here and in Israel when Secretary of State James Baker told a White House news conference Wednesday that the United States is “prepared to discuss the question of a U.N. observer team” should the subject be raised at the Security Council session in Geneva.

In Jerusalem, political observers said that if the United States in any way seemed to endorse such a move, it would spark a grave deterioration in U.S.-Israel relations.

The observers said that if Baker’s remark did reflect policy in Washington, it would be interpreted in Jerusalem and elsewhere as a pointed message of serious U.S. dissatisfaction with Israel.

In New York, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said it would be “most unfortunate” if such a proposal were to go forward in Geneva, because “it cannot be implemented and it is not necessary.”

International observers are not needed in the territories, because “the territories are open,” he said. “Journalists and diplomats can go see the situation for themselves.”

The proposal, he said, “is something that we think ought not be considered.”

(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents David Friedman in Washington and David Landau in Jerusalem.)

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