GENEVA (May. 28)
In a policy shift, the United States blocked the U.N. Security Council over the weekend from sending a team of U.N. observers to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But the matter is expected to come up again when the Security Council reconvenes Tuesday at U.N. headquarters in New York.
In an extraordinary move, the council convened here last Friday so that it could hear an address by Yasir Arafat. In his speech, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader urged the United Nations to dispatch a full-scale international observer force to monitor conditions in the Israeli-administered territories and “protect the Palestinian inhabitants.”
The United States initially expressed support here for the more limited plan of sending observers to the territories on a temporary basis. Its U.N. representative, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, on Friday told delegates of the 14 other nations serving on the council that Washington would try to obtain Israel’s acceptance of the plan.
But Pickering apparently had received new instructions by Saturday, when he told the council that because the United States had failed to win Israel’s assent, it could no longer back the plan.
Pickering, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, did not formally address the council. But U.S. activity behind the scenes prevented the council from taking what the American delegate called “hasty action,” according to diplomatic sources here.
U.N. sources said informal discussions were being held now in an effort to reach a consensus decision in New York.
One possibility is that U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar could be asked to appoint a special envoy to try to advance the Middle East peace process and to report on the local situation in the territories. That would fall far short of the PLO’s request to station a U.N. force there.
MIGHT BACK FACT-FINDING MISSION
U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, appearing Sunday in Washington on the CBS-TV talk show “Face the Nation,” said, “We would support an investigative mission sent by the secretary-general of the United Nations to go check on the situation in the territories and report back.”
Israel has rejected the idea of any sort of U.N. force in the territories as an infringement on its sovereignty.
“Such forces are not bringing peace, they are causing tension,” acting Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Sunday in an appearance on the ABC-TV program “This Week with David Brinkley.”
But Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told the council here Friday that, as a gesture of good will, Israel might accept a fact-finding mission sent by the secretary-general, as it did in 1988, after the intifada erupted.
Western delegates who asked not to be identified expressed exasperation over the American policy switch and said their governments would let Washington know it.
Western diplomats stressed over the weekend that Israel was becoming increasingly isolated. They pointed to the Security Council’s opposition to Israel’s stance, which would have been unanimous had the United States not changed its position at the last minute.
The Security Council shifted from its usual New York venue to Geneva to enable Arafat to address it without applying for a U.S. visa.
Clad in a khaki uniform with his usual kaffiyeh, the PLO leader appealed for “international protection” for the Palestinians “under the flag of the United Nations.”
Netanyahu described his plea as “words of peace actually preparing for war and aggression.”
That theme was sounded by the American Jewish leadership, which concentrated its attacks over the weekend on Arafat’s U.N. speech and Arab complaints that Soviet Jewish immigrants were moving into the administered territories.
TOUGH WORDS FROM EGYPTIAN
In New York, Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Arafat’s speech “confirms that the PLO goal of destroying Israel remains unchanged,” the only new element being “the demand that Jewish immigration be halted.”
“Arafat’s protestations of peaceful intent will deceive no one,” Reich declared.
Other statements were issued by the American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and Na’amat USA, the Women’s Labor Zionist Organization of America.
Arafat told a news conference here Saturday that he was “not threatening war” but “warning about it, as a very explosive and dangerous situation is building up in the occupied territories.”
One of the most aggressive speeches delivered at the Security Council session was by the Egyptian delegate, Nabil el-Arabi, who called for the right of the Palestinians to return to their homeland. He maintained that “immigration for (Soviet) Jews and return (for Palestinians) are two sides of the same coin.”
Netanyahu retorted that of tens of thousands of new immigrants who have arrived in Israel, only about 200 have settled in the administered territories.
(JTA correspondents Edwin Eytan in Paris and David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)