NEWS ANALYSIS U.N. session targets Israel, revives concern about bias

NEW YORK, July 15 (JTA) — Long-held cynicism about the United Nations and its ability to be fair was reinvigorated this week as the General Assembly reconvened an emergency session targeted at Israel. “The U.N. is reverting to its Cold War role as an Israel-bashing forum,” Harris Schoenberg, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International, offered as the world body prepared to debate Israel’s construction of the controversial Har Homa housing project. “The distortion, the hatred, the insult and the injury go well beyond what is warranted,” he wrote prior to Tuesday’s session. Even before the debate concluded, it was nearly certain that a U.N. resolution condemning Israel would be adopted overwhelmingly. The session provided stark evidence of the demise of the Middle East peace process. It also underscored Israel’s increasing international isolation after an anomalous warming of relations in the wake of the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian peace accords. David Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, who has been pressing European U.N. diplomats to vote against the resolution, sounded a note similar to Schoenberg’s. “Treating Israel as a political football, to be kicked around at will, does not bring credit to the world organization struggling to reform itself and re-establish its credibility,” he said in a statement. In an interview, he added, “The U.N. attitude improves when Israel is forthcoming on the peace process. The moment there is a breakdown in the process, there’s a reflexive assumption the breakdown is a result of an Israeli action or inaction.” In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also denigrated the U.N. action. “While thousands or hundreds of thousands are dying in various wars or disasters in the world,” he was quoted as saying, “the United Nations chooses to discuss two or three bulldozers that are building apartments for tranquil citizens in Jerusalem.” The stepped-up isolation of the Jewish state is further evident in the resistance expressed by many nations to attend the Middle East regional economic conference in the Gulf nation of Qatar because of Israel’s participation. Both Israel and the United States have placed a lot of stock in the regional economic dividends the conference, the fourth of its kind, was expected to yield. On Tuesday afternoon, members of the U.N. General Assembly began debating a non-binding, Arab-sponsored resolution calling for economic sanctions against “illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem.” The resolution came in response to recent findings issued by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Israel had failed to stop the construction of the Har Homa housing project at a site in southeastern Jerusalem. That construction triggered a crisis in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking along with Arab unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While Israel sees Har Homa as part of its undivided capital of Jerusalem, Palestinians view the area as part of the capital of their hoped-for state. Annan issued the report following an unusual emergency session the General Assembly convened in April. At that time, members condemned the construction plan and demanded an immediate halt, adopting a non-binding resolution to that effect by a vote of 134-3. Israel, the United States and Micronesia opposed the resolution; 11 nations abstained. Israel termed the secretary’s report “one-sided and hostile” and protested the session, reiterating that its dispute with the Palestinians should be resolved bilaterally and not in the U.N. arena. The convening of an emergency special session “is an extreme measure intended for use only in the exceptional cases of direct `threats to international peace and security,’ ” an official Israeli statement said. “By no means does the Jerusalem housing project constitute such a threat.” An earlier draft of this week’s resolution suggested that Israel’s U.N. participation be curtailed, while the final draft debated Tuesday was softened, only hinting at such action in the future. At the session, the newly installed Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold, took the offensive. In his first speech in that post, Gold chronicled a litany of violations committed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in the agreements he has made with Israel. He assailed Arafat for not completing the revision of the Palestinian National Covenant; for repeatedly cutting off security cooperation; for not terminating “incitement to violence”; for not carrying out “a systematic and effective combating of terrorist organizations”; for not transferring terrorist suspects; and for not confiscating illegal arms, among other violations. “In short, while Israel has met all of its commitments, the PLO has met none of its obligations,” he said. Gold also accused the United Nations of “turning back the clock decades” and of undermining the peace process by holding the session as it enters “its most critical phase.” “To the Palestinian side, it is the clearest of messages that the United Nations is a convenient and willing forum for bypassing the peace process. “And to Israel, it sends the troubling message that taking serious security risks for peace, as Israel has done in every one of its agreements with the PLO, are concessions which are quickly forgotten.” He called on the international community to support “the agreed framework for negotiations and to encourage compliance by both sides.” For his part, Nasser Al-Kidwa, the representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, greeted the session as “a victory for right, justice and the collective will of the international community” and proof that “no country is above international law.” He was also unequivocal in leveling his blame, saying it was “the official Israeli policies that are destroying the peace process.” He cited “the vicious colonial settlement campaign and the attempts to judaize Jerusalem” and to change its status quo. He said the Israeli government is motivated by the political plan to “forcibly acquire more Palestinian land” for the purpose of “ensuring the prevention of the realization of Palestinian national rights.” There have been reports that the United States was not willing to invest as much diplomatic capital as it has in the past to lobby nations against the U.N. measure. But Israeli and other sources said that, in fact, the United States was making an effort to exert a moderating influence.

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