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Israel returns to U.N. for terror debate

NEW YORK, Sept. 25 (JTA) — As a growing chorus of Arab and Muslim leaders here and around with world blame the Sept. 11 assault on U.S. support for Israel, pro-Israel activists are preparing to return to what has historically been an anti-Israel arena, the United Nations.

The world body was scheduled to reconvene for general debate of the General Assembly on Sept. 24, but canceled that session following the terrorist hijackings.

While the official start has now been pushed back to some time in November, the Sept. 11 attacks and anticipation of U.S.-led retaliation spurred the United Nations to move up its annual debate on terrorism to start on Oct. 1.

And Israel, which after Sept. 11 expected a groundswell of sympathy for its own campaign against terrorists, may find itself under rhetorical assault.

However, criticism of Israel may be less virulent because animus against the Arab world has increased in the weeks since the attacks.

The Arab world is trying to deflect attention from the Middle Eastern background of the hijackers and their alleged accomplices, say Jewish observers.

The U.N. special session will likely feature debate of “What is terrorism?” And a bloc of six Gulf Arab states — most prominently, Saudi Arabia — announced this week they will support the coalition only if action were also taken against Israel and its “terrorism” against the Palestinians.

“If they say Israel conducts terrorism, it wouldn’t be smart because it would backlash against them,” an Israeli diplomatic source told JTA.

“We would blame each and every one of them of supporting terrorism. We would not leave any stone unturned.”

Israel, said the Israeli diplomat, will trot out something along the lines of the definition of the Mitchell Commission, a U.S.-led mission that earlier this year analyzed the causes of ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence.

“Terrorism involves the deliberate killing and injuring of randomly selected noncombatants for political ends,” the Mitchell report says.

“It seeks to promote a political outcome by spreading terror and demoralization throughout a population.”

The Arab world is expected to distinguish between “good terrorism” and “bad terrorism”: Their traditional argument is that anti-Israel attacks are a function of the Palestinian liberation movement.

At least for now, the United States appears to be backing off its earlier vow to wipe out terrorism around the globe.

President Bush, in his Sept. 20 address to the nation, said the coalition would snuff out only those terrorist networks with “global reach.”

Some analysts suspect that was veiled assurance to the Arab world in order to convince more states in the region to join Bush’s coalition, that the purveyors of terror in Israel had nothing to fear from Washington.

For Israel, adding insult to injury is that Syria is virtually assured of being elected soon to a two-year term on the U.N. Security Council.

The U.S. State Department lists Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism, and Israel accuses Damascus of supporting Hezbollah, the Islamic militants freely operating across Israel’s northern border in southern Lebanon.

Yet, Syria is the selected candidate of the “Asia Group” — which is Israel’s natural geographic home and denies membership to the Jewish state.

Syria needs a majority of votes within the 189-member U.N. General Assembly, which is dominated by Arab and Muslim member-states.

Elections have yet to be scheduled, but are traditionally held in mid- October with the two-year term commencing Jan. 1.

Led by permanent members China, Russia, France, Great Britain and the United States, each Security Council member is entrusted to maintain international peace and security; investigate and recommend methods for resolving international disputes, like economic sanctions or military action; and authorize the use of military actions against aggressors.

Having Syria render such judgment “is like appointing Al Capone to be chief of police,” said an Israeli diplomat.

The imminent election of Syria, at least in the eyes of Washington and Jerusalem, will extend the world body’s recent slide into disrepute.

But Syria’s election to the Security Council appears to be a fait accompli.

First came the U.S. ouster in May from the U.N. Commission on Human Rights; Sudan, which permits one of the world’s last remaining slave trades to thrive within its borders, joined a commission already populated by notorious human rights abusers like Syria, Cuba and China.

Then came the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, recently hosted by Durban, South Africa.

The Palestinians and their allies in the Middle East and Third World successfully rammed through a declaration approved by nongovernmental organizations that indicted Israel for “ethnic cleansing,” “genocide,” “racism,” and “apartheid.”

The document called for the extreme isolation of Israel, identical to the international sanctions slapped on South Africa during its apartheid era.

The United States and Israel soon walked out, and mounting disgust among other Westerners with the conference’s “hijacking” prevented an equally harsh denunciation of Israel in the governmental declaration.

Coming out of Durban, American Jewish activists predicted an all-out diplomatic offensive by pro-Palestinian forces to implement a “South Africa” strategy against Israel.

But Sept. 11 appears to have knocked the wind from those sails. Jewish activists and Israeli diplomats say they detect more muted behavior.

And it’s not surprising: It would be less than convincing, they say, for anyone to take the U.N. dais and paint Israel as the world’s greatest evil when so much of the world now believes that mantle belongs to the perpetrators of the World Trade Center atrocity.

“Obviously, life has changed, so the Palestinians will have to play things a little differently,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“But, will they try to pull the same stuff against Israel that they always pull? Yes. Do I think it will be relevant to the overall discussion? No.”

It would be easy for Jewish activists to dismiss the world body as blatantly biased against Israel, widely discredited and disregarded in the United States, and therefore, not worthwhile having relations with.

But the fact remains that much of the globe does look to the United Nations as a moral authority on a vast array of issues.

The United Nations itself, led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, maintains that it can be a key figure in bringing about Middle East peace.

And on Monday, Annan, bolstered by support from Washington and Moscow, said the United Nations would assume a major role in the anti-terrorist coalition. international fight against terrorism.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who a few short weeks ago in Durban accused the United Nations of hosting an “anti-racism conference that is itself racist,” agrees that the world body should participate.

“The United States cannot act alone and expect to prevail in this long- term, painful struggle against international terrorism,” Lantos, the top Democrat on the International Relations Committee, was quoted as saying.

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