U.N. Orders Israel to Withdraw, but Pressure is Seen As Muted

Israel credits the United States for preventing the U.N. Security Council from taking more forceful action against the Israeli incursion into Palestinian-ruled areas of the West Bank.

Meeting Oct. 26, the Security Council chose not to debate a resolution seeking Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, and instead issued a news release supporting U.S. and other international pressure on Israel.

“Members supported statements in capitals calling for immediate withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Area A,” Security Council President Richard Ryan of Ireland said, referring to Palestinian-controlled territory on the West Bank. “Members fully supported the important diplomatic initiatives to de-escalate the situation on the ground.”

The United States may have been trying to avoid placing additional attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while it pursues its war on terror in Afghanistan.

A U.S. veto of a Security Council resolution condemning Israel would not have sat well with Arab states, whom the Bush administration is courting for its anti-terrorism coalition.

The statement is considered the weakest of the options the Security Council had at its disposal — thanks, Israeli officials say, to the Americans.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, said he believes there is a consensus that the Security Council should speak out.

“I think this represents an endorsement of the diplomatic efforts that are being taken on the ground, in the region, and that were reported to the Council this afternoon,” Negroponte said. “So I think it is a strong endorsement of the diplomatic efforts that are under way, and we’ll have to see what happens now.”

If the council had voted on a resolution condemning Israeli incursions, the United States likely would have vetoed it, sources said. The fact that the process did not get that far was considered a victory for the Jewish state and a show of U.S.-Israeli unity in a week of strained relations.

A State Department spokesman had called Oct. 15 for Israel to withdraw “immediately” from all Palestinian- controlled areas, increasing pressure on Israel to retreat from portions of the West Bank it invaded after the assassination of an Israeli minister by Palestinian terrorists on Oct. 17.

Israeli forces took their first steps toward following U.S. and international pressure Oct. 18, when they left the village of Beit Rima.

“Israel said all along that it has no intention of remaining in Area A,” the Israeli spokesman said. “The reason we went in is because the Palestinian Authority did not do what it was supposed to and what it committed itself to.”

On Sunday, Israeli officials decided to withdraw troops from Bethlehem despite two Palestinian terror attacks that day in which five Israelis were killed.

After the killing of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat said he would arrest members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which took credit for the assassination. Israel said Arafat’s efforts were half-hearted, however, and ceased as soon as international pressure eased.

Several Israeli diplomats were greeted warmly as they visited Washington this week, but U.S. rhetoric remained consistent — Israel should pull out from Palestinian territory.

Still, the United States was able to thwart Palestinian Authority attempts to manipulate the situation to its advantage, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

“The United Nations’ role in their game plan for pressuring Israel was to convince someone in the media that there were massacres” during the Israeli incursions, Cooper said. “They wanted to get an actual resolution with teeth, force the United States to veto, and show their political muscle.”

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