Muskie Says U.S. Abstention Was ‘positive Act Explains Why
Menu JTA Search

Muskie Says U.S. Abstention Was ‘positive Act Explains Why

Download PDF for this date

Secretary of State Edmund Muskie said that the U.S. abstention on the Security Council resolution of June 30 condemning Israel for its activities in Jerusalem was “a positive, not a negative act.” He said he wished “there was another way” of contending with UN resolutions that “under mine” the Comp David process.

Muskie made his remarks to reporters after a long conference at the White House late Monday following the Security Council vote and against the background of angry protests from American Jewish leaders and others who felt the U.S. should have vetoed the resolution.

The Secretary of State equated the series of seven anti-Israel-actions by the Security Council over the past four months with “unilateral acts by the parties themselves.” While he did not mention Israel, the reference seemed to apply to Israel since the U.S. has not at any time blamed Egypt for “unilateral acts.”

Muskie told reporters that the Jerusalem issue “was discussed very thoroughly with the President and other advisors” before the UN vote. “We are being faced constantly with these resolutions in the United Nations whose effect is — whether intentional or not — to undermine the negotiations now going on — the Camp David process. They are not constructive in the sense that they do not substitute for the process. They divert attention from it. They undertake to prejudge actions by the parties themselves. They undertake to prejudge some of the issues which will be negotiated or scheduled. They have the same effect as unilateral actions by the parties themselves,” he said.


Muskie contended that “the only way” to keep the Camp David process going “is by abstention” on such resolutions. “We ought not be diverted,” he said. When a reporter asked whether the Knesset Legal Committee’s approval this week of a motion affirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a “unilateral act” of the kind to which he referred, he replied, “I have indicated all unilateral actions and I don’t exclude any having that effect.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency asked the Secretary, “Why is it so impossible for the U.S. to be able to say to the world, we defend democracy; Israel is a democracy, the only one in the Middle East and Jerusalem is its capital, and we recognize that?” Muskie replied, “We’ve said it many times. I’ve said it many times. This Administration has said it many times. The question assumes a condition that doesn’t exist.”

When the JTA asked why it wasn’t said at the UN Monday, he responded: “One of the problems of these resolutions is that we are asked to repeat rhetoric over and over again. What we’re trying to do is to get away” from such rhetoric. “That does nothing but create sometimes emotional responses, divisiveness, diversionary actions. What we’re trying to do is to get down to the nitty gritty of the issues which stand between us and peace in the Middle East. Now you can embroider it with all the rhetoric that you want, but the issue and the problem has been surrounded by rhetoric for almost 40 years now, and the only real effort to get down to the nitty gritty has been the Camp David process.”

He added, “You cannot do it (solve the Arab-Israeli conflict) by the succession of resolutions in the UN which consume energy, which confuse issues, which ask us to prejudge issues that are going to be negotiated. That’s my point. And abstention is the only way that we can make our point clearly. I wish there was some other way. What I am saying is that in this context abstention is a positive act.”


In a telegram to the White House, sent before the UN vote, Howard Squadron, incoming chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, had urge the U.S. to veto the resolution. The failure to veto this is a failure to defend the Camp David accords,” he said. Later, the outgoing chairman of the Presidents Conference, Theodore Mann, expressed “disappointment and dismay” that the U.S. abstained from but did not veto the resolution. “Instead of abstaining from the latest attempt to settle the Arab-Israel conflict by UN action rather than by face-to-face negotiations, (UN) Ambassador (Donald) McHenry should have been instructed to cast a veto,” Mann said.

Jack Spitzer, president of B’nai B’rith, also criticized the U.S. abstention. Asserting that the Security Council vote shows that the Council “is less concerned about peace in the Middle East than it is about developing Israel as a scapegoat,” Spitzer contended that a U.S. veto “would have been the only appropriate response.”

The Jewish Labor Committee in New York sent President Carter a telegram today expressing,” shock and dismay that the Administration abstained instead of vetoed the resolution. “The issue is not really Jerusalem but caving in to OPEC threats and PLO terrorism,” the JLC said.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund