Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Warns That U.S. Defense of Israel at U.N. May Change
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Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Warns That U.S. Defense of Israel at U.N. May Change

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No matter what kind of anti-Israel resolutions Arab countries bring to the U.N. Security Council, the Jewish state can almost always count on the United States for support.

But that soon could change, says Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

In a conference call Wednesday with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ambassador Dan Gillerman said he fears the United States may seek to curry favor with the Arab world by backing future resolutions that pressure Israel — for example, demanding Israel implement the “road map” peace plan or stop building its West Bank security fence.

One resolution on the fence already is in the works. At Syria’s request, the Security Council will meet Friday to discuss a Palestinian-drafted resolution calling for the elimination of Israel’s security fence. It will be the first time the Security Council will be meeting to discuss the matter.

Since Security Council resolutions technically are binding, Gillerman said, a refusal by Israel to implement them would put the Jewish state in violation of the council. Such a move could have negative public-relations implications, but it would not jeopardize Israel’s U.N. status or put it at risk of retaliatory measures.

But the public-relations fallout could be significant.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents, said that if Israel violates the Security Council, the Jewish state “becomes Iraq” — that is, Israel could be labeled, like Iraq, as a rogue nation.

Unlike Israel, Iraq’s violations of Security Council resolutions resulted in sanctions because the international body dealt with Iraq under a separate U.N. legal provision.

Gillerman said a resolution mandating implementation of the road map could “change the rules of the game” by transferring leadership on the peace plan away from the U.S. to the diplomatic “Quartet” — the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia — that devised the plan. The Quartet generally is seen as less sympathetic to Israel’s concerns than the United States.

The Security Council might “take over and hijack the road map,” Gillerman told Jewish leaders on the conference call, which included JTA. He said the United Nations is a biased entity that tilts wildly in favor of the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials could not be reached for comment.

But it’s precisely assessments of the world body like Gillerman’s that gives some Jewish leaders a different impression of the situation.

Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, thinks the United Nations’ bias on Middle East issues undercuts the credibility of its resolutions — even when they win U.S. support.

“When it comes in a U.N. context, the place where Israel is consistently battered year in and year out, then the currency is minimal because of the place where it comes from,” Mariaschin said.

The United States has served as a safeguard against that bias.

Last month, the United States vetoed a proposed Security Council resolution calling on Israel to desist from “removing” Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, also indicated that he will use U.S. veto power again if Syria puts forth a resolution condemning Israel’s airstrike on Sunday in Syria.

After two vetoes, however, the Americans may feel like they “have to give something to the Arab side,” Gillerman said. “The fence and the Quartet may be easy things to give.”

An Israeli U.N. official said Gillerman’s assessment is based on information from diplomatic sources, including Arabs and Europeans.

In the meantime, diplomatic sources say Syria is adjusting a resolution it proposed Sunday criticizing Israel’s airstrike earlier that day on an Islamic Jihad training base near Damascus. Syrian representatives could not be reached for comment.

The airstrike in Syria came after a deadly suicide bombing in Haifa carried out by Islamic Jihad, which is based in Syria. The bombing killed 20 people.

The Syrian resolution, deemed too one-sided by most members of the Security Council, now includes amendments by France and Spain that condemn terrorism. Syria, however, does not consider attacks on Israel to be terrorism.

Officials say the United States prefers that the United Nations steer clear of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

No resolutions “impact positively on what’s going on on the ground in the region,” a U.S. official told JTA. Israel and the Palestinian Authority need to come together to negotiate on the road map plan directly, he said.

Still, the official said, even a watered-down version of Syria’s resolution on the airstrike won’t pass unless it meets the “Negroponte Doctrine.”

Last year, Negroponte, who currently holds the rotating Security Council presidency, said the United States would veto any resolution on the Middle East that doesn’t contain a denunciation of terrorism, explicit condemnation of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aksa Brigade, and a call to destroy terrorist groups’ infrastructure.

Another U.S. official said he was not aware of any existing or pending U.N. resolutions that would press for implementation of the road map or strengthen the Quartet’s diplomatic role. He refused to comment on what America’s position might be if a resolution on either of those issues were to come to the fore.

As for the draft resolution on the fence, he said, “We’re studying it.”

As recently as last weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell blasted the fence in an interview with the Washington Post. “We have made it clear that the fence . . . is a problem,” he said.

“If you want to put a fence on something that is a recognized border, the ‘Green Line’ ” — the boundary that divides Israel proper from the West Bank, captured from Jordan in 1967 — “then put a fence on your property line. But the more you intrude in Palestinian areas and the more it looks like it could be contiguous intrusion around large sections of Palestinian land that would prejudge subsequent negotiations as to what a Palestinian state may look like, that’s a problem.”

The “Green Line,” which was established as the armistice line between Israel and Jordan at the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, is not a recognized international boundary.

In any case, many Jewish observers are not as alarmist about developments at the United Nations as Israel’s U.N. ambassador.

“The U.S. wants to avoid using its veto as much as it can” because it isolates both Israel and the United States, observed Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

However, he said, “at the end of the day, the United States will not permit Israel to stand alone in a situation” where Israel would be considered in breach of the Security Council.

“We always have to be concerned, but I’m not worried,” Foxman said.

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