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Diplomatic Battle Under Way at U.N. to Block Resolution Elevating PLO

November 29, 1989
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A diplomatic battle is being waged to block the adoption of any General Assembly draft resolution that would upgrade the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s U.N. observer mission to that of an observer state.

The United States is leading the fight against elevating the PLO’s status and has threatened to withhold its contribution to the United Nations headquarters budget if such a resolution were to be adopted.

The current situation appears to be one of the rare occasions in the United Nations when the United States and Israel have found a number of allies for its stand against the PLO among European and non-aligned nations.

Western European countries, developing nations and even some in Arab nations oppose upgrading the PLO’s status, according to officials here, including Israel’s Ambassador Johanan Bein.

Bein said that he is “optimistic” that General Assembly action on such a resolution can be forestalled. “I hope that it will not come up for a vote, but if there is a vote, it will be defeated,” he said.

If a resolution is brought to the floor, Israeli officials are pinning their hopes on the fact that fear of losing U.S. funding will influence many countries to vote against it.

The United States is responsible for paying 25 percent of the United Nations annual budget, although it presently owes the international organization more than $800 million in arrears.


Two General Assembly draft resolutions addressing the issue are said to be circulating among diplomats. One resolution contains stronger language than the second, but both clearly recognize the PLO leadership as the government of “the State of Palestine.”

Diplomats say they expect Arab leaders to decide Wednesday whether they intend to press for either of the resolutions in the face of U.S. opposition. The matter will be discussed then at an Arab League meeting in Tunisia.

But the timing of such a scenario would be tricky, as the General Assembly debate on the “Question of Palestine” is set for Wednesday and Thursday.

In Rome, the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization was also expected to vote Wednesday on an equally controversial resolution, which would not only recognize the PLO as representing a Palestinian state, but would consider the organization an official channel for humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Tuesday that U.S. pressure “within the Arab group and other delegations” regarding both the General Assembly and FAO resolutions is continuing.

Tutwiler’s statement Monday threatening to cut off U.S. funding to the United Nations won praise from the leadership of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

A letter signed by Seymour Reich and Malcolm Hoenlein, respectively the chairman and executive director of the Conference of Presidents, said the U.S. position “sends a powerful signal to the PLO, and also to the members of the U.N. themselves, that our country will not permit the U.N. to be converted into a forum for PLO propaganda and will resist any effort to alter the status of the PLO into that of a state.”


However, U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar implicitly criticized the U.S. position Tuesday.

The secretary-general “considers that the contribution of the United States to the (U.N.) budget is not in any way linked to anything that happens in the General Assembly, but that it is an obligation under the (U.N.) Charter,” Perez de Cuellar’s spokesman said at a briefing here.

As the diplomats wrangled behind the scenes over the PLO resolution, the spotlight on the Arab-Israeli conflict shone on the General Assembly floor as well.

More than 40 countries took the podium in the General Assembly hall to address the agenda item titled “The Situation in the Middle East.”

As expected, most of the delegates delivered stinging denunciations of Israeli policies and practices, and praised the PLO.

Virtually all endorsed the idea of an international peace conference to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, and a few specifically attacked the Israeli peace initiative as being irrelevant and useless.

Typical of the strongest rhetoric were the remarks of Saudi Arabia’s representative, who referred to the danger of “networks of Zionist influence in some world capitals.”

Syria’s representative termed Israel “a racist settler-colonialist entity and an active force against peace and security in the Middle East.”

Ambassador Bein of Israel dismissed the General Assembly speeches as “the usual repetition of empty slogans.”

(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

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