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Israel Braces for Difficult Term As U.N. General Assembly Begins

September 14, 2004
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If recent events are any indication of what’s to come at the 2004 U.N. General Assembly, Israel had better brace itself. With the three-month session officially starting Tuesday, Israel advocates are preparing for the traditional batch of some 20 anti-Israel resolutions — in addition to several new ones.

Despite the fact that the United Nations this summer hosted its first ever large-scale event to address growing worldwide anti-Semitism, observers say little has come of it.

Instead, pro-Israel advocates say they are particularly worried about the Palestinians aim to capitalize on the July opinion of the International Court of Justice at the Hague, which advised Israel to dismantle the parts of its security barrier that cut into Palestinian territory and compensate Palestinians impeded by it.

Israel and American Jewish groups are lobbying U.N. member countries to prevent the issue from reaching or gaining passage at the U.N.! Security Council, the only U.N. body with the power to impose sanctions.

Israel’s backers are urging members of the General Assembly, a body of 191 countries, to resist the usual habit of trouncing en masse on the Jewish state.

In addition, Jewish groups hope that a resolution condemning anti-Semitism that was withdrawn last year due to lack of support will be reintroduced.

While this year’s session was opening Tuesday, with an address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the general debate begins on Sept. 21, with world leaders, including U.S. and Israeli officials, slated to address the assembly next week.

Jewish observers say it’s hard to predict what might transpire during the coming session.

According to Amy Goldstein, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International, it could turn into either one of the worst sessions or one of the best.

“It could stand out as one of the worst sessions in the U.N. for Israel if the Palestinians decide to try to i! solate Israel in the international community even further by seeking t o continue this charade of a parallel with South Africa, or it could be a landmark year for the Jewish people with the passage of a stand-alone resolution condemning anti-Semitism as called for by the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan,” at the U.N. conference on anti-Semitism this summer.

Two events this summer indicate that the Palestinians are hoping for the former, and could be especially aggressive in pursuing their aims.

At a meeting of the Palestine committee of the United Nations, the Palestinian U.N. representative, Nasser Al-Kidwa, underscored what he called the centrality of the Hague opinion.

Jewish officials said Al-Kidwa called it the most important U.N. resolution since the 1947 U.N. partition plan, which begot the Jewish state.

The Palestinian campaign for the International Court to rule on the issue led to lukewarm passage of a General Assembly resolution requesting it. Ultimately, however, it led to much stronger passage, with a vote of 150 to 6! , with 10 abstentions, of a resolution demanding Israel’s compliance with the opinion.

This session, the Palestinians are expected to continue the effort, by calling on the General Assembly again to demand compliance and asking the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Israel.

Meanwhile, an August meeting in South Africa of the Non-Aligned Movement — a group of 115 developing countries — resulted in a resolution to boycott products from West Bank and Gaza settlements and block Jews who live there from travel in their countries.

A similar push could be made in the General Assembly, according to a U.N. diplomat who asked not to be identified.

And Palestinians may repeat their effort to limit Israel’s U.N. credentials to its pre-1967 borders, and give Palestinians the right to represent the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem.

The United States is hoping to decrease the number of anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. officials sa! y.

The U.S. State Department, in fact, lists fair treatment of Is rael at U.N. forums among its five foreign policy priorities at the United Nations.

But some Jewish officials say that growing anti-Americanism around the world may make that effort more challenging.

Israel advocates are mainly focused on preventing a resolution on Israel’s security barrier from gaining nine affirmative votes at the 15-member U.N. Security Council. Such a scenario would require a veto from one of the five permanent members — and if it does, they are banking on the United States.

The United States has not made a public statement on what its position would be should the matter come to the Security Council, according to U.S. officials.

But the officials said they were taking the matter seriously.

“We will not only look at it closely, but act appropriately if necessary,” he said.

It is not clear that European countries — who wrestled with their General Assembly vote demanding Israeli compliance with the ICJ opinion — would support a U.N. Se! curity Council resolution on the issue.

“It’s a difficult situation for the Europeans, and it also sets a precedent,” said another U.N. official, referring to laws that could entangle the court in internal matters of national defense. “I think a lot of countries don’t want to go there.”

Furthermore, Israel is already rerouting its barrier in light of its own Supreme Court ruling, which said the path caused hardship to Palestinians.

Another priority of American Jewish groups is winning passage of a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in the wake of this summer’s conference.

Ireland, which sponsored last year’s failed version, may be sponsoring the resolution again this year, said a U.N. official.

The Irish Mission to the United Nations did not return a call seeking comment.

Due to last year’s failure, some groups are discussing a three-pronged approach — designating one resolution apiece to condemn bigotry against Muslims, Christians and Jews.

“It’s ob! viously not the most desirable option,” due to “pitfalls like two of t hem passing and the third failing,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Jewish groups are seeking the same language used in a resolution passed at an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conference on anti-Semitism in Berlin in the spring.

That conference declared “unambiguously that international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.”

They are discussing linking the resolution to a U.N. exhibit on the 60th anniversary of liberating the concentration camps, which falls next year, Hoenlein said.

But many predict that Arab countries, which thwarted last year’s resolution, will try to water down this one into a universal resolution blasting bigotry of all forms.

Annan, at the anti-Semitism conference in July, called on his U.N. human rights monitors to do a better job reporting anti-S! emitic incidents, including unfair treatment of Israel.

But five days later, each of the U.N.’s 35 special human rights monitors signed a statement condemning Israel — the first joint statement against a specific country, said Eve Epstein, vice president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a New York-based think tank.

Still, Jewish officials say there is room for optimism.

For one, Palestinian leaders recently received substantial criticism at the U.N. Security Council in a report from U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larson, who blasted them for failing to bring about order in the Palestinian Authority.

At the same time, Israel has won plaudits by Annan for its Gaza disengagement plan, which calls for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and some settlements on the West Bank.

At the end of the day, much of the action will hinge on the facts on the ground, say observers.

“If there were movement on the disengagement plan in Israel, that cou! ld be seen as an effort toward peace” and might “change the tenor at t he U.N. to being less combative toward Israel,” said Shelley Klein, director of advocacy for Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

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