The U.S. decision not to block a Security Council resolution criticizing Israel’s siege on Yasser Arafat stems from U.S. efforts to build support for an attack on Iraq, Israeli and Jewish officials say.
Israel appreciates the constraints the United States faces as it tries to build an international coalition on Iraq, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yehuda Lancry, said.
“We perfectly understand their stance,” Lancry said. “I think that between allies some kind of understanding should prevail, even in ambiguous situations.”
The United States did help stave off Syria’s scathingly anti-Israel resolution by presenting a draft more positive to Israel and critical of the Palestinians.
When the Europeans presented a compromise, the U.S. ambassador abstained rather than exercise the American veto. The measure passed early Tuesday by a 14-0 vote.
The resolution “demands that Israel immediately cease measures in and around Ramallah, including the destruction of Palestinian civilian and security infrastructure.”
It also “calls on the Palestinian Authority to meet its expressed commitment to ensure that those responsible for terrorist acts are brought to justice by it.”
Israel said after the vote that it was unlikely to honor the resolution — primarily because it is confident that the Palestinian Authority would not fulfill its obligations.
The Anti-Defamation League expressed “extreme dismay at the passage of ‘yet another’ anti-Israel resolution by the United Nations Security Council.”
But Israeli officials and several U.S. Jewish leaders sought to put a brave face on the outcome.
The final resolution has both “positive aspects and some negative ones,” Lancry said.
On the positive side, he said, “is the fact that the Security Council demands that the Palestinian Authority arrest the terrorists and put them on trial. That is quite remarkable, and we are satisfied with such positive evolution.”
On the down side, he said, “we deplore deeply that the names of terrorists movements like Hamas, Islamic Jihad” and the Al-Aksa Brigade are not specifically mentioned.
“We deplore also the fact that the resolution, which calls for the immediate withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian cities, does not take into consideration Israeli security needs,” Lancry said.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, also gave the resolution a mixed review.
The bill “makes ‘demands’ on Israel, but only ‘calls on’ the Palestinians,” which is less stringent, Hoenlein said.
In addition, he said, the Security Council didn’t specifically condemn Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which carried out suicide bombings last week that precipitated the Israeli siege.
But the resolution should not be seen as a victory for the Palestinians, Hoenlein said.
“The fact that they have some balance in it is a positive,” he said. “In view of what could have been, the U.S. worked out a compromise that Israel can live with.”
Tuesday’s vote was a test of a relatively new American policy on Mideast resolutions.
In July, Jewish groups hailed U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte’s pledge that the United States would not support any Security Council resolution that presented a one-sided picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To be acceptable to the United States, Negroponte said, a resolution would have to meet four conditions: condemn terrorism and incitement; explicitly denounce Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aksa Brigades; call on both sides to pursue a negotiated settlement; and recognize that an Israeli withdrawal to pre-intifada lines would depend on reciprocal security steps by the Palestinians.
The original resolution from Syria demanded an Israeli withdrawal, without even mentioning last week’s terror attacks against Israel.
The subsequent American draft also called for Israel to end its siege of Arafat’s compound immediately.
But, for the first time in a Security Council resolution, the U.S. draft also tied Palestinian groups to the terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The resolution sought to apply to Hamas and Islamic Jihad the provisions of a U.N. resolution, passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, obligating U.N. member states to fight terror.
That was a message to a particular Security Council member that harbors terrorists, the U.S. official said. He presumably meant Syria, which the State Department lists as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The European compromise contained some positive elements — such as language condemning terror and endorsing principles for diplomacy — but the United States ultimately couldn’t vote for it because some elements were missing, a U.S. official said.
“We wanted to name those groups that had claimed responsibility” for last week’s terror attacks, which killed nine people, the official said.
The vote also came as some Jewish leaders appeared perplexed by Israel’s operation in Ramallah and the effect it could have on U.S.-Israel relations.
“I ask the question, ‘What was the intention behind this?’ and ‘What was the impact of it?’ ” Stephen Cohen, national scholar of the Israeli Policy Forum, said of the Israeli siege. “I would say that the combination of those two doesn’t make a good case.”
America is “having enough trouble” with the United Nations as it tries to build a coalition to attack Iraq, Cohen said.
The Arab accusation that America’s offensive against Iraq is designed to help Israel “was reinforced at just the wrong time for United States diplomacy,” he said.
But David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, said he didn’t perceive Tuesday’s vote as a turning point in U.S.-Israel relations.
“I wish the U.S. had voted against the resolution, but the sky is not falling,” he said. “Iraq looms very large. The U.S. is trying to sort of juggle balls at once. Occasionally we’re bound to experience a small disappointment.”
The U.S. official also denied any serious glitch in U.S.-Israel relations.
“It’s too strong a relationship for this to have any impact,” the official said. “We’ve made our views known” that “some of the actions of the Israelis are unhelpful and they need to think about the actions they take.”
The U.S. official denied that the decision to abstain was linked to efforts to induce Arab and other countries to support an attack on Iraq.
Iraq “didn’t figure into our” decision, the official said. “These are two separate issues,” and it is “important that we not link them.”
“We considered the resolution on its merit,” he said.
Hoenlein, however, said the vote couldn’t be divorced from America’s efforts on Iraq.
“I do believe in other circumstances the U.S. would have vetoed” the resolution, he said.