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U.N. Resolution on ‘road Map’ Rattles Israeli, Jewish Officials

November 20, 2003
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U.S. support for a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the “road map” peace plan has rattled Israeli and U.S. Jewish officials, who worry that the move could wrest control of the peace process from Israel’s closest ally.

“There is a potential danger here. We don’t think the United Nations is an objective party,” said Ambassador Arye Mekel, Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. “We always considered the Americans the only honest broker and we still do.”

The resolution, unanimously approved on Wednesday, calls on the parties to “fulfil their obligations under the road map in cooperation with the Quartet and to achieve the vision of two states living side by side in peace and security.”

The road map, envisioning Palestinian statehood and an end to terrorism within three years, had always been nominally the project of the “Quartet” — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — but in effect it had been administered by the United States.

Israel sees the Europeans and the United Nations as pro-Arab and the Russians as questionable at best, but U.S. control of the road map until now had eased any Israeli concerns.

Israel was so concerned about this resolution that Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Dan Gillerman, had urged U.S. Jewish organizational officials to lobby the White House against it.

Apparently they were unsuccessful, since the United States voted for the resolution.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also brought up the resolution with Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Moscow earlier this month.

Things could change now that the Security Council has formally endorsed the plan, because the council’s resolutions have the force of international law.

“Not only will this resolution undoubtedly be used for further anti-Israel action by the council, but it will also place the U.S. government in increasingly difficult circumstances where it will have to decide whether to veto unbalanced resolutions,” Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said in a statement. “This resolution is an unfortunate step that foreshadows greater and more destructive U.N. involvement in the process.”

U.S. officials downplayed the resolution’s significance, saying they could hardly have opposed a process they helped initiate.

“We’re members of the Quartet, we all support the road map and the president’s vision of a two-state solution and didn’t see this as being contrary to that,” said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The only question, the official said, was one of timing.

The Russians, who initiated the resolution, had wanted to pass it last month, but the Americans preferred to wait until a new Palestinian Authority government was in place.

Jewish officials were not assuaged, especially because the resolution also demands “an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction.”

That could allow a country hostile to Israel serving one of the 10 two-year terms on the Security Council to make Israel legally answerable for actions it deems necessary for security, such as the demolition of homes belonging to suicide bombers or homes serving as snipers’ nests.

Syria, one of Israel’s most implacable enemies and a country on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist- sponsoring nations, currently occupies a seat on the council.

“You can see the potential for mischief and abuse,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. “It could allow them to catalog every perceived violation by Israel as a Security Council violation.”

Hoenlein said that efforts to persuade Washington to back away from the resolution were fruitless.

“Many people in the administration shared our concerns, others did not, and it was clear that they could not and would not veto this when it’s clear it’s their own road map.”

But not all Jewish groups were so concerned.

The Israel Policy Forum, a New York-based group that promotes peace initiatives, said concerns that the U.S. role in the region would suffer were overstated, and that Israel should welcome the Security Council’s endorsement of an initiative that the Jewish state had embraced.

“It’s clear that nobody is going to wrest control from the United States nor diminish its influence in the Middle East,” said Jonathan Jacoby, the forum’s founding executive vice president. “It’s refreshing that the Security Council is engaged in doing something positive rather than resorting to knee-jerk denunciations.”

Other Jewish groups said they were confident the United States would use its status as one of the five veto-holding permanent council members to stymie any efforts to target Israel.

“We remain confident that the United States will not allow the delicate search for peace to be derailed,” said Rebecca Dinar, spokeswoman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The question that baffled Israel, Mekel said, was why the United States put itself into the potential position of perpetually using its veto to swat away mischievous Security Council initiatives.

He cited a Hebrew aphorism: “A wise man never gets himself into a position in which only a clever man knows how to get out,” Mekel said. “The question is why put all of us in this situation in the first place?”

One reason might be that the United States was in a position of having to repay the Russians for their support last month for a resolution that let the United States seek more international troops and funds for the occupation of Iraq.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who pressed hard for Wednesday’s resolution, is seeking to bolster Russia’s influence among Arabs.

Another reason could be that with tensions in Iraq on the rise, the Bush administration is tiring of the Israeli-Palestinian standoff and was using the resolution to pressure the Israelis into greater concessions.

The U.S. government’s unhappiness has increased in recent months, and President Bush and others have criticized what they see as unduly harsh measures against the Palestinians.

In London on a state visit Wednesday, Bush told an audience of influential Europeans that Palestinians had to end terrorism but much was incumbent on Israel as well.

“Israel should freeze settlement construction, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people and not prejudice final negotiations with the placements of walls and fences,” Bush said, referring to U.S. worries that Israel’s planned security barrier would predetermine borders with a Palestinian state.

David Mack, a former assistant deputy secretary of state for Near East affairs, suggested that the Bush administration has been frustrated by Sharon’s insistence that the road map requires a halt of Palestinian violence as a precondition for Israel to fulfil its obligations.

“The simultaneous steps are not dependent on one side or the other,” said Mack, who now works at the Middle East Institute, a think tank. He said that in Israel’s case, that means freezing settlement activity and easing life for the Palestinians.

Attaching the legal veneer of a Security Council resolution to the road map could be the Bush administration’s way of forcing Israel to comply with the letter of the document, Mack said.

Edward Abington, a former U.S. consul to Jerusalem who now advises the Palestinians, says the resolution will have little practical application but puts the parties on notice that they are being watched.

“It puts the road map on a different level than where it was,” Abington said.

“I can see why the Israelis are concerned,” he said. “There is a feeling among Palestinians and in Washington that Sharon doesn’t have any policy except military pressure and confrontation, and I suspect the Bush administration is not too unhappy to see this happening.”

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