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U.N. Vote Raises Questions About Future Role As Broker

October 11, 2000
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A U.N. Security Council resolution passed over the weekend that blames Israel for the Middle East crisis reveals that the world body is still biased against the Jewish state, say Israeli diplomats and American Jewish observers.

Moreover, they say, it reinforces why the United Nations cannot be a trusted third party in the peace process and underscores why it should not be granted guardianship of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Before the recent escalation of violence, when the two sides were still talking peace, the Israeli side had floated such a suggestion for the site holy to both Jews and Muslims.

The resolution passed Saturday by a vote of 14-0. The United States abstained.

The resolution noted the disproportionate number of Palestinian victims without mentioning Jewish casualties; condemned the excessive use of force against civilians, without mentioning Israel by name; omitted the apparent unwillingness of Palestinian leaders to rein in the rioters; and mentioned the Temple Mount only by its Arabic name, Haram As-Sharif.

“The resolution is one-sided, unfair and doesn’t portray the entire reality,” said one Israeli diplomat.

“Unfortunately, the Security Council proved that it probably will not be able to play the role of an unbiased, honest broker in any future negotiations.”

Israel’s long-troubled relations with the United Nations had clearly improved of late, mostly because of Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s efforts to achieve peace.

After years of lobbying, the country had attained official — albeit partial and temporary — entry in May into the Western European and Others Group, one of five regional U.N. groupings.

Prior to its admission into WEOG, Israel was the only one of 189 U.N. member states shut out of the regional grouping system — and therefore ineligible to serve on the Security Council and prominent U.N. agencies.

But Saturday’s resolution indicated that little has changed, say some.

“The Security Council has reverted to being an arena of political warfare being used by Arabs against Israel,” said Harris Schoenberg, chairman of the U.N. caucus of Jewish non-governmental organizations, an umbrella for about 25 Jewish groups.

More condemnation seems to be in store for Israel.

The Geneva-based, 53-member Commission on Human Rights is scheduled to hold a special session next week to discuss the Middle East crisis. Special sessions are rare; the last was to discuss the crisis in East Timor.

“Considering the commission’s track record, it’s fair to assume that things will not go well for Israel,” Michael Colson, executive director of the Geneva- based U.N. Watch, said, noting that each year, the commission ritualistically passes five anti-Israel resolutions.

Schoenberg and other critics, though, singled out for praise U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan, who is currently trying to mediate the release of three Israeli soldiers kidnapped on the Israeli-Lebanese border over the weekend by the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.

Jewish U.N.-watchers have often lamented the way in which Arab and Muslim member states use their control over large blocs of votes to batter Israel.

To assure a large majority on votes or resolutions, they allegedly bully their allies, including the Europeans, with threats to cut off oil supplies or foreign trade and investment.

That’s why, if anything, the resolution reaffirms the primacy of the United States as a true “honest broker” in the peace talks, say Jewish observers.

This image likely weighed heavily in America’s decision to abstain, as U.S. officials appeared intent on not antagonizing their other allies in the Middle East.

U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said the abstention was “motivated by a very deep concern” for Israel, but was informed by security and intelligence sources who had advised that Palestinians would greet a veto with a potentially explosive reaction, and “diminish if not end our ability to end the the violence.”

Nevertheless, a number of Jewish activists expressed “disappointment” and “dismay” that United States didn’t veto the resolution. For the most part, though, they were careful not to criticize President Clinton too loudly.

One exception was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“We are shocked and profoundly disappointed in the administration’s failure to veto this one-sided resolution,” said Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director.

“By not vetoing this one-sided attack, the U.S. has lent support to those nations seeking to isolate Israel. At this critical time, it is imperative for the U.S. to stand by Israel as efforts continue to put an end to Palestinian violence.”

The U.N. resolution reportedly would have been much worse, if not for the intervention of U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and others.

Israel itself went along with the final wording, said a diplomatic source, because it sensed that a resolution was inevitable.

At least Israel was not threatened with any form of sanctions, said the source.

Some Arab countries came before the 15-member Security Council and portrayed the violence in the Middle East as a “holocaust” and “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing,” said Jozef Scheffers, the Netherlands’ deputy representative to the council.

“Countries like Bahrain, Syria and Libya said, `How can the survivors of the Holocaust do this to the Palestinian people?'” said Scheffers, whose country voted for it.

In light of such a charged atmosphere, the ultimate resolution was “pragmatic and moderate,” Scheffers said, adding: “If we talk about victims, the statistics speak for themselves: All but a few of them are Palestinians.”

As for any added damage the resolution might do to Israel on the international stage, Scheffers tried to reassure: “I would say everything is relative. Things can move quickly and change quickly. If we sign a Middle East peace deal, everything will be seen differently.”

Meanwhile, Canada’s vote for the resolution stirred controversy at home.

“The resolution is clearly slanted with an anti-Israel bias,” said Stockwell Day, leader of the opposition party Canadian Alliance.

“I am not sure we will further the cause of peace if we as a nation join in the finger-pointing, rather than working with both sides co-operatively.”

In defense of the vote, a spokesman for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs said the resolution “reflects the desire of the council and the international community to see the violence end immediately.”

For all the hullabaloo about warmer relations, one Jewish activist said, “Israel doesn’t expect that much out of the U.N.”

With that, and in light of the failure of Palestinian police to prevent the destruction of Joseph’s Tombin the West Bank, some Jewish activists are convinced that holy sites within Israel should remain under the control of the Israeli authorities.

“Israel should continue with its proven record of protecting and making all holy sites accessible to people of all faiths,” said Bonnie Lipton, national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.


(JTA correspondent Bill Gladstone in Toronto contributed to this report.)

Text of U.N. Resolution

NEW YORK, Oct. 10 (JTA) — The following is U.N. Security Council Resolution 1322, adopted Oct. 7 by a 14-0 vote. The United States abstained.

The Council is comprised of five permanent members (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States) and 10 elected to two-year terms (Argentina, Bangladesh, Canada, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mali, Namibia, Netherlands, Tunisia, Ukraine).


RECALLING its resolutions 476 (1980) of June 30, 1980; 478 (1980) of Aug. 20, 1980; 672 (1990) of Oct. 12, 1990; and 1073 (1996) of Sept. 28, 1996; and all its other relevant resolutions,

DEEPLY CONCERNED by the tragic events that have taken place since Sept. 28, 2000, that have led to numerous deaths and injuries, mostly among Palestinians,

REAFFIRMING that a just and lasting solution to the Arab and Israeli conflict must be based on its resolutions 242 (1967) of Nov. 22, 1967, and 338 (1973) of Oct. 22, 1973, through an active negotiating process,

EXPRESSING its support for the Middle East peace process and the efforts to reach a final settlement between the Israeli and Palestinian sides and urging the two sides to cooperate in these efforts,

REAFFIRMING the need for full respect by all of the Holy Places of the City of Jerusalem, and condemning any behavior to the contrary,

1. DEPLORES the provocation carried out at Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem on Sept. 28, 2000, and the subsequent violence there and at other Holy Places, as well as in other areas throughout the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, resulting in over 80 Palestinian deaths and many other casualties;

2. CONDEMNS acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force against Palestinians, resulting in injury and loss of human life;

3. CALLS UPON Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and its responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of Aug. 12, 1949;

4. CALLS FOR the immediate cessation of violence, and for all necessary steps to be taken to ensure that violence ceases, that new provocative actions are avoided, and that the situation returns to normality in a way which promotes the prospects for the Middle East peace process;

5. STRESSES the importance of establishing a mechanism for a speedy and objective inquiry into the tragic events of the last few days with the aim of preventing their repetition, and WELCOMES any efforts in this regard;

6. CALLS FOR the immediate resumption of negotiations within the Middle East peace process on its agreed basis with the aim of achieving an early final settlement between the Israeli and Palestinian sides;

7. INVITES the Secretary-General to continue to follow the situation and to keep the Council informed;

8. DECIDES to follow closely the situation and to remain seized of the matter.


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