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UN Debate On Mideast Crisis Leading Nowhere

Wednesday, August 22, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags: ,

ICEJ NEWS - 08/22/2001
The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday is trying to wind up a heated open debate on the PLO's renewed demand for an international "protection force" in Palestinian areas, but the measure seems doomed to failure yet again after the US stiffened its opposition to an "unworkable" and "one-sided" resolution.

Some 50 nations have delivered speeches in the Security Council chambers over the past few days, with Arab and Islamic states levelling sharp criticism at Israel. Among their charges, Libya said that Israel's "occupying force was trained very well to shoot its victims between the eyes," while the Iraqi delegate blasted the UN itself, declaring, "Israel's death machines have not even been able to tear from the council even one single timid condemnation of Zionist terrorism or neo-Nazi activities."

Arab/Islamic bloc members have denounced Israel for perpetrating "war crimes" and desecrating Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, and backed Palestinian demands for international monitors and the return of Orient House.

Meanwhile, Israeli officials were mildly surprised at the "balanced" views expressed by permanent council members Britain, France and Russia, and certain other states, who said both sides shared the blame for failing to live up to the recommendations of the Mitchell report.

In addition, US representative James Cunningham was adamant that there should be no foreign observer force until there is an actual Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire to monitor. He made a clear call to PLO chief Yasser Arafat to finally move to clamp down on Palestinian terrorism, noting that Islamic suicide bombers had killed not only Israelis in the recent Sbarro pizza blast in Jerusalem, but two American citizens as well.

"What is required now is not rhetoric, not debate that polarizes an already volatile situation, and certainly not an effort to condemn one side with unbalanced charges or to impose unworkable ideas that will not change the reality on the ground," Cunningham said. "There is no magic wand... no statement, resolution, nor action by the council that can remedy this tragic situation."

Since October, the Palestinians have repeatedly called on the international community to dispatch monitors. In December, their first attempt at the UN for monitors fell one council member short of the number needed to force a vote, sparing the US from having to exercise its veto power. In March, the PLO picked up Russian support, forcing Washington to veto the measure, which in turn drew angry reactions from Arab League states.

The Palestinians are now trying again in the wake of Israel's closure of Orient House, a victim-less reaction to the deadly Sbarro suicide bombing that killed six children and nine others. PLO observer Nasser Kidwa sat opposite Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Lancry at the large council table over recent days, heaping scorn on Israel for causing 563 Palestinian deaths, "not counting other martyrs" - a veiled reference to suicide bombers.

Lancry responded that the Palestinians simply had "no scruples" in dragging the UN back into this debate, especially in light of such recent Palestinian atrocities as the Sbarro suicide bombing and an earlier one at a Tel Aviv disco that killed 21 people, "not to mention daily gunfire attacks everywhere." He said the PLO proposal faults Israel alone and requires "virtually nothing" from the Palestinians. Lancry added that Israel remains opposed to monitors that would be "totally ineffective in preventing terror attacks."

Lancry also spoke of the PA's refusal to arrest known terrorists, including Abdullah Barghouti, the mastermind of the August 9 Sbarro bombing, whose arrest Israel had requested since July.

It appears the Sbarro incident has marked a shift in the US approach to the crisis. After ironing out some policy disagreements, the White House and State Department reportedly planned to send US diplomat David Satterfield to the region with a proposal for a US-led monitoring mechanism. But those plans were shelved when a Hamas suicide bomber targeted Sbarro pizza just before Satterfield's departure.

The Bush Administration seems to have been impacted by the fact that two Americans died in that bombing, and that Israel had just given the Palestinian Authority specific information on Barghouti's plot to stage a bombing in Jerusalem, which the PA ignored. The incident has bolstered in American eyes the argument that Arafat could be preventing terror attacks, but is simply refusing to do so.

This US stiffening may in turn have influenced the moderated British, French and Russian tone at the UN this week, and perhaps even helped to blunt the Egyptian initiative last week when President Hosni Mubarak dispatched his top advisor Osama el-Baz to Washington to press for immediate US intervention. Interestingly, el-Baz went into his meetings with Bush officials demanding swift US action to handcuff Israel, but he came out singing a different tune.

Before leaving Washington, el-Baz Egyptian angered the Palestinians when he came out clearly against using the pending UN security council resolution to impose international observers on Israel. The following day, Mubarak echoed this change in policy, stating, "If there aren't genuine intentions to stop the violence, the international observers will not make a difference. There must be a genuine intention to bring peace to the region."

Facing a third strike at the UN, Arafat has managed to convene yet another emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo today, which will consider his call for a unified Arab position against Israel. The pan-Arab gathering comes as Arafat prepares for an upcoming meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in Berlin sometime next week, which is reportedly aimed at solidifying terms for a genuine ceasefire at long last.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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