United Nations Report: Israeli Settlement Plan Isolates U.S. in Security Council, General Assembly

By Williams, Ian | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 1997 | Go to article overview

United Nations Report: Israeli Settlement Plan Isolates U.S. in Security Council, General Assembly


Williams, Ian, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


United Nations Report: Israeli Settlement Plan Isolates U.S. In Security Council, General Assembly

Back in the 1950s, frustrated by unreasonable Soviet vetoes, the U.S. and its allies pioneered a procedure they called "Uniting for Peace." It allowed issues blocked by a Security Council veto to be taken to the General Assembly, thus thwarting the U.N. Charter that explicitly bars the Assembly from discussing matters that the Council is dealing with.

Hence the ironic grin on the face of Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative to the U.N., when he told the Security Council, following the 71st U.S. veto, that he was taking the issue of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem to the General Assembly. Since all of the other 14 members had voted for a resolution condemning the Israeli violations of the Geneva Conventions, and since America's closest European allies, Britain, Sweden, France and Portugal, had actually sponsored the resolution, El-Kidwa knew that once again the U.S. and Israel would stand condemned in the dock of world opinion.

Still in his early days, and still probably hoping against hope to get the U.S. to pay up on its $1.5 billion arrears, new United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was circumspect in his response. He mildly echoed U.S. criticisms of the building of the settlement by describing it as "unhelpful," but did not express any opinion on the legality or otherwise of proposed construction.

Interestingly, while losing the public relations battle, the Israelis have scored points on the linguistic front. Annan, and many Western diplomats, referred to the Hebrew name for the housing project, Har Homa, rather than the Palestinian name, Jabal Abu Ghneim. However, while they may have taken the name, there were no takers for the substantive Israeli arguments -- not even from the U.S., for whose diplomacy it was yet another sad day.

Madeleine Albright tended to look smugly self-satisfied when she cast a veto on Israel's behalf. By contrast, her successor, Bill Richardson, looked a little un-comfortable reciting the tired mantra of the Clinton administration that "We have never believed, despite the useful role the Council can and has played in working for Middle East Peace, that it is an appropriate forum for debating the issues now under negotiation between the parties.... Furthermore, this resolution makes sweeping statements concerning the legal status of Israeli settlements which the parties themselves have agreed are to be treated as a permanent status issue in the talks that are about to resume."

The resolution firmly restated the illegality of settlements.

Of course Ambassador Richardson was well aware that President Bill Clinton had unilaterally changed the long-standing U.S. policy on the status of settlements and Jerusalem, while the rest of the world had kept to the old positions expressed by the U.N. That is why the resolution moved by the Western Europeans, although mild in some ways, firmly restated the illegality of settlements, and of all the Israeli measures that are designed to change the status of the occupied territories, including Jerusalem.

Indeed The Netherlands' ambassador, on behalf of the European Union and 11 other states, all friends of the U.S., reaffirmed that "East Jerusalem is not under Israeli sovereignty." It was clear that no one, not even the Americans, believed the Israeli explanation that the "approval of building plans within Jerusalem does not constitute a change in the status of Jerusalem," or that "the project is an essential part of a comprehensive municipal plan to construct 20,000 new housing units for the city's Jewish residents and 8,500 for the city's Arab residents -- a ratio comparable to that of the Jewish and Arab populations in the city." No diplomats held their breath waiting for announcements of Arab housing construction in West Jersualem!

The British envoy, Sir John Weston, eloquently defended the one position on which London breaks its usual slavish mimicking of Washington. …

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