Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East History - It Happened in September: The U.S. Cast the First of 29 Security Council Vetoes to Shield Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East History - It Happened in September: The U.S. Cast the First of 29 Security Council Vetoes to Shield Israel

Article excerpt

Middle East History--It Happened in September: The U.S. Cast the First of 29 Security Council Vetoes to Shield Israel

The United States cast its first veto in the United Nations Security Council in 1970, during the presidency of Richard Nixon, when Henry Kissinger was the national security adviser. It was an historic moment, since up to that time Washington had been able to score heavy propaganda points because of the Soviet Union's profligate use of its veto. The first U.S. veto in history was a gesture of support for Britain, which was under Security Council pressure to end the white minority government in southern Rhodesia.

Two years later, however, on Sept. 10, 1972, the United States employed its veto for the second time--to shield Israel.(1) That veto, as it turned out, signalled the start of a cynical policy to use the U.S. veto repeatedly to shield Israel from international criticism, censure and sanctions.

Before this practice stopped 18 years later, Washington used its veto 29 times to shield Israel from critical draft resolutions. This constituted nearly half of the total of 69 U.S. vetoes cast since the founding of the U.N. The Soviet Union cast 115 vetoes during the same period.(2)

The initial 1972 veto to protect Israel was cast by George Bush in his capacity as U.S. ambassador to the world body. Ironically, it was Bush as president who stopped the use of the veto to shield Israel 18 years later. The last such veto was cast on May 31, 1990, killing a resolution approved by all 14 other council members to send a U.N. mission to study Israeli abuses of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The rationale for casting the first veto to protect Israel was explained by Bush at the time as a new policy to combat terrorists. The draft resolution had condemned Israel's heavy air attacks against Lebanon and Syria, starting Sept. 6, the day after 11 Israeli athletes were killed at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games in an abortive Palestinian attempt to seize them as hostages to trade for Palestinians in Israeli prisons.(3) Between 200 and 500 Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the Israeli raids.(4)

Nonetheless, Bush complained that the resolution had failed to condemn terrorist attacks against Israel, adding: "We are implementing a new policy that is much broader than that of the question of Israel and the Jews. What is involved is the problem of terrorism, a matter that goes right to the heart of our civilized life."(5)

Unfortunately, this "policy" proved to be only a rationale for protecting Israel from censure for violating a broad range of international laws. This became very clear when the next U.S. veto was cast a year later, on July 26, 1973. It had nothing to do with terrorism. The draft resolution affirmed the rights of the Palestinians and established provisions for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories as embodied in previous General Assembly resolutions. (6) Nonetheless, Washington killed this international effort to end Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.

The all-time abuser of the veto was the administration of Ronald Reagan.

Washington used the veto four more times in 1975-76 while Henry Kissinger was secretary of state. One of these vetoes arguably may have involved terrorism, since the draft condemned Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilians in response to attacks on Israel. But the three other vetoes had nothing at all to do with terrorism.

One, in fact, struck down a draft resolution that reflected U.S. policy against Israel's alteration of the status of Jerusalem and establishment of Jewish settlements in occupied territory. Only two days earlier, U.S. Ambassador William W. Scranton had given a speech in the United Nations calling Israeli settlements illegal and rejecting Israel's claim to all of Jerusalem.(7) Yet on March 25, 1976, the U.S. vetoed a resolution reflecting Scranton's positions which had been passed unanimously by the other 14 members of the council. …

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