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U.S. Vetoes UN Observers To Protect Palestinians

by Thalif Deen

First veto since 1997
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The 114-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), whose proposal for a UN observer force in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza was vetoed by the United States, is planning to take its case before the General Assembly.

A show of political support -- by at least a predictable two-thirds of the 189 members of the Assembly -- is expected to indicate to the outside world the overwhelming international backing for the Palestinian cause at the United Nations.

A NAM spokesman told IPS that the world at large should know that the biggest stumbling block for a UN force is just one single country with veto-power: the United States.

A General Assembly vote, he said, will also indicate that most Western powers only pay lip service to the cause of the Palestinians. "When it comes to a political showdown, they offer plenty of excuses to just chicken out -- and abstain," he added.

At a late night session last week, the United States exercised its seldom-used veto to reject the NAM resolution calling for "the establishment of a United Nations observer force" to protect Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The only nine countries in the 15-member Security Council to vote for the resolution were: Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Jamaica, Mali, Mauritius, Russia, Singapore and Tunisia.

The four Western nations in the Council -- namely France, Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom -- abstained on the vote. The fifteenth member, Ukraine, did not participate in the vote.

The last time the United States exercised its veto -- in March 1997 -- was also on an issue relating to Palestinians. As a result of that U.S. veto, a draft resolution demanding a halt to the Israeli construction of a new housing settlement in East Jerusalem was not adopted.

Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh, who piloted the NAM resolution, told delegates that at a recent open debate of the Security Council, the single most important point made by delegates was the need for an international observer force to protect Palestinians.

Since December last year, he said, the NAM caucus has been trying to get agreement on the creation of a UN observer force "so that the violence could be contained and the safety and security of Palestinian civilians ensured. But it had proved impossible for the Security Council to adopt the text."

The Non-Aligned Movement, he said, was frustrated that it had not been possible to take action.

Nasser al-Kidwa, the Permanent Observer for the Palestine Mission at the United Nations, told delegates that the failure to adopt the resolution meant that the Security Council was prevented from following through with its duties in maintaining international peace and security.

"It meant failure to contribute to putting an end to the tragedy of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. It also meant failure to provide the necessary support to bringing life back to what was left of the Middle East peace process," he noted.

Ambassador James Cunningham of the United States expressed great regret that the draft resolution was put to a vote "at the present time."

The United States, he said, would have supported the resolution if it had called for an end to incitement and violence, as well as for the implementation of all agreed commitments, including those reached at a summit meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh early this year.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock of the United Kingdom said his country agreed with the need for a mechanism to protect civilians, but that required the agreement of both parties, namely the Palestinians and the Israelis.

David Cooney of Ireland said his country abstained on the draft resolution because the agreement of both parties was necessary in order to deploy an observer force. "Without a mutual agreement in place, no member state could be requested to provide the necessary personnel," he added.

Ambassador Yehuda Lancry of Israel reiterated his country's rejection of any UN force in the occupied territories. "Israel remained opposed to an international observer force in the region," he added.

Meanwhile, addressing the summit meeting of the 22-member League of Arab States in Jordan, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the current cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis has resulted in hundreds killed and thousands wounded, the great majority of them Palestinians.

"The international community and the Arab world have every right to criticize Israel for its continued occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory, and for its excessively harsh response to the intifada (the Palestinian uprising)," he said.

Trying to be even-handed in his criticism, Annan also made the case that "these points could be made more effectively if many Israelis did not believe that their existence was under threat."

"Israel has a right, enshrined in numerous UN resolutions, to exist in safety within internationally recognized borders," he added.

Urging both sides to return to the path of peace, Annan said there is no solution to be found in violence, and no sense in postponing the day when the parties return to the table.

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Albion Monitor April 2, 2001 (

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