Groups Launch Advocacy Effort To Head Off U.N. Vote on Fence

By Marc Perelman

Published July 16, 2004, issue of July 16, 2004.
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Israel and Its American Supporters are Waging a Major Advocacy Campaign to Thwart Palestinian Efforts to Have the Security Council Act on the International Court of Justice’s Ruling Against the West Bank Security Fence.

The immediate goal of the campaign is to secure a high number of abstentions at the General Assembly, where the Arab Group is expected to introduce a resolution on Friday calling on Israel and all members states to comply with the court’s 14-to-1 decision, according to a copy of the draft resolution obtained by the Forward. The resolution is expected to be adopted. But the main objective of Israel and Jewish groups is to ensure that no majority emerges in favor of a similar resolution at the Security Council, which is the only U.N. body with enforcement authority. Any anti-Israel resolution regarding the fence would in all likelihood prompt an American veto, further damaging Washington’s relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds.

To help head off the need for a U.S. veto at the 15-member council, where nine votes are required to pass a resolution, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish community’s main pro-Israel umbrella group, has launched what is being described as its “biggest mobilization” on a U.N. issue since the failed effort to defeat the 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism. Leaders of the Conference of Presidents are urging the group’s 52-member organization to reach out to ambassadors and foreign capitals across the globe. Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, is planning to meet this week with several colleagues from other countries to convey Jerusalem’s argument that only negotiations on the ground will yield significant progress, an Israeli official said.

“The Palestinians want to make the ruling a binding decision and would like to put sanctions in place,” said Amy Goldstein, U.N. director of B’nai B’rith International. “If they achieve this, this is no less than a redux of the Arab boycott of Israel.”

Israeli officials and Jewish groups are focusing much of their lobbying efforts on the European Union, which has two veto-wielding, permanent Security Council members in France and Great Britain, as well as an influential nonpermanent member in Germany. All three countries have previously said the court should not be used to rule on what is essentially a political dispute. The issue was on the agenda of a monthly meeting of E.U. Foreign Ministers this week in Brussels.

The proposed resolution being circulated by the Palestinians leaves open the possibility of imposing sanctions on Israel, while insisting “the United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the Wall.”

Palestinian officials have vowed to use the international court’s nonbinding advisory opinion on the fence to stigmatize Israeli policies. However, Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, told reporters on Monday that the Palestinian Authority would wait before taking its case to the Security Council. He declined to say whether he would push for sanctions against Israel, a move that could antagonize countries sitting on the fence. A spokesman representing European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana was quoted as saying that the E.U. did not favor such an approach to addressing the fence and the world court’s ruling.

Observers say the Palestinians could bring up the fence decision during the annual meeting of the General Assembly in September, when the presence of heads of states and foreign ministers attracts more media attention than the traditionally quiet summer at the United Nations.

In its opinion, issued July 9, the court ruled that the construction of the “wall” in the Palestinian territories was illegal and should stop immediately, and that Israel should make reparations. The opinion asks “all states not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction.”

Officials at Jewish organizations criticized the ruling’s failure to take into account the “root causes” for the wall: Palestinian terrorist attacks. Jewish organizational leaders also said that the judges went out of their way to rule against Israel on details on which the court was not even asked to rule.

“It’s just terrible. The court overreached, and this gives a lot of heart to those who think the U.N. is no good to begin with,” said one Jewish official.

In Israel, officials were vowing to ignore the ruling. Despite the defiant comments, the Israeli Defense Ministry reportedly has decided to redraw the fence’s route so that it will more closely follow the Green Line, the pre-1967 border dividing Israel and the West Bank.

A June 30 ruling the Israeli High Court ordered that a smaller, 30-kilometer section of the proposed route be changed. The Israeli court ruled that Israel had a right to build a barrier in the West Bank on security grounds but ordered one segment rerouted to avoid cutting off Palestinian villagers from farms, jobs, public services and cities.

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