Israel Tries To Block U.N. Move on Fence

By Marc Perelman

Published September 24, 2004, issue of September 24, 2004.
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UNITED NATIONS — Israel is pressing diplomats from the European Union and Russia to help block a Palestinian-backed move in the Security Council to demand that Israel comply with the recent world court ruling against Israel’s West Bank security fence.

The Netherlands-based world court, formally known as the International Court of Justice, issued a nonbinding opinion last July that the portions of the fence built on West Bank land were illegal and must be dismantled. Israeli officials warn that Palestinian diplomats are lobbying to secure the nine votes needed for passage of a resolution in the 15-member Security Council, urging Israel to comply with the court’s ruling. A similar resolution was passed last July by the General Assembly.

Security Council action would raise the prospect of sanctions against Israel, probably triggering an American veto. Israel hopes to avoid the use of the veto, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Monday during a briefing to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

An American official declined to speculate on what Washington’s attitude would be.

Addressing the Jewish group on the eve of the annual opening of the General Assembly, Shalom also said Israel was seeking passage of a stand-alone U.N. resolution condemning antisemitism.

Shalom said the swing votes in the Security Council on the world court issue include the members of the European Union — permanent members France and the United Kingdom, as well as Germany, Spain and Romania — and Russia.

Shalom has met in recent weeks with the foreign ministers of most of these countries and of the Netherlands, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. He said the verdict on the Israeli efforts would be known soon.

“I asked the Europeans not to give in to the Palestinian pressure,” Shalom told the Jewish leaders. “We were very upset with their votes last time…. We believe some Europeans are fatigued by the Palestinian moves.”

Jerusalem took heart last spring when European countries abstained on a General Assembly resolution asking the world court for an advisory opinion on the fence. Once the court ruled, however, the same countries supported an assembly resolution endorsing the opinion, to Israel’s dismay.

A German diplomat said it was too early to speculate on the European stance since the U.N.’s Arab group had not decided whether to put forth a resolution.

The fate of such a resolution, the German diplomat said, might depend on the outcome of broader European-Palestinian negotiations on the so-called “Middle East package,” the litany of anti-Israel resolutions passed each year by the General Assembly. He said the E.U. had authorized the Dutch to negotiate with the Palestinians for a reduction in the number of such resolutions, a goal pursued with limited success by Washington in recent years.

The American official said the new European activism was a welcome development, noting that Europe carried more weight than America in the one-country-one vote system governing the 191-member General Assembly.

As for the resolution on antisemitism sought by Shalom, the German diplomat warned that its fate remained uncertain. The Israeli draft is based on language adopted last May in Berlin by the 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, declaring “unambiguously that international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify antisemitism.”

Shalom said he had asked his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, to sponsor a similar resolution and was urging U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to support it. Annan openly endorsed such a proposal last June during a high-profile conference on antisemitism at the U.N.

However, the German diplomat said U.N. passage of such a resolution seemed implausible since Arab and Muslim countries would probably water it down. Moreover, he said, pushing for it could complicate the ongoing European-Palestinian talks on Middle East issues, including the court ruling.

In a rare show of praise for the U.N., Shalom saluted the Security Council for its recent passage of a stiff resolution calling on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. Shalom said Syria’s promise to withdraw 10,000 troops was a step in the right direction, but he warned Damascus to stop supporting terrorism.

Shalom dismissed reports that Washington’s interest in Syria at present was focused mainly on a demand for Damascus to seal its border with Iraq. Shalom said American officials were still insisting that the Assad regime shut down the headquarters and training camps of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Turning to Iran, he noted that that its nuclear ambitions had now become a global issue, pointing to the continuing pressure put on Tehran by the U.N. nuclear watchdog. Shalom added that he was concerned about Iran’s growing involvement in the Palestinian territories, both through the infiltration of Hezbollah operatives and through payments that Tehran has begun making to families of Palestinian terrorists.

In a discussion following Shalom’s presentation, one Jewish organizational leader pointed to a reported shipment two weeks ago of 220 rockets from Iran to Hezbollah in South Lebanon via Damascus as proof of Tehran’s bellicose intentions. He estimated that Hezbollah now has between 1,200 and 1,400 Katyusha rockets positioned in South Lebanon.

While heaping scorn on Syria and Iran, Shalom went out of his way to speak favorably of Egypt’s changed attitude during the past year. He pointed specifically to his three encounters over the past six months with Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, and to the frequent meetings between Israeli officials and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Ghait.

“They are concerned about the day after in Gaza,” Shalom said, referring to the planned Israeli disengagement. “We are trying to deepen the relationship. It is a strategic one.”

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