April 4, 2002
E.U., U.N. Want Their Say
Fearing a biased response, Israel rejects giving the two groups a larger role in resolving the conflict.
With the Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat's headquarters and Palestinian cities, the Arab world is again ratcheting up its campaign to "internationalize" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jewish analysts see a concerted Arab effort to exhort the U.N. Security Council and European Union to marginalize U.S. influence and seize a greater role for themselves.
But U.N. and E.U. diplomats, at least in their public comments, appear less vitriolic about the string of lethal suicide bombings in Israel than the Israeli response to them and often seem to morally equate the two.
This reinforces the notion among pro-Israel advocates that both bodies are biased against the Jewish state, and cannot supplant Washington as the primary third-party interlocutor.
"The U.N. and E.U. are under heavy pressure from the Arabs, so you may have the appearance of greater involvement," said one Israeli diplomat.
"Are we happy about it? No. Can we live with it? Yes, because for any party to be truly involved, it must have the consent of Israel. And Israel will not accept a party that isn't legitimate in this process. This mounting pressure doesn't shift the Israeli position."
Yet, a sudden shift in the U.S. approach to the United Nations has caught the attention of Jewish observers, who say it could have long-term repercussions.
The United States has traditionally believed that the Security Council is the improper venue for addressing the Middle East conflict.
Though the council is entrusted with ensuring global peace and security, and its resolutions are legally binding, it has been heavily politicized.
Washington has consistently used this line of argument to block, or veto outright, anti-Israel resolutions, often asserting that the two parties themselves must resolve the conflict.
In response, the Palestinians and the Arab world have long accused Washington of a pro-Israel bias and of obstructing council action that would force Israel to alter the status quo, through, say, the insertion of international peacekeepers.
However, with the 15-member council increasingly frustrated with the bloodshed and its own inaction, the United States March 12 on sponsored -- for what was said to be the first time in a quarter-century or so -- a Mideast-related resolution.
It articulated a vision where "two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders."
Then on Saturday, Washington supported a second Security Council resolution, which called for a cease-fire and for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian cities.
On Monday, the White House and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan disagreed whether the cease-fire or withdrawal should come first, with the Bush administration advocating the former.
Annan on Monday also urged council members "individually and collectively" to pressure both sides, while Arab states called for another council resolution that would demand "implementation" of Saturday's resolution, which had only called for the withdrawal.
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference this week in Malaysia, the 57-member group lauded the "blessed intifada," rejected the notion of Palestinian terrorism and said Israel is in fact guilty of "state terrorism."
While Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad suggested any deliberate attack on civilians -- even by Palestinian suicide bombers -- be classified as "terrorism," the Islamic group ultimately punted responsibility for defining terrorism to the United Nations.
There, debate over a definition for terrorism has dragged on for three decades, along the lines of the one-country's-terrorist-is-another-country's-freedom-fighter argument.
As for the Security Council, the sudden U.S. activism surprised some observers.
"It undermines Washington's consistent, rhetorical, principled position, that resolution of the conflict is best decided by the parties themselves," said Felice Gaer, a U.N. specialist and director of the American Jewish Committee's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights.
Washington may have initiated the March 12 resolution, observers said, to blunt a harsher anti-Israel resolution in the works, or out of political calculation to curry both Arab and U.N. support for future action against Iraq. Or both. But in lending credibility to the Security Council, some wonder if it may complicate U.S. efforts to fend off undesirable anti-Israel resolutions in the future.
Washington still maintains its right to veto. At the same time, the United States has been working more closely with the United Nations since its post-Sept. 11 war against terrorism.
But as a former White House official told The New Republic, "We may well see this decision come back to haunt us in the future when others try to use the council and build on this resolution."
The concern now is that the Europeans on the council -- like veto-empowered France and Russia -- may become more assertive. Russia was an official co-sponsor of the Mideast peace process begun in 1991, while France has been one of Israel's fiercest detractors.
On March 15, France presented the E.U.'s European Council with a proposal for immediate and formal recognition of the Palestinian state. The effort failed, as Germany, Britain and the Netherlands echoed the U.S. stance and defended Israel's need for security.
However, the Europeans have recently grown more vocal, apparently egged on by the Arab world and because the intifada has dented the E.U. investment in Palestine.
The 15-member European Union is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, to Palestinian refugees, to Israel's four Arab neighbors and to the Oslo peace process itself, donating hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
The European Union, which is currently chaired by Spain, started off the week by presenting to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva its take on events in the Middle East.
According to the Geneva-based group U.N. Watch, three of the speech's 22 paragraphs criticized the Palestinian Authority.
The remainder assailed Israel for settlements, targeted killings, incursions into Palestinian refugee camps, checkpoints and closures, indiscriminate and excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, failure to protect journalists and other alleged transgressions.
Europe's rhetoric heated up further over the weekend.
A review of the world's two most influential news services the New York-based Associated Press and the London-based Reuters reveal that European leaders concentrated far more on Israel's response to suicide attacks and its occupation.
By week's end, the "Passover massacre" in Netanya, for example, was rarely mentioned. From Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to French President Jacques Chirac to E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the Europeans have uttered words of condemnation for terrorist attacks, but seem more outraged by the moves against Arafat.
The Europeans also seem to harp on the "cycle" or "spiral" of violence, which Jewish observers suggest indicates a lack of distinction between attack and response, or between an attack on civilians and one on alleged perpetrators of terrorism.
Why this perspective?
Jewish observers point to Europe's large Arab and Muslim populations, heavy reliance on Mideast oil, trade and investments and in some cases, latent anti-Semitism. Which is why Israel will continue to look to Washington as its "honest broker."
"The E.U. has more links to the Arab world than to the Israeli world, and the Israelis understand that well," said Dina Siegal Vann, whose handles U.N. affairs for B'nai B'rith International.
"Realistically, only the U.S. is seen as a credible intermediary both by the Arabs and the Israelis."