July 22, 2004
Europe Held Key in U.N. Fence Ruling
When it comes to action at the United Nations, Europe -- considered by many observers to be the organization's moral bellwether -- often decides the course.
That was the case again this week as the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that Israel comply with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that it must tear down its West Bank security barrier and compensate Palestinians affected by its construction.
The next question is whether the U.N. Security Council, whose resolutions are binding, will take up the issue.
The United States has indicated it will veto a Security Council resolution, but the Palestinians have said they'll push it anyway.
The Israelis say they're not worried about the Security Council because they know they can depend on a U.S. veto.
"The Security Council is the least of our worries," said Arye Mekel, Israel's deputy permanent representative at the United Nations, noting that a U.S. veto likely would obviate the threat of sanctions there.
For Israeli officials, the whole process points to the weakness of the Europeans.
In meetings with European diplomats this week, Israeli officials said they'll make that point.
"If this is the position of the Europeans and the U.N., we will not be able to give them a role in carrying out the 'road map,' so they are creating a situation which is unacceptable to us," Mekel said Wednesday.
The European Union and the United Nations are official partners, along with the United States and Russia, in the so-called "Quartet," which is sponsoring the road map plan to get the dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track.
Arguing that it might politicize the international court and divert the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, European countries abstained from the General Assembly resolution last December asking the court to judge the legal consequences of Israel's fence.
On July 9, the court ruled that the fence was illegal and ordered Israel to dismantle it.
Israel dismissed the court -- which said international legal guarantees of self-defense were not relevant to Israel's struggle against Palestinian terrorism -- and said it would disregard the advisory opinion.
Again on Tuesday, Israel slammed the U.N. resolution. After Tuesday evening's vote, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, told delegates, "Thank God the fate of Israel and the Jewish people is not decided in this hall."
The vote was 150 in favor of the resolution and 6 against, with 10 abstentions. Joining Israel and the United States in voting against were Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Paulau. Abstaining were Cameroon, Canada, El Salvador, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Vanuatu.
While the vote was widely expected, it was postponed twice as the Europeans sought to inject a modicum of balance into the Palestinian-led resolution.
In the end, the Europeans, unanimously supported the resolution after certain modifications.
The Palestinians began circulating the draft resolution early last week. Exploratory discussions between the Palestinians and Holland, which holds the rotating E.U. presidency, began Monday afternoon.
By Tuesday, intense discussions were under way, as the Europeans appeared split in their view.
After a two-hour break Tuesday evening, additions were made to the latest version that apparently appeased European concerns.
The first called on the Palestinian Authority to take action against those "conducting and planning violent attacks" and on Israel "to take no action undermining trust," including attacks on civilians and assassinations of terrorist leaders.
But Mekel criticized the resolution for not making significant reference to Palestinian terrorism, for not specifically noting Israel's right to self-defense and for making the ICJ opinion, not the road map, the main signpost in the peace process.
He said the resolution would allow the Palestinians to condition progress on the road map on Israel's dismantling of the security barrier.
In analyzing the Europeans' role in the vote, one Israeli diplomat reserved his harshest judgment for the French.
"Pardon my French, but we're talking here about the French connection," he said. "They did everything they could this week to guarantee European support for the resolution."
French officials could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, in discussion July 16 surrounding the resolution, the Palestinian U.N. representative, Nasser Al-Kidwa, called on countries to impose sanctions on companies involved in the fence's construction.
"Israel will have to choose what to declare itself -- officially, morally and legally as an outlaw state, or to reconcile itself with a new reality and comply," Al-Kidwa said.
Even as it resigned itself to the resolution's passage, Israel hoped the debate would shed light on the situation.
Blasting the debate as hypocritical, Israeli officials noted the events of last weekend, in which the Palestinian Authority police chief was kidnapped by terrorists from P.A. President Yasser Arafat's own Fatah faction. That set off a round of musical chairs during which Arafat tried to install his cousin in a top security position.
"These are the guys that want to tell the international community what is the rule of law?" Mekel said.
Jewish organizations swiftly blasted the U.N. move.
"Today the General Assembly has built a barrier -- a barrier to progress in the peace process," the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a statement.
The Palestinians will use the resolution to "avoid their responsibility" under the road map to dismantle terrorist organizations, the group said.
"The war on terror cannot be won by closing one's eyes and wishing terrorism away, as the ICJ and the General Assembly have," the statement said. "If the ICJ opinion applies to all states, then terrorists have won the battle. If only to Israel, then anti-Semites have."
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, for its part, denounced the ruling. Noting that Israeli officials cite a tremendous decline in terrorist attacks because of the fence, the group demanded that the General Assembly seek a ruling from the World Court to designate suicide bombings a "crime against humanity."
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said it would meet with U.N. diplomats this week in an effort to prevent even nine affirmative votes necessary to pass a binding resolution at the Security Council.