by Thalif Deen
two days of discussions, the 15-member UN Security Council sidestepped the crisis in the Middle East, declining to take any action to halt the escalating violence in the West Bank and Gaza.
One diplomat from a developing country, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the council's public meeting on the Middle East as an exercise in futility. Some 45 of the 189 UN member states participated in the debate.
The 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference sponsored a draft resolution but did not present it formally to the council, primarily to avoid a United States veto.
Ambassador Nasser Al-Kidwa, permanent observer of Palestine to the United Nations, told reporters August 21 that the credibility of the Security Council was at stake. "It will send a very negative message to the outside world," he said.
Al-Kidwa said that many speakers expressed frustration over the lack of action by the council. But he pledged to proceed with the draft resolution for a final decision in the coming weeks.
The draft resolution calls for Israelis and Palestinians to start implementing the recommendations made by an international fact-finding committee headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell.
The Mitchell report, which was accepted by both sides, seeks not only an end to Palestinian violence but also the termination of new Israeli settlements in occupied territories.
The draft resolution also calls for the establishment of a monitoring mechanism to help implement the report.
Additionally, it requests Israel to withdraw from all Palestinian institutions, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters, Orient House, which it recently occupied.
nearly five months of self-imposed silence, the Security Council last week re-visited the crisis in the West Bank and Gaza as violence continued to escalate there.
Al-Kidwa said he regretted that the council had remained totally oblivious to a conflict that has claimed the lives of some 563 Palestinians and about 130 Israelis since last September.
Paradoxically, Al-Kidwa said, the council in recent months has been "enthusiastically engaged" in discussing topics such as "prevention of armed conflict" and "protection of civilians in armed conflict." Yet, it continued to cold-shoulder the crisis, he added.
The primary reason for inaction was the strong opposition to any public meetings of the Security Council by the veto-wielding United States.
The United States, which has also continued to argue that any attempt to condemn Israel would only aggravate the situation, has opposed sending UN monitors to the occupied territories. In March, the United States vetoed a draft resolution calling for UN monitors in the West Bank and Gaza.
Al-Kidwa said that he has come back to the council once again because it is the only institution that can help stop the violence.
"The situation has continued to deteriorate in a dangerous way up to the current situation which you are all aware of," Al-Kidwa told the council.
Although a number of Western nations have said they favor UN monitors, they would rather proceed with U.S. support and cooperation.
U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham told the council the Palestinian Authority must make clear, by its own actions, it will not tolerate terror and violence. "Without such action, the situation will only deteriorate further," he said.
At the same time, Cunningham added, Israel should avoid actions that might escalate the situation and should make economic and security moves to alleviate pressure on Palestinians.
"Simply and sadly put, there are no quick or easy solutions to this bitter conflict", he said. "There are no short cuts in this council or elsewhere. Peace cannot be imposed, it has to be worked for."
Ambassador Hasmy Agam of Malaysia said the council has not been able to carry out its responsibility in the past because either it was prevented from doing so or was unable to implement the resolutions it has adopted on Palestine.
"Clearly, in the light of the grave situation obtaining in the occupied Palestinian territory, the council cannot afford to maintain the same position," he added.
Inaction by the council, "in the face of continued provocative actions by Israel, would be a gross dereliction of its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security", Agam added.
Ambassador Yehuda Lancy of Israel said that in the light of the security situation, Israel was forced to take action in defense of its citizens.
"These were not actions that we wished to take, these were actions that were forced upon us, and at the same time, they are indispensable," he said.
Lancy said that Israel remains opposed to an international presence in the occupied territories, because this would contravene both the spirit and the letter of direct bilateral face-to-face negotiations.
"All calls for an international presence have been predicated on the mutual acquiescence of both sides. For its part, Israel does not accept such a presence," he said.
August 27, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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