U.N. condemnations alienate Israel further from world body

NEW YORK (JTA) — Worldwide denunciations of Israel are piling up, led by an old nemesis, the United Nations.

Recent resolutions of condemnation by three U.N. bodies — the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights — underscore a vital point, say Jewish observers: how crucial it is for Israel to prevent the "internationalization" of the conflict currently engulfing the Middle East.

Earlier this year, positive signals were sent out with Israel's entry into a U.N. regional grouping and at the U.N. Millennium Summit in September — especially for Israeli premier Ehud Barak's peacemaking efforts. Despite this, the international arena continues to be an environment hostile to Israel.

That is why, at the Oct. 16 summit in Egypt where President Clinton tried to broker a cease-fire, Israel rejected the idea of a probe into the causes of the outbreak of violence.

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat pushed for an "international inquiry" to assign blame for the bloodshed.

But such an inquiry and subsequent "internationalization" — bringing in the United Nations — would not only have provided the Palestinians with a sympathetic ally, it would presumably have watered down the role of the United States.

To date, the United States has walked a fine line between being an "honest broker" in peace talks and an open ally to the Jewish state.

At the United Nations, the long, well-documented record of anti-Israel bias stems from the huge voting bloc of Arab and Muslim states.

The bloc, say analysts, has historically used its sheer numbers, and sometimes oil-related and economic blackmail, to bully other U.N. member states into ganging up on Israel.

In its latest moves last week, the bloc flexed its muscles to deal Israel a double whammy.

On Oct. 19, the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution accusing Israel and its security forces of "war crimes" and "widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights."

No mention was made of Palestinian actions.

The vote was 19 in favor, 16 opposed, with 17 abstentions.

"This sinister resolution reflects hatred, utter moral hypocrisy and blatantly selective standards, while ignoring real human rights abuses on the part of the Palestinians, as well as the real causes of the current violence," said Michael Colson, executive director of the Geneva-based U.N. Watch.

"It is laughable to have the commission lectured on Israel's human rights record by quintessential human rights abusers such as Algeria, Iraq, Iran and Syria," said David Harris, the chairman of U.N. Watch.

Last Friday, the diplomatic victory for the Palestinians was more resounding.

The General Assembly in New York assailed Israel for its "excessive use of force" against Palestinian civilians. The vote was 92 in favor, 6 opposed. There were 46 abstentions. About 30 countries did not vote.

Israel's Foreign Ministry responded that the resolution was "totally one-sided and completely ignores numerous incidents" and "ongoing acts of violence on the part of the Palestinians."

However, as an Israeli diplomat noted, the assembly resolution is "empty rhetoric," as the assembly only has the power "to send faxes, not peacekeepers."

Indeed, while U.N. resolutions go a long way in shaping world opinion, it is Security Council decisions that pack the greatest punch.

The 15-member committee has the authority to mandate, for example, a peacekeeping mission, a war crimes tribunal, an embargo — or an international inquiry.

The council's Oct. 7 resolution against Israel noted the disproportionate number of Palestinian victims without mentioning Jewish casualties, condemned Israel's excessive use of force against civilians, omitted the apparent unwillingness of Palestinian leaders to rein in the rioters and mentioned the Temple Mount only by its Arabic name, Haram Al-Sharif.

But to the relief of the Israelis, the resolution did not mandate any specific action against Israel.

The resolution passed by a 14-0 vote, with the United States, controversially, abstaining.

American officials said they abstained because they didn't want to jeopardize their tenuous status as an "honest broker" and because intelligence sources in the Middle East warned that a veto might incite even more violence, even attacks on American embassies and other interests.

Nevertheless, a few days later came what is now described as a terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole, in which 17 American sailors were killed at a Yemen port.

The United States, however, is still stinging from criticism from pro-Israel supporters over its controversial abstention. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Richard Holbrooke, has vowed to use the American veto if any more motions come before the Security Council.

Observers say U.S. opposition is why the Palestinians turned to other U.N. venues for support. Still, Americans are surprised by the ongoing anti-Israel assaults.

"We had hoped that these kind of senseless and unproductive — one could argue counterproductive — resolutions were a thing of the past," said one American official. "We were wrong."

Holbrooke was also recently quoted as saying, "What you see here in the emotions of the current crisis is some countries trying to bring the U.N. back to its low point" when it passed "resolutions on Zionism that were racist."

In fact, some say these resolutions have the potential to do more than simply damage Israel's image internationally.

"It really strikes me how irresponsible some of these diplomats are, that they shamelessly give so little thought to the implications," said the U.S. official.

"They may be trying to get a rhetorical jab at Israel, but it causes people to die on the ground," the official said, adding that if demonstrators believe that the international community supports their cause, "it can do more to fuel the fire than to put out the flames."

While the resolutions may stack global odds against Israel, the Jewish state enjoys far more international support in bilateral relations between envoys, ambassadors and foreign ministers of individual countries, said one Israeli diplomat.

Nevertheless, in the spotlight of the United Nations, the Israeli diplomatic corps is resigned to this sort of ganging up, the diplomat said.

"It's like the Chicago Bulls playing Yeshiva University."