Jewish leaders praise tough U.S. stand on Israel at U.N.

In a statement last Friday, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, said the United States would only seriously consider Security Council resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that condemn terrorism and incitement; explicitly denounce Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aksa Brigade; call for all parties to pursue a negotiated settlement; and recognize that Israeli withdrawal to pre-intifada lines is "connected" to the improvement of the security situation.

A U.S. official said Negroponte's statement is "not a new policy," but indeed it marks the first time the United States has explicitly set such conditions.

And it puts the Arab countries in the spotlight, said Ariel Milo, spokesman for the Israel Mission to the United Nations in New York.

"If they decide not to condemn the Palestinian terrorism, then any resolution they come up with will be a nonstarter," Milo said. "The onus is on them to see if they're serious."

Negroponte's statement came as a draft resolution sponsored by Syria that condemned Israel for its attack last week in Gaza was put on hold indefinitely because Security Council members were unable to reach consensus on a draft. Since the outbreak of the intifada in September 2000, the 15-member Security Council, the only U.N. body with binding authority, has seen a barrage of Palestinian-sponsored resolutions against Israel.

"This is an attempt to eliminate one-sided Security Council resolutions," a U.S. official said.

"We are constantly here at the council dealing with a proliferation of resolutions" on the Middle East "every time that there is a development that isn't to the liking of" some council members, the official said. "That kind of activity takes away from the diplomatic efforts we're engaging in on the ground in the region."

"Frankly," he said, the Middle East crisis is "not going to be solved here in New York."

As one of the council's five permanent members — the 10 non-permanent members are drawn on a rotating basis from the U.N.'s five geographical regions — the United States has veto power. It has used it to block two anti-Israel resolutions because they did not condemn Palestinian terror or incitement to violence.

Since September 2000, the council has passed five resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They primarily call on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian cities or urge an investigation into Israel's operation in the Jenin refugee camp, with no specific mention of Palestinian-sponsored violence or terrorism.

However, two U.S.-sponsored resolutions this year specifically called for a "cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror." Another expresses "concern at the further deterioration of the situation, including the recent suicide bombings in Israel" — though it doesn't condemn it outright.

Since the outbreak of the intifada, Arab countries have called three emergency sessions of the General Assembly, where no country has veto power and resolutions are symbolic.

One anti-Israel resolution passed in each of the emergency sessions in addition to the 19 anti-Israel resolutions passed each year in the General Assembly. For at least the last decade, Israel has been the object of more condemnations at the United Nations than any other country, according to an Israeli source.

But the current deliberation within the Arab bloc on whether to amend the Syrian resolution could indicate that the American stance is bearing fruit.

The Arab group is not inclined to push for a resolution that would fail, one European diplomat said.

The diplomat said it wasn't clear yet if council members believed Negroponte's statement was a "solid marker for the future and for any future resolution," or whether it merely was intended to show that the United States was strongly opposed to the Syrian resolution.

But U.S. officials insisted that the conditions were firm.

"We would not be willing to entertain a text unless those elements — and not one or two of them, but all of those elements — are included," a U.S. official said.

Israel and Jewish groups welcomed that commitment.

"At long last, there will be a sense of fair treatment and no double standards applied in the resolutions put forth by the U.N. pertaining to the Middle East," said Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The United States "has finally demonstrated the courage to make it clear that from here on the kind of one-sided, unbalanced, biased attacks on Israel that have been endemic in that organization for decades now will not be tolerated," Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman believes the U.S. standards will pre-empt Arab efforts to blur the distinction between the "arsonist and the firefighter."

"Now the Arab militants who are seeking" a base "to delegitimize Israel through U.N. resolutions will not have the U.N. resolutions to fall back on," he said.

According to David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, Negroponte's "necessary" and "long overdue" statement is "a major development for integrity and principle" at the United Nations.

"Once again, the U.S. is the lone voice" that says "enough. We don't want to go along with this skewed, unbalanced process," Harris said.

The U.S. statement will help rebuild the Security Council's credibility by ensuring the passage of resolutions with which Israel will comply, one Israeli official said.

But some U.N. insiders are frustrated that the United States is imposing requirements on a consensus issue.

"We all agreed that the action taken in Gaza was (a) wrong and (b) unhelpful," the European diplomat said. "Privately, I think a lot of council members would tend to agree" that a resolution was unnecessary, given the strong statements from their governments condemning the attack.

Now, however, with both the Arab countries and the United States firmly split, the chances to reach consensus on the council look bleak, she said.