Palestinians Urge UN President to Add Bite To Institution's Bark
IN a visit to Israel and the occupied territories last week, United Nations General Assembly President Guido de Marco came face to face with the passions generated by three years of the Palestinian uprising. In the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, Mr. de Marco's convoy had to turn back at the entrance to the Jabalya refugee camp as hundreds of youths attacked the military outpost inside.Skip to next paragraph
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In the occupied West Bank, he found himself surrounded by angry Jewish settlers, who hurled abuse and spat at him.
In between, he held talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, which were later characterized more than once by the term ``frank exchange of views'' - diplomatic language for disagreements.
The Israeli government has frequently lashed out at the UN in recent months, accusing it of passing one-sided resolutions condemning Israeli practices in the occupied territories.
Palestinians, for their part, argue that it's time for the UN to add bite to its bark.
``We presented to him our anger and disgust at the UN, vis-`a-vis the hypocrisy and double standards concerning applications of international legitimacy,'' says Saeb Erakat, a political scientist at Al-Najah University in Nablus, after a meeting with de Marco on Friday. ``We demanded that the Palestinians should be part of that international legitimacy.''
Prof. Erakat said the Palestinians leaders demanded that education, health, and labor in the Israeli-occupied territories should be placed under the direct supervision of international bodies.
``Anything short of that is going to be null and void as far as the Israelis are concerned,'' said Erakat. ``They have proved in the past 23 years that they are not capable of respecting the Geneva Conventions or any other UN resolutions.''
De Marco refrained from outlining specifics when asked about future UN action, saying only that it was in Israel's best interests to observe international standards.
``I'm certain that Israel will not want to be branded as a state which is afraid of the international community dealing with this matter,'' he said.
Asked about the possibility of international sanctions, similar to those now in force against Iraq, de Marco said such measures could bring havoc to the region, making a real peace process even more difficult. He said he preferred to see more gradual action.
``I don't like to reach the top of the stairs unless first I go up step by step,'' he said.
De Marco did say he favored an international conference to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, a concept to which Israel is vehemently opposed.
Officials in Jerusalem said Israel was ready to commit itself to ``dialogue with states,'' but not in the context of an international conference, and not with ``terrorist organizations.''
Israeli officials said that the role of UN officials in the occupied territories, a thorny issue, was not discussed with de Marco. In the past, Israel has complained that employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the body responsible for refugee welfare, exceed their mandate, acting as human rights watchdogs.
The General Assembly president said UNRWA officials were acting within their mandate, adding that ``infractions of human rights should not be covered up.''
``I was told that Israel is a democracy, and I believe it is,'' de Marco said. ``But ... any democracy is founded on the observance of human rights. No state should feel that it should object when infractions of human rights are reported.''
Palestinian moderates are warning that the current wave of violence, including the stabbing of Israeli civilians and revenge attacks by Jewish militants, is likely to continue unless the international community moves to keep the two sides apart.
``We need a UN presence,'' says Hana Siniora, a Palestinian publisher. ``Administrative, not just observers. Otherwise what we see a trickle of is going to be a torrent.''