Symbolic fight for Israel at UN

A special session of the UN will be convened Monday to discuss Israel's growing separation barrier in the West Bank.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Arab members of the United Nations have convened another special session of the world body Monday to denounce the separation barrier Israel is building across the West Bank.

And following its stated formula, the United States will once again be one of the few countries to vote against the resolution. A similar vote in October went 144-4 against Israel.

This formula, known as the Negroponte Doctrine, spells out what any Israel-related resolution must include to win a US vote - especially condemnation of Palestinian terrorism and a call for dismantling Hamas, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigrade, and Islamic Jihad.

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"If you don't resist efforts to pass these lopsided resolutions, it causes the Palestinians to feel they're let off the hook," the US Ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, told the Monitor. "It vindicates their actions, that they must be doing everything right and it's the other guy entirely responsible, when in fact everybody has a responsibility to contribute to a peaceful solution to this conflict."

Negroponte's doctrine, aside from "naming names" of militant groups, now requires resolutions to "call upon all parties to make a commitment to pursue a negotiated settlement" and that Israel's withdrawal from Palestinian towns "is connected to an improvement in the security situation through reciprocal steps by the Palestinians and Israelis."

The Negroponte Doctrine, first articulated in August 2002, is why Monday's special session has been called for the 191-member General Assembly, not the Security Council.

In the Assembly, it's one country, one vote. Resolutions are primarily symbolic, not binding. No one has a veto. It's at the 15-seat Council, entrusted to "maintain international peace and security," where the real action takes place. Resolutions there carry the weight of international law - among other things, it has the power to apply sanctions, impose peacekeepers, or authorize military intervention. And the five permanent Council members - US, Britain, France, Russia, and China - hold a veto.

The US has been particularly active of late wielding its veto on behalf of Israel.

On Sept. 16, the US vetoed a resolution that demanded Israel not harm or expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, after Israel had threatened to deport him. A month later, the US spiked a resolution condemning Israel's new barrier. Negroponte vetoed both on the grounds that neither contained a robust condemnation of terrorism.

A third resolution, put forth by Council member Syria, came on the heels of Israel's October assault on an alleged Islamic Jihad training base in Syria. The resolution did not mention the previous day's suicide bombing in Haifa, which killed 20 and was reportedly carried out by Islamic Jihad. The US quashed the resolution before it came to a vote.

With the US blocking the way at the Council, Palestinian supporters say Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has carte blanche. "The Palestinians have no recourse in the Council because of the US veto, so there will never be an effective sanction of Israeli behavior or restraint imposed on Israel," says James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. "It's damaged our own country, because frankly, we've been reduced to and viewed as acting unilaterally."

So the Palestinians settle for the path of lesser resistance - the General Assembly.While Mr. Zogby and others suggest Assembly votes are reflections of international opinion, UN-watchers note the Palestinians have historically enjoyed what's called "the numbers game." The Palestinians count on the solidarity of the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference within the Assembly, plus much of the developing world for an "automatic majority."

No Assembly resolution has ever singled out the Palestinians for criticism. When Israel last month put forth its first Assembly resolution in three decades, one that mirrored annual resolutions in the name of protecting Palestinian children from attacks - but inserted "Israeli children" instead - the Egyptians reportedly stripped out the reference and changed it to refer to all children in the Middle East. Israel withdrew the resolution.

But Monday's special session and expected resolution contain a new wrinkle. For the first time, the Palestinian side will try to involve the International Court of Justice, a UN arm in The Hague, and ask for an "advisory opinion" on the legality of the barrier. Some of Israel's supporters say that may pave the way for some sort of prosecution of Israeli officials.

Edward Abington, a Washington political adviser to the Palestinians and the US counsel general in Israel from 1993-97, says the Negroponte doctrine is less about perceived fair play than the Bush administration's "unwillingness to take on Israel in a variety of areas. The doctrine has stifled the give and take in negotiating on the Council and led to a deadlock."

Nevertheless, Israel has the one vote where it matters, says Arye Mekel, Israel's deputy permanent representative to the UN. "While there are 22 Arab countries and only one Jewish country, anyone really interested in solving this issue realizes Israel is 50 percent of the conflict," says Mekel. "So, while we may have only vote at the UN, we are also 50 percent of the solution."

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