UN to vote on Israeli handling of Arab unrest. Debate sparks new initiative on Mideast peace process

Israel's supression of Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is unexpectedly giving renewed impetus to Middle East peace efforts at the United Nations. A Security Council vote scheduled for today on a draft resolution denouncing Israel's ``killing and wounding of defenseless Palestinian civilians,'' could set the stage for new diplomatic initiatives in the region, UN diplomats say.

The Israeli Army's shooting of Palestinian protestors sparked a little-noticed Security Council debate beginning Dec. 11. The debate has been the focus of political jockeying among the major and some minor Middle East players.

The proposed text of the resolution asks the UN Secretary-General to recommend by Jan. 20 ways ``to ensure safety of, and protection for, the Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation.''

Diplomats say that the UN chief could use this opportunity to advance proposals to break the present diplomatic stalemate over the important questions of Palestinian representation in peace negotiations and the role of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The PLO's approval of the text was sought at every stage of the negotiations.

United States diplomats indicated during the negotiations last week that they may veto the resolution.

After having some earlier concerns addressed, the US delegation surprised other negotiators with last minute objections to the word ``Palestinian'' in two key places. Their new instructions, they said, were to have the resolution only refer to ``occupied Arab territories'' and ``civilians under Israeli occupation.''

Any other wording, US diplomats indicated, would have to be approved personally by Secretary of State George Shultz.

All 14 other members of the council, including the four Europeans, are ready to approve the draft as worded.

Despite their objection to terminology that diminishes Palestinian political identity, the PLO asked Friday night to delay the vote until today in the hopes that further negotiations could avert the US veto. The overriding concern of the PLO is to get this resolution - with its possibility of diplomatic openings - adopted.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's UN ambassador, has spoken four times so far in the debate. He nevertheless argues that the council debate is both insignificant and fraudulent. The demonstrations, he claims, are incited by the PLO, which, he said, has been made irrelevant by the recent Arab summit meeting in Amman.

Arab diplomats have uniformly blamed the hard facts of Israel's occupation for the Palestinian demonstrations. And both Arab and Western diplomats on the council say privately that if the Israelis believe that the PLO could incite such vigorous demonstrations, the Israelis would also have to acknowledge that the PLO was a force that would have to be reckoned with in peace negotiations.

European diplomats say that their objection to the Israeli Army's use of live ammunition to quell demonstrations is only a pretext for their support for this resolution. They oppose Israel's whole approach to the Palestinian question, and believe that the Israelis are acting against Israel's own interest.

Ironically, whatever the outcome of today's council vote, the diplomatic fortunes of the PLO have clearly been revived.

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