The first test of a major UN effort to unblock the Middle East peace process will come in a Security Council vote expected today. The resolution to be put to vote was being drafted at press time yesterday. Sources indicated that it would:
Endorse a recommendation made last Friday by the UN Secretary-General that Israel be urged to fully apply international humanitarian law to Palestinians living under occupation.
Make a vague but carefully-worded reference to the UN chief's call for an urgent effort by the international community, led by the Security Council, to promote an effective negotiating process.
If adopted, the resolution will for the first time denote United States acceptance in principle that the Security Council is the place to focus Mideast peace efforts - and that, say UN diplomats, is the crucial goal of this effort. What is needed, said a Western diplomat on the Council, is ``a resolution that will not be vetoed by the Americans. That is the most important thing. If we don't come to an agreement at this opening stage, then the whole thing is dead.''
The US has so far made no public response to the Secretary-General's report last Friday. But an American diplomat here indicated that asking Israel to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention (for the protection of civilians living under occupation in times of war) was useful. ``We did it two times in the last month,'' during Security Council debates on the disturbances in the occupied territories, he noted.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze may have helped the UN effort last week by backing off, in a letter to the UN Secretary-General, from a previous Soviet position urging a formal preparatory conference organized by the five permanent Council members (the US, Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China).
Another good sign, diplomats say, is that both the Palestine Liberation Organization's and Israel's responses to the Secretary-General's report have been relatively moderate. The Israelis are under international criticism for their tactics in quelling the Palestinian protests; the Palestinians are under international pressure to make the necessary political overtures to pursue peace. Both sides have been obliged to mute their criticism and to focus on the aspects they find positive in the report.
The PLO has reportedly been told, in intensive diplomatic talks at the UN in the past week, that how they behave during Security Council sessions - in speeches to the Council as well as in willingness to negotiate contents of the proposed resolution - is crucial for the future.
``Whoever wants a state must show statesmanship,'' says one diplomat closely involved in the UN effort.
The resolution is also expected to commend the International Red Cross's activities which provide legal protection for the Palestinians in the occupied territories. And it will also endorse proposals made by the Secretary-General for studies of expanded UN relief activities for Palestinian refugees.
Relief is needed, says Giorgio Giacomelli, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works agency for Palestine Refugees. ``But I consider that a temporary requirement,'' he says. In his conversations with the UN Secretary-General during the drafting of the report, Mr. Giacomelli says, ``I expressed my conviction that the only answer that the refugees are prepared to accept is of a political nature.''
UN Undersecretary-General Marrack Goulding, whose recent highly publicized trip to Israel and the occupied territories provided the data on which much of Secretary-General P'erez de Cu'ellar's report is based, has the same assessment. ``I assure you that if you go there the Palestinian political agenda is very clear: they reject the occupation, and they insist that this is not a refugee problem, it's a political problem requiring a political settlement, and that political settlement should be a Palestinian state...an independent state.''
The formula they specified, he said, is for a state within the West Bank and Gaza. ``One often heard the formulation that, `We lost, and we've lost part of our land in 1948. But we must have returned to us the part of our land that was taken in 1967,''' Mr. Goulding said.