(October 10 - 2000) - The United States made a grave mistake in failing to veto what Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called a "one-sided" UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel. The US abstention was a mistake, despite the three seemingly cogent arguments used to explain it: that a worse resolution was blocked, that Israel was consulted all along, and that "US interests" dictated the move.
The UN resolution deplored "the provocation carried out at al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem on 28 September 2000, and the subsequent violence there and at other holy places, as well as in other areas throughout the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, resulting in over 80 Palestinian deaths and many other casualties." The resolution, which passed 14 to 0 with the US abstaining, also condemned "acts of violence, especially the excessive use of force against Palestinians." An innocent observer reading the resolution might reasonably conclude the Palestinians were quietly minding their own business when, out of the blue, Israeli forces decided to throw seven years of talks out the window and attack their negotiating partners. The opposite is the case.
After weeks of official Palestinian broadcasts encouraging violence and lionizing martyrs, and after attacks against Israelis in which both soldiers and civilians were killed, Yasser Arafat took advantage of Likud leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount to turn the flames on full burner.
In any case, the twisted nature of the resolution is not at issue - US Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke called it "unbalanced, biased, and really a lousy piece of work." This recognition begs the question, which was leveled at Albright and Holbrooke repeatedly over the weekend: If the resolution was so lousy, why did the US not exercise its right to veto?
Standard answer No. 1 - that a worse resolution was blocked - does not wash, because it is a truism. The Arab lobby at the United Nations always asks for the moon, in the hopes of passing a slightly less outrageous version after negotiations. According to Holbrooke, the US would have vetoed an "operational" resolution, but it could oppose what was watered down to "just empty rhetoric." Far from "empty," the Security Council resolution was exactly what Arafat needed: an international judgment saddling the blame for his attack against Israel squarely on Israel's shoulders. Now the international commission of inquiry that Arafat fought for in Paris is redundant. The inquiry is over and the verdict is in: Israel is guilty.
The next line of defense used by Albright and Holbrooke was that Israel was closely consulted and "understood" the US position. That the Israeli government "understood" this failure of American will and judgment is itself unfortunate, but in no way excuses US behavior.
Having taken every "risk for peace" expected by the US and more, Israel is now a victim of US weakness, even betrayal. As a tactical matter, Israel may have had to choose its battles with the US, and therefore decided not to more openly resist the US position. But an Israel under siege should not have been forced into giving the US a pass in the Security Council, one of the few arenas where the US has a decisive voice.
Albright argues that "our role in the Middle East is to try to be the negotiator, the mediator, the honest broker." Could Albright mean that the US must be an 'honest broker' in the face of a wholesale attack by the party that has rejected their peace proposals on the party that accepted them? An "honest broker" that cannot differentiate between aggressor and victim is not doing the peace process any favors. An "honest broker" role makes sense in the context of negotiations, not when the negotiating track has been unilaterally tossed out the window by one party.
Finally, Albright alludes to America's "larger responsibilities within the whole region" in explaining the US abstention. This is veiled allusion to the risk of riots against American embassies and relations with the Arab world, but again the logic is backwards and dangerous.
A US veto would have signaled to Arafat and the Arab world that this round of blaming the victim is over. Now Arafat, Hizbullah, Saddam Hussein (who just called again for Israel's destruction), and anyone else who wants to jump on the absurd bandwagon that Israel is threatening al-Aksa Mosque can see that Israel's great ally, the United States, is unwilling to come to her defense. This can only be bad for Israel, bad for the United States, and bad for peace.
© 2000 Jerusalem Post