UN Backs Palestinian Violence
Steven Edwards - April 16, 2002
UNITED NATIONS - Six European Union countries yesterday endorsed a United Nations document that condones violence as a way to achieve Palestinian statehood.
They were voting as members of the UN Human Rights Commission on a resolution that accuses Israel of a long list of human rights violations, but makes no mention of suicide bombings of Israeli civilians.
Canada and two EU countries -- Britain and Germany -- opposed the measure, which supports the use of "all available means, including armed struggle" to establish a Palestinian state. Guatemala and the Czech Republic joined the opposing voices, but with 40 countries of the 53-member commission voting yes and seven abstaining, the resolution is now part of the international record.
"The text contains formulations that might be interpreted as an endorsement of violence," said Walter Lewalter, the German ambassador to the commission. "There is no condemnation whatsoever of terrorism."
Alfred Moses, a former United States ambassador to the commission and now chairman of UN Watch, a monitoring group, was more blunt.
"A vote in favour of this resolution is a vote for Palestinian terrorism," he said. "An abstention suggests ambivalence toward terror. Any country that condones -- or is indifferent to -- the murder of Israeli civilians in markets, on buses and in cafés has lost any moral standing to criticize Israel's human rights record."
Canada said the resolution did nothing to further peace.
"The failure of the resolution to condemn all acts of terrorism, particularly in the context of recent suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians, is a serious oversight which renders the resolution fundamentally unacceptable," said Marie Gervais-Vidricaire, Canada's ambassador to the commission.
"There can be no justification whatsoever for terrorist acts."
EU members Austria, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain and Sweden approved the resolution, and Italy abstained.
Belgium and Spain have been pushing for tough EU measures against the Jewish state, with Belgium calling for sanctions based on a human rights clause in the EU-Israeli Free Association agreement, which grants Israel preferential trading terms.
But Britain, Germany and the Netherlands say such measures would end the EU's chance of playing a greater diplomatic role in the search for peace.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg yesterday buried talk of imposing sanctions while Colin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State, is in the region trying to arrange a ceasefire.
"We cannot decide on a peace plan while Powell is going back and forth between [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat," one EU diplomat said.
The 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) drew up the Human Rights Commission resolution, backed by co-sponsors China, Cuba and Vietnam.
Of the 14 OIC members on the commission, one -- Cameroon -- abstained from voting on the resolution, while the rest approved it.
Rulings by the commission and other leading UN bodies such as the Security Council and the General Assembly are significant because they enable causes to claim international legitimacy.
The resolution yesterday reaffirms support for a Palestinian armed struggle by "recalling" a 1982 General Assembly resolution that slammed both Israel and the white-run government of South Africa.
Restating past goals by referring to former documents is common diplomatic practice.
The 1982 General Assembly resolution "reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle."
In a 1982 interview being shown in a CNN biography of Mr. Arafat, the Palestinian leader cites the General Assembly and the words "all available means" as justification for terrorist acts.
France's ambassador said yesterday his country could not accept the use of violence even though France had approved the measure.
Austria's ambassador said his country did not subscribe to several paragraphs, including the one that referred to resistance through violence.
Sweden's ambassador said his country had supported the resolution "without joy," but that "the sponsors did not want to accept further improvements to the resolution."
The ambassador of Portugal said his country's support "did not imply total support for some of the formulations of the text."
Belgium's ambassador said the resolution "could be seen as a call for peace."
The resolution comes two days after Mr. Arafat denounced terrorism to make way for his Sunday meeting with Mr. Powell.
The OIC returns year after year to the commission with resolutions that are heavily critical of Israel, but many diplomats said this was the first time they could remember violence being endorsed as a way of furthering human rights.
Arab countries welcomed the support for the resolution. "The majority of 40 votes in favour showed that everyone was fully aware of the seriousness of the situation," said Toufik Salloum, the Syrian ambassador.