U.S. veto assailed as license to kill Arafat

In a move that many regard as giving a green light to the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon to deport or kill Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, the U.S. vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Sept. 16 denouncing the Israeli cabinet’s recent decision to “remove” the Palestinian leader.

Senior Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat immediately said he fears the U.S. veto will signal to Israel that it has a “license to kill” Arafat.

The resolution, which was submitted by Pakistan, South Africa, Sudan, and Syria, opposed Israel’s threatened deportation of the Palestinian president and the threats to his personal safety made by Israeli government officials. It also called for an end to all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement, and destruction in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Eleven Security Council membersvoted for the resolution. Only the U.S. voted against it. Britain, Bulgaria and Germany abstained.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, calling the resolution “flawed” because it didn’t denounce groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad emphatically enough, cast the decisive U.S. veto to scuttle it.

Later, in the UN General Assembly, the U.S. and Israel were even more isolated. After a heated debate on Sept. 18, the General Assembly voted 133-4 to condemn the Israeli threats against Arafat. It also deplored the escalating violence and called for a return to the road map peace plan. The U.S., Israel, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands were alone in voting against this resolution.

Palestinian Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qurie called the Bush administration’s stance on Arafat “regrettable” and harmful to the achievement of a just peace. Qurie is currently in the process of forming a new Palestinian cabinet.

Over 6,000 people rallied for peace at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Sept. 20. Speakers included several current and former members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, including Knesset Member and Labor Party Secretary-General Ophir Pines.

“Sharon’s government has terribly failed, and is not able to offer any kind of solutions in any field. … He abandoned the citizens of this state. … This government must resign now,” said Pines, as quoted by the Yeodit Ahranot daily.

Rally speakers called for Israel to leave its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They also denounced the Israeli government’s policy of targeted assassinations of Palestinian leaders, saying such killings only feed the cycle of violence. They then marched through Tel Aviv to the Israeli Defense Ministry.

The rally was organized by Peace Now, which said it was launching a “street campaign” for a just peace that will unfold over the next several months. The campaign will involve more demonstrations and possibly a march to the occupied territories, organizers said.

On the heels of these developments, President Arafat delivered a letter on Sept. 22 to the members of the “Quartet” – the U.S., UN, European Union, and Russia – in which he urged a comprehensive cease-fire, or “total truce,” with Israel. He appealed for an international observer force help enforce it. The Sharon government immediately dismissed the offer, in keeping with Israel’s long-standing opposition to the presence of any international observers of its decades-long occupation.

Senior Israeli defense officials visited Washington, D.C., on the same day to negotiate some of the details of the “separation wall” it is building in the West Bank. The wall, which is intended to keep Palestinians out of Israel, has been denounced as reminiscent of South Africa’s apartheid. The Bush administration has expressed only muted misgivings about the wall, and is giving it de facto support in the form of continuing U.S. aid to the Israeli government.

The author can be reached at malmberg@pww.org