U.S. vetoes criticism of Yassins killing

A resolution at the United Nations condemning the Israeli government’s extrajudicial assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin was defeated in the Security Council on March 25 as a result of a U.S. veto, prompting many Palestinians to charge that Washington was giving a green light to Israel’s policy of “targeted killings.”

Yassin, 67, the wheelchair-bound spiritual leader of Hamas, was killed on March 22 when Israeli army helicopters fired at least three U.S.-made Hellfire missiles at the paralyzed cleric. At least six others were also killed and 17 were injured in the attack, which took place as Yassin was returning from morning prayers at his mosque.

The draft UN resolution, which condemned Israel’s assassination of the Palestinian leader – as well as all terrorist attacks on civilians and all acts of violence and destruction – had the support of a strong majority of the council. It received 11 votes in favor (two more than the nine votes required to pass it), 1 against (the U.S.), and 3 abstentions (Germany, Romania, and the United Kingdom).

The U.S., because it is one of five permanent members of the Security Council, was able to exercise its veto and kill the resolution, the 28th time it has done so in connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, defended the U.S. veto by claiming the resolution was “one-sided” and that it didn’t specifically single out Hamas for similar condemnation.

Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, France’s representative, disagreed, saying the Security Council “should send a strong and clear message to all sides” urging adherence to international law and condemning extrajudicial killings and all terrorist acts.

Algeria’s representative, Abdallah Baali, expressed frustration at the council’s inability to adopt a statement condemning the assassination, adding that by not doing so, “the council is not sending the right message to the world that had unanimously condemned the crime.” He said the UN appears to be “doomed to fail” whenever it deals with issues relating to the Middle East.

According to Reuters, Palestinians immediately denounced the U.S. veto and thousands demonstrated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Tehran, Iran, at least 5,000 people marched in protest as well.

“I’m afraid this U.S. veto will be taken by Israel as encouragement to continue on the path of violence and escalation, assassinations and reoccupation (of Palestinian territory),” Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told Reuters.

Meanwhile on March 30, the day known as “Land Day” among the Palestinian people, thousands of Palestinians rallied and marched against the Israeli occupation. They also denounced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policy of building of an apartheid-like “separation wall” along Israel’s border with the West Bank. The wall, which the Israeli government says is needed for the country’s security, is in fact part of a new, aggressive Israeli land grab, Palestinians charge.

Land Day commemorates the killing of six Palestinians in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, when Israeli troops fired on a peaceful protest against the confiscation of Palestinian lands. Since 1967, Israel has confiscated more than 750,000 acres of land from the 1.5 million acres comprising the West Bank and Gaza, according to MIFTAH, a Jerusalem-based Palestinian peace and justice group. Most of the space has been seized to build illegal settlements and bypass roads that are limited exclusively to Israeli settlers.

MIFTAH notes that the Israeli separation wall, which has been described by a UN report as “creeping annexation,” involves the confiscation of large amounts of fertile Palestinian land, and that, unless stopped, “the separation wall will annex 45 percent of the West Bank territory, leaving all Palestinians to live in 12 percent of historic Palestine.”

The Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv reports that Israel is pressing the Bush administration for a presidential letter that includes a statement that in any final settlement Israel will not have to return to its 1967 borders, known as the Green Line. Ha’aretz, another leading Israeli paper, reports that Israel is also insisting on a U.S. declaration denying the right of Palestinian refugees to ever return to Israel, and supporting the Israel’s completion of the wall around key settlements in the occupied territories.

Prime Minister Sharon is reportedly pleased with the Bush administration’s receptivity to such plans, all of which relate to his so-called disengagement plan.

The author can be reached at malmberg@pww.org.