Israel to sideline EU after UN vote on security fence

Shlomo Shamir

Haaretz

September 18, 2004

NEW YORK - Israel made clear to senior European officials at United Nations headquarters yesterday that "it will be very difficult in the future to include the EU as a party in efforts to advance the peace process," after the European Union joined the sweeping majority that passed an extreme resolution on the separation fence.

In a round of talks with EU representatives, Israeli diplomats stated that "the atmosphere created at the UN following passage of a one-sided resolution makes it doubtful that the EU, UN, and Quartet will be able to play the role of honest broker."

Israel said that by backing the resolution, "EU countries ignored even Israel's right to defend itself. How can Israel place its future in your hands?"

The new United States ambassador to the UN, John Danforth, declared the resolution "utterly one-sided," since it "refrains from mentioning the threat of terror hovering over Israel."

Danforth added that the resolution "is part of a long series of one-sided resolutions passed by the assembly, and which contributed nothing to advancing peace in the Middle East."

Several European ambassadors tried to assuage Israel's anger. "We succeeded in balancing the wording of the resolution," a senior European diplomat told an Israeli colleague.

Senior EU officials also pledged that "we won't support additional measures that [Nasser] al-Kidwa is planning," referring to the PLO observer to the UN.

The resolution submitted by the Arab group passed Tuesday by a wide margin, with 150 member nations in favor, 6 against, and 10 abstaining. The six voting against were the U.S., Israel, Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.

A resolution passed by the assembly is non-binding and has mostly symbolic significance. However from Israel's standpoint, this is a severe resolution through which the PLO is striving to create the basis for intensifying Israel's isolation and sanctions against it, like those imposed on South Africa under apartheid.

Furthermore, on the matter of the separation fence, the UN assembly will now wield what diplomats yesterday called "a whip dangled in front of Israel," to be lifted whenever the Palestinians see fit.

Diplomats and commentators in New York speculated that al-Kidwa will not call upon the Security Council to convene before US elections in November, but will request in September that the emergency session of the assembly reconvene to discuss Israel's ongoing refusal to comply with Tuesday's resolution.

The vote's tally was interpreted as a stinging diplomatic blow to Israel. By contrast, the fact that the majority included nations that are deemed quality members was seen as an impressive diplomatic achievement by al-Kidwa.

In recent days, al-Kidwa orchestrated a focused and exceptionally skilled diplomatic effort behind the scenes, particularly vis-a-vis EU nations, which resulted in one of the most pro-Palestinian votes in UN history.

Veteran commentators observed that Israel also engaged in energetic diplomatic activity to reduce the extent of the expected majority and to increase the number of abstentions.

Diplomatic sources singled out efforts by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who met with European counterparts until the last minute to persuade them to abstain. Shalom "said harsh things" to them, according to sources, and was especially forceful during a meeting Tuesday with the Dutch foreign minister, who is the current EU president.

A mere hour before the vote, EU ambassadors agreed that their 25 members would abstain, and the Dutch ambassador even rushed to inform al-Kidwa of this decision. At the last moment, however, France backed by Sweden blocked a final decision to abstain and pushed fellow members to support the resolution.

"It was the French connection that delivered Europeans' support for the resolution," a Western diplomat who wished to remain anonymous told Haaretz yesterday. "In behind-the-scene negotiations over the wording of the resolution, it was sometimes hard to distinguish between the eagerness of the PLO observer al-Kidwa and that displayed by French Ambassador [Jean-Marc de la] Sabliere," the diplomat added.

Commentators in New York said France's position might have been influenced by their fury over Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's call for French Jews to move to Israel.

EU officials explained their vote by citing al-Kidwa's last minute consent to modify the wording by adding a clause demanding that the Palestinians "take visible measures to stop and prevent individuals or organizations from planning or carrying out violent acts."

For the sake of balance, another clause demanded that Israel "refrain from taking steps that undermine trust - including deportation and counter-offensives against civilians - and cease

illegal acts of killing."