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Middle East: Israel Faces Pressure At Two UN Bodies

  • Robert McMahon

Two UN bodies are meeting in special sessions to debate the recent violence in the West Bank and Gaza. Pressure is mounting for resolutions condemning Israel and forming commissions of inquiry, but Western nations have expressed concern that a broadly negative vote against Israel could threaten new efforts to restore the peace process.

United Nations, 19 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Israel's use of force against Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is facing new condemnation at special UN sessions in Geneva and New York.

The UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva is scheduled to resume a special session today (Thursday). Arab countries on the panel have submitted a resolution that strongly condemns the use of force by Israeli soldiers after Palestinian demonstrations erupted earlier this month.

The resolution has 29 sponsors, including China, Iran, and Iraq, but only 10 of them have voting rights on the 53-member commission. Western diplomats are pursuing a compromise text.

France's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Philippe Petit, said yesterday (Wednesday) that it was important that any moves by the commission do not undermine efforts under way to re-establish peace. Petit was speaking on behalf of the European Union and east European countries.

But the commission Wednesday also heard criticism of Israel's actions from a researcher from Amnesty International who recently surveyed the situation on the West Bank. The researcher, Elizabeth Hodgkin, said Israeli soldiers resorted to lethal force much too quickly in many of the instances her team observed. She also deplored the force used against children, who represent nearly one-third of the estimated 90 Palestinians killed since the outbreak of violence early this month.

"International standards require that every effort should be made to exclude the use of firearms, especially against children."

Later yesterday (Wednesday), the Palestinian Observer to the UN in New York also criticized Israel for the severity of its crackdown on Palestinian demonstrators. The observer, Nasser Al-Kidwa, told a special session of the UN General Assembly that the Israeli actions were premeditated and a violation of international law concerning occupying powers.

But Israel's ambassador to the UN, Yehuda Lancry, followed Al-Kidwa to the podium with a sharp denial that Israel's reaction has been excessive. He accused Palestinian authorities and media of inciting civilians to attack Israeli positions.

Lancry said any Israeli force has been legitimately taken in self defense.

"Israeli soldiers have responded in a measured fashion and with all precautions taken to prevent loss of life. Allegations that Israel used excessive force in those confrontations are completely unfounded. There is no nation on earth that would tolerate such violent life-threatening attacks upon its citizens and not respond in kind."

The General Assembly special session will resume tomorrow (Friday) with an address by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Annan played a key role in the negotiations leading to Tuesday's Sharm el-Sheikh agreement between Israel and Palestinians to end the violence.

The Arab resolution in Geneva did not take into account the Sharm el-Sheikh accord. And Lancry said the special session there was contrary to the spirit of Sharm el-Sheikh and could potentially disrupt efforts to end the violence.

Palestinian representative Al-Kidwa pledged his side would strive to make the agreement work, but he said the world needs to follow the situation closely. He said he hoped the speedy establishment of an inquiry mechanism, as agreed to in the Egypt peace talks, will help bring an end to the volatile situation of the past three weeks.

Resolutions by the UN General Assembly are taken by a majority vote and cannot be vetoed, but they are not legally binding. The UN Security Council, which can pass binding resolutions, earlier this month passed one that condemned Israel for excessive use of force and called for an inquiry into the violence.