- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

NEW YORK — With Israel opposing a Russian push for a U.N. Security Council endorsement of the “road map” Middle East peace plan, the Bush administration is facing a tough choice between offending Israel or repudiating its own plan.

The Russian government last Thursday circulated a simple draft resolution in which the Security Council would endorse the peace initiative, which sets out steps to be taken by the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to achieve a lasting peace between two secure and independent states.

That plan was drafted by the so-called Quartet — the United States, Russia, United Nations and the European Union — and has been welcomed, at least in principle, by both parties. However, the Israelis and the Palestinians each say it is up to the other to take the first steps.

Israel is especially eager to keep its affairs out of the United Nations, which is numerically dominated by nations sympathetic to the Arab view of the Middle East.

The Russians say that a council resolution would emphasize the need to get the Israelis and the Palestinians again moving along the path outlined in the road map.

But the Americans, spurred in part by Israel’s resistance, are trying to keep the matter from the Security Council’s chambers.

They say they do not have a problem with the concept of the resolution, only the timing.

“Talk in New York is not helpful,” said a U.S. official yesterday, who acknowledged the general assessment that the peace process is stalled. “We still feel the Quartet is the best way to push these parties together to do more.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon flew to Moscow this weekend in an unsuccessful attempt to have President Vladimir Putin withdraw the initiative.

“Russia is going to take a more active part, as far as it is possible on our side, in the process of resolving the Middle East issue,” Mr. Putin told reporters in Moscow.

His foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, added, “there is no alternative to the road map.”

The blueprint calls for both sides to take confidence-building measures, including an end to Israeli settlement activity and a withdrawal of its army from Palestinian-administered lands.

The Palestinians are to crack down on terrorists.

Israel has registered a dozen reservations to the document, under which the Palestinians could have their own state by 2005.

The road-map resolution is not yet entered on the Security Council’s schedule for this month, but it could still be added, according to Angolan Ambassador Ismael Abraado Gaspar Martins, who presides over the council for the month.

“We need to change it from a standstill,” Mr. Gaspar Martins told reporters yesterday. “That is what is intended on the part of the council.”

He said the 15 member nations had not yet agreed to take up the matter.

The Russian draft expresses “grave concern at the continuation of the tragic and violent events” in the region, and demands “an immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction.”

The text also endorses the road map and calls on the parties to fulfill their obligations, and to cooperate with the Quartet and “achieve the vision of two states.”

The draft does not refer to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which would make the resolution legally binding.

However, the council’s resolutions, especially when unanimous, have a gravitas that is difficult to ignore or discount.

The United States has for years been highly protective of Israel inside the U.N. Security Council, frequently vetoing resolutions that would criticize the Jewish state.

But U.S. officials said this week it is premature to speak of vetoing the Russian proposal.

Israeli officials say that they cannot work with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

However, Mr. Sharon said this weekend he was willing to meet with new Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said last week that a council resolution would show the new government that the international community wants to support the peace effort.

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