- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

NEW YORK — The United States yesterday vetoed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution that would have condemned an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip and demanded Israeli troops pull out of the territory, sparking angry denunciations in Arab capitals.

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said the Arab-backed draft resolution was “biased against Israel and politically motivated.”

“This resolution does not display an evenhanded characterization of the recent events in Gaza, nor does it advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace, to which we aspire and for which we are working assiduously,” he told the Security Council.

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The draft received 10 votes in favor and four abstentions, along with the U.S. vote against. Britain, Denmark, Japan and Slovakia all abstained.

It was the second U.S. veto this year of a Security Council draft resolution concerning Israeli military operations in Gaza. The Bush administration blocked action on a document this summer after Israel launched its offensive in response to the capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas-linked Palestinian militants.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the resolution was “very one-sided.”

“It’s good that it wasn’t accepted by the Security Council,” he said.

But the Palestinians’ Hamas-led government was furious at the U.S. veto, which came just three days after an errant Israeli artillery barrage in a civilian area in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun killed 19 persons.

“This decision by the U.S. government gives unlimited cover to commit more massacres of innocent Palestinians,” spokesman Ghazi Hamad said. “This is a shame on the American administration, which says it is trying to promote human rights and democracy in the Middle East.”

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the U.S. veto “will only increase the anger” toward Israel, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit accused the Security Council of “turning a blind eye to Israeli acts in Gaza.”

The Arab League plans to hold an emergency meeting today of foreign ministers in Cairo to decide how to respond to the latest Israeli offensive.

Qatar’s U.N. ambassador, Nassir Al-Nasser, said the failure of the Security Council to act on the draft will lead to continued Israeli violence against Palestinians.

“Any lukewarm reaction or response on our part gives the impression we are shirking from our humanitarian responsibilities,” said Mr. Al-Nasser, who sponsored the resolution on behalf of the Palestinians. Qatar is the only Arab nation on the Security Council.

In the Palestinian territories, tens of thousands of residents converged on longtime Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat’s grave site yesterday to mark the second anniversary of his death in a rally meant to reinvigorate his faltering Fatah Party, with many in the crowd critical of the U.S. veto.

Arafat’s successor, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told the throng he expected to reach a long-delayed deal on forming a joint government with the militant Hamas group by the end of the month. Hamas officials also said a deal was close.

Israel has expressed regret for the loss of life in Beit Hanoun, but has said it will continue operations to stop militants from launching rockets into Israel. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert left Israel yesterday for a Washington visit with President Bush tomorrow.

The draft resolution had been weakened slightly in recent days to help improve its chances of passage. A section was added demanding the Palestinian Authority take immediate action to bring an end to violence, including the firing of rockets into Israel.

It also called for the U.N. secretary-general to establish a “fact-finding mission” to probe Wednesday’s attack in Beit Hanoun, a step below ordering a full investigation.

But Mr. Bolton told the Security Council the draft was still too one-sided. He said it compared legal Israeli military operations with the firing of rockets into Israel — an act of terrorism. He called the fact-finding mission unnecessary and said the text failed to condemn the Hamas’ refusal to renounce terrorism.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement later that the proposed resolution contained “inflammatory and unnecessary language.”

“We do not believe the resolution was designed to contribute to the cause of peace,” she said.

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the fact that the council allowed the draft to go to a vote showed the world’s frustration with the United States for not involving other members of the so-called “Quartet” of Mideast mediators in recent decisions on Israel. The other members are the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

“They don’t have a stake in the talks, and they are more willing now to force our hand,” he said. “A lot of times the world has felt [the Bush administration] has been too pro-Israel, but in this case, people are just fed up.”

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