Arafat Makes Plea for U.N. Force
UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat personally appealed to the Security Council on Friday to deploy a U.N. force to protect Palestinian civilians, but Israel rejected any international involvement and won critical U.S. support.
Arafat appeared before the 15-member council for about 90 minutes in a stepped-up bid by the Palestinians to involve the United Nations and other international players in the Middle East peace process, traditionally the domain of the two sides and the Americans.
The Palestinian leader was followed at the closed-door council meeting by Israeli Ambassador Yehuda Lancry, who made clear that Israel would not accept any U.N. force in the region since none was envisaged in previous peace accords.
Lancry also rejected a compromise French proposal to deploy unarmed military observers.
``What we need now is not an international presence, which really can run against the spirit of the peace process,″ Lancry told reporters afterwards. He called for a resumption of direct, bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians ``to bring back the calm and the security and to resume the peace talks.″
U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said the United States would oppose any force as long as Israel rejects it, arguing that the United Nations cannot authorize missions without the consent of the governments concerned. He stressed that the Palestinians had never discussed the proposal with Israel.
``It’s not that we’re opposed per se to something because it came from one side or the other,″ Holbrooke said. ``We’re simply not going to support something which is unilaterally proposed without ever having been discussed with the other side directly.″
Despite that veiled threat of a U.S. veto, the Palestinians said they were drafting a resolution authorizing a 2,000-strong, mobile U.N. protection force to be deployed in Palestinian territories and Jerusalem.
``We have exhausted all possibilities for a bilateral effort in order to de-escalate the situation,″ said the deputy Palestinian observer, Marwan Jilani, dismissing Holbrooke’s calls to consult with the Israelis.
``We think it is time for the international community now to step in and provide protection for the Palestinian civilians,″ he said.
Arafat didn’t speak to reporters upon entering or leaving U.N. headquarters.
The Palestinians say the force is necessary to protect Palestinian civilians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where fighting has raged since Sept. 28.
The violence has killed more than 180 people, most of them Palestinians, and effectively halted the Mideast peace process. On Friday, five Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said any U.N. force for the region needs the consent of Israel _ a call backed Friday by the United States, Britain, France and Canada, diplomats said.
France did, however, propose deploying unarmed military observers to the region with Israel’s consent instead of a more robust U.N. protection force, a suggestion backed by Britain and Argentina, the diplomats said.
Other council members, including Malaysia, Mali and Tunisia, supported the Palestinian call for a protection force that has been endorsed by the Non-Aligned Movement of mostly developing nations, the diplomats said.
Arafat told the council he would consider the French proposal, but Lancry said the initiative was just a ``softened″ version of the original Palestinian demand.
``Any attempt to internationalize the dialogue between us will not be useful,″ Lancry said.