The Security Council voted unanimously on Monday to strongly condemn Israel for its recent decision to expel 12 Palestinian activists from the occupied territories.
Israel's plans brought protests from Arab delegations who delayed their departure for the Middle East peace talks in Washington. But in his statement to the council, Nasser Kidwa, Palestine's permanent observer at the United Nations, indicated that the talks, which adjourned Dec. 18, would resume.
And Arab officials in Washington had said they would be ready to talk once the Security Council voted on the resolution, which was drafted by the PLO and contained the strongest criticism so far of Israel's deportation policy.
In diplomatic terms, the resolution used unusually tough language to rebuke Israel for its decision to resume deporting Palestinian civilians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It requested that Israel, as an occupying power, act "to ensure the safe and immediate return to the occupied territories of all those deported."
It reaffirmed the application of the Fourth Geneva Convention--covering the treatment of civilians in occupied areas--to all Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem, held by Israel since 1967.
Clearly, the council's intent not only was to censure Israel but also to push forward the peace process in Washington.
"This resolution is a clear statement of the condemnation of the Council," said U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, acknowledging that it contained new, stronger language than the Security Council's previous deportation resolutions. "The council has said it would like to see the individuals not deported and the individuals who have been deported returned. . . . We hope that resolution will be implemented."
Pickering, in remarks echoed by other delegates, said the Bush Administration hopes that the Middle East peace talks, sessions of which have been conducted in Madrid and in Washington, will resume in the American capital very soon.
Asked whether the resolution could open the door to sanctions against Israel, Pickering said he does not want to speculate on that possibility at this time.
Yoram Aridor, Israel's U.N. ambassador, labeled the Security Council action "an unbalanced resolution" that did not take into account that Israel was acting in self-defense.
"We have an obligation to protect Jews and Arabs (who) are Israeli residents," he said, looking grim, after the vote. "We have an obligation, and we have to deter the terrorists, and expulsion is one of the most efficient ways to deter terrorists.
"This resolution does not contribute to the peace process and does not discourage further terrorist acts," Aridor added.
In his formal remarks to the council, he underlined his government's determination to reserve the right to expel problem individuals, saying: "Israel cannot allow what may well be an extended peace process to be used as a smoke screen for terror attacks against Israeli civilians. Israelis are being systematically attacked before each stage of negotiations. . . . Israel has a legal obligation to defend its residents, Jews and Arabs alike, and will continue to do so. Israel will also continue to seek peace through the peace process. These two paths reinforce each other."
Since the Arab uprising began to protest Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, 67 Palestinians have been banished to Lebanon. No date has been set for the latest expulsions, pending legal appeals by the dozen accused.
But in his formal remarks to the council, Pickering stressed that the United States had long called on all parties to avoid unilateral actions and preferred that individuals charged with wrongdoing be brought before a court and tried.
"If found guilty, parties should be imprisoned," he said. "We have repeatedly urged the government of Israel immediately and permanently to cease deportations and to comply fully with the Fourth Geneva Convention in all of the territories it has occupied since June 5, 1967."
Before the council meeting, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali met with Kidwa, the Palestinian envoy. Boutros-Ghali called upon Israel to reconsider its decision and said that, while efforts to expedite the peace process are under way, he hoped all sides would refrain from acts that could serve only to heighten tension.
The peace talks could resume in Washington on Wednesday. The negotiations had been scheduled to continue today after a holiday recess, but the Arab parties insisted on a postponement to protest the Palestinian deportation orders.
In this round of the complex Middle East peace process, Israel is scheduled to hold separate face-to-face talks at the State Department with Syria, Lebanon and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. These sessions continue meetings held last month in Washington and in November in Madrid.
Goldman reported from the United Nations and Kempster reported from Washington.