Published on Thursday, March 14, 2002 in the Daily Telegraph (UK)
Israel Tightens Grip Despite UN Vote
by Alan Philps in Ramallah
WASHINGTON made a fresh effort at the United Nations yesterday to calm the violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Americans submitted a motion that led to a resolution that for the first time talked of a Palestinian state next to Israel. The Security Council passed the resolution by 14-0. Syria abstained on grounds that the text was "too weak".
The vote came as Israel's army strengthened its grip on the town of Ramallah in the West Bank despite ministerial opposition to the measures ordered by Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister.
The UN Security Council is the author of the basic texts of Middle East peace-making. It broke new ground by speaking of a "vision" of two states living within "secure and recognised borders".
Israel, which is used to being castigated in the UN, said the text was a "rare and remarkable" case of a balanced resolution.
But the text's call for an end to "all forms of terror" and its failure to demand withdrawal from the occupied territories was what pleased the Israeli government, not talk of a Palestinian state.
A spokesman said the state would have to be negotiated, and must mark "the end of the conflict between the Jews and Arabs once and for all".
The Palestinians were sceptical. "Talk of a Palestinian state is very good, but it is not what is needed now," said the information minister, Yasser Abd-Rabbo. "What is important is to establish a guarantee for the end of Israeli occupation of Arab land."
A state has been a Palestinian ambition since 1988 and even Mr Sharon has spoken of it as a possibility, though it is unlikely that his proposal of patches of territory under the control of the Palestinians would fit their vision.
The text was drafted by America, which usually vetoes texts critical of Israel. It was presented as Vice-President Dick Cheney toured Arab countries to enlist support for an expected attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
As the Israeli army completed its occupation of Ramallah yesterday, tanks for the first time occupied the centre around Al-Manara Square and encircled Yasser Arafat's office, enforcing a curfew.
There was shooting all day around the two refugee camps as soldiers began to move through the rickety houses and narrow alleys.
One Israeli officer, Lt Gil Badihi, 21, was killed, as well as the deputy head of Force 17, the Palestinian presidential guard, Lt Col Fuad Subhi.
The streets were deserted except for rumbling columns of tanks, crushing cars and churning up the asphalt. Regular bursts of Palestinian gunfire were silenced for a time by a tank shell or a burst of machinegun fire.
Israel's decision to keep the tanks on the streets is likely to delay any hope of a ceasefire at least until next week.
It had been expected that Israel would pull back from Ramallah - the Palestinians' commercial capital - in time for Gen Zinni's visit, which is expected by the end of the week.
President Bush was critical of the Israeli action last night. "Frankly it's not helpful what the Israelis have recently done, in order to create conditions for peace," he said. "I understand someone trying to defend themselves and to fight terror but recent actions aren't helpful."
The decision to press ahead with the campaign against Palestinian armed groups followed a bitter row in the Israeli security cabinet between Mr Sharon and the defence minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.
Mr Ben-Eliezer had wanted to lower the profile of the military onslaught by stopping the use of air bombardments and by keeping a distance from the compound of Mr Arafat.
According to Army Radio, Mr Sharon was keen to "take over" the compound. Despite Mr Ben-Eliezer threatening to resign, the two later agreed to continue the operation until Mr Cheney's arrival on Monday evening.
The doveish Labour Party, of which the defence minister is leader, had wanted to prepare the ground for a ceasefire by the end of the week. But Mr Sharon is insisting on sticking to the agreed policy of "continuous military pressure" on the Palestinians.
The Palestinians said there could be no talk of a ceasefire until the tanks left Ramallah.
Copyright 2002 telegraph.co.uk