U.S. Vetoes Resolution Demanding U.N. Ensure Arafat's Safety

The United States vetoed a U.N. resolution that called on Israel to halt threats to expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) from the West Bank (search), saying it was "lopsided" and didn't condemn terrorist groups attacking Israel.

The Palestinians, who had generated wide global support for the resolution, said the vote showed the United States had lost its credibility as an honest broker in the Middle East. They feared the veto would be seen by Israel as a green light to move against Arafat.

"It's a black day for the United Nations," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (search) said by telephone. "I hope that Israel will not interpret the killing of this resolution as a license to kill Arafat."

Of the 15 Security Council members, 11 voted Tuesday in favor of the resolution. Britain, Germany and Bulgaria abstained.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte (search) said the resolution did not contain a condemnation of terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, blamed for several suicide attacks against Israel.

Syria, the only Arab nation on the Security Council, had been pressing for a vote since last week's decision by Israel's security Cabinet to "remove" Arafat in a manner and time to be decided. Israel blames Arafat for sabotaging the peace process and doing nothing to prevent terrorist attacks.

Negroponte reiterated that the United States didn't support the elimination or forced exile of Arafat and believes that his diplomatic isolation is the best course.

He said, "It was lopsided and ... it didn't take into account the elements we thought it ought to take into account, including a robust criticism of Palestinian terrorism."

At a council meeting Monday, virtually all the more than 40 speakers condemned Israel's threats against Arafat.

But Negroponte said the resolution would not have helped in promoting the "road map" for peace, which has the support of the United Nations and Europe.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad expressed regret at the vote, calling the resolution "highly balanced," and noting that most of the language came from previous resolutions that had been adopted by the Security Council.

"The fact that the U.S. delegation used its veto is something extremely regrettable," he said. "It only complicates a situation in the Middle East that is already very complicated."

Last Friday, the 15 council members -- including the United States -- agreed on a press statement expressing "the view that the removal of chairman Arafat would be unhelpful and should not be implemented."

International criticism against Israel mounted after Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that killing Arafat was an option, although the foreign minister later backtracked on the remark.

At Monday's council meeting, Israel's U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman denounced Arafat as a stumbling block to peace, and said he inspired modern "mega-terrorism."

"The resolution did not focus on terrorism killing innocent men, women and children and killing in the process the hopes for peace," he said after Tuesday's vote. "It did not focus on the clear legal responsibility of the Palestinian leadership to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure."

The rejected draft resolution would have demanded "that Israel, the occupying power, desist from any act of deportation and to cease any threat to the safety of the elected president of the Palestinian Authority."

It would have condemned Israel's targeted assassinations of militant leaders and Palestinian suicide bombings, "all of which caused enormous suffering and many innocent victims." It would also have called for a cessation of "all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction."

Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said the United States had lost its credibility to play an honest broker in the Middle East peace process. He warned that "serious consequences may follow the use of this veto, and the United States will bear the consequences for that."

The last veto of a Mideast resolution was also by the United States on Dec. 20, 2002 -- an Arab-backed resolution condemning Israel for the killings of three U.N. workers that U.S. officials termed one-sided.

Mekdad, the Syrian diplomat, warned the rejection of the resolution "will antagonize the feeling of Arabs in the region.

"We don't think the United States needs this anger after all the developments in the region," he said, an obvious reference to the growing resistance to U.S. occupation forces in Iraq.

Britain's Emry Jones Parry said his country's abstention was based on an assessment that the resolution was "insufficiently balanced."

He called on Israel not to construe the outcome of the vote as an endorsement of its action and said the international community had rejected Israel's threat against Arafat.

Germany's envoy Gunter Pleuger said the council was "not living up to its responsibilities." He called on Israel to revoke its decision.