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Will Security Council vote give UN greater role in Mideast peace?

The United States decision not to oppose a United Nations resolution that denounces Israel's handling of Palestinian unrest intensifies pressures on Israel. Security Council Resolution 605, approved Tuesday, also could give the UN a role in the Middle East peace process, which it has lacked since 1974.

The resolution strongly deplores Israel's ``killing and wounding of defenseless Palestinian civilians.'' And it asks the UN secretary-general to produce a report by Jan. 20 recommending ways to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories.

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All 15 members of the Security Council voted for the resolution except the US, which abstained. Arab League representative Clovis Maksoud said the abstention was ``tantamount to an American version of condemnation of Israeli practices.''

Since 1980 the US has vetoed 14 UN resolutions that it viewed as anti-Israeli. The US voted for the resolution condemning Israel's 1981 bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor, and abstained on a resolution condemning Israel's 1985 bombing of the PLO headquarters in Tunis and other resolutions.

Israel had asked the US to veto Resolution 605, and afterwards rejected the resolution ``in its entirety'' on grounds that it ``purported to relate to matters of security which are the exclusive responsibility of Israel...''

The US is particularly upset over Israel's use of live ammunition, and also disagrees on the cause of the unrest. Israel charged that the Palestinian protests were ``deliberate and not spontaneous incitements to violence...'' US Deputy Ambassador to the UN Herbert Okun, however, stated that ``to the best of my government's knowledge, these demonstrations were spontaneous expressions of frustration, and not externally sponsored.''

PLO representative to the UN Zehdi Terzi said in an interview that the resolution's prime significance is the request for the secretary-general's report. ``The secretary-general should first ensure that Israel, as the occupying power, respects and carries out the fourth Geneva convention relating to the protection of civilian populations,'' Mr. Terzi said. Under the Geneva Conventions, transfer of the occupying power's civilian population to the occupied territories is prohibited. Israel has allowed about 60,000 Jews to settle in the occupied lands.

``By acting on this aspect of an overall peace settlement, we have started the peace process, and this call of the Security Council is a good starting point for a comprehensive peaceful approach,'' Terzi said.

Other diplomats actively involved in the negotiations say the resolution contains another innovation with potentially significant diplomatic ramifications. In a preambular paragraph, the resolution makes reference to ``the inalienable rights of all peoples recognized by the charter of the United Nations and proclaimed by the universal declaration of human rights.''

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The first operative paragraph ``strongly deplores those policies and practices of Israel, the occupying power, which violate the human rights of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories...''

This juxtaposition, the drafters say, offers a powerful new legal tool for reinforcing the concept of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

During the negotiations, the US dropped an objection raised to mention of ``the Palestinian people'' and to occupied Palestinian territories. In the council, the US stated that ``this latest eruption of violent confrontation is a forceful reminder of the unresolved political status of the West Bank and Gaza as well as of the deep frustration of the Palestinian people whose daily lives are so profoundly affected.''

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