UNITED NATIONS, N.Y.
DISPLEASED as they may be at the Palestine Liberation Organization's ambivalent stand on the Gulf crisis, many Arab diplomats are equally dismayed at the American tactics that sidelined Palestinian issues in the United Nations last month. For the first time, a ranking Palestinian delegation, led by Foreign Minister designate Farouk Kaddoumi, was not issued visas in time to arrive for the annual UN commemoration of Palestine Day on Nov. 29.
``There's always some kind of harassment,'' says Shafik Hout, a senior independent Palestinian adviser. ``But this is the first time we missed the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people.... The Americans were smart; they said it wasn't a political matter, just a bureaucratic delay.''
The group was issued visas Nov. 30. The United States State Department only requires 15 working days to process visas for PLO delegates. PLO representatives say they applied Oct. 29.
In addition, the UN Security Council, chaired in November by US Ambassador Thomas Pickering, delayed consideration of a response to the killing of at least 20 Palestinians by Israeli police Oct. 8 on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.
Several nonaligned Council members joined the PLO in accusing Mr. Pickering of unprecedented manipulation of Council rules of procedure to keep the Palestinian issue at bay while the US lobbied for agreement on a ultimatum on Iraq.
Yemeni Ambassador Abdalla al-Ashtal, who assumed the rotating Council presidency Saturday, said, ``Any Council member can call for a meeting and a vote anytime, and the president has just to oblige.'' Otherwise, he observed, a Council president could arbitrarily keep an issue from consideration altogether.
But he went on to blame the delay on instructions issued by the State Department. ``The whole thing is political.... The US doesn't want to vote against the resolution on the [Israeli] occupied territories because the political cost is so much, and with pressure from the Israeli lobby, any vote on the Middle East is an agony for them. They're under so much pressure, so they just filibuster.''
But a senior US representative to the UN said it was ``a distortion and unfair'' to accuse the US of manipulation. ``On the one hand, it is quite true that the Security Council rules say if one member calls for a vote, it should go ahead. But it's been the practice of the Council to work through the text to try to get the broadest agreement possible.''
Other Arab diplomats questioned how far the nonaligned countries of Yemen, Cuba, Malaysia, and Colombia had pushed to have the Council meeting. A Gulf ambassador said that Pickering assured him that there was no agreement within the Council.
In a press conference following Thursday's vote on the ultimatum to Iraq, Secretary of State James Baker III denied that a deal had been struck promising US support for the proposed Palestinian resolution in exchange for agreement to delay a vote.
``We think it is important to address the question of Arab-Israeli peace,'' he said. ``What we said was, we would discuss with them next week, in good faith, the resolution that is now pending, which is unacceptable to the US, and see if there could be some sort of an understanding or consensus arrived at with respect to that. There are no promises, no commitments.''
The Council was stalemated on a resolution last March and April which would have criticized Israel's settlement policy in the occupied territories.
In late May, the US vetoed a resolution that would have dispatched a committee of three Council members to examine Israeli practices in the occupied territories.
On Oct. 12, the council unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar's decision to send a delegation of UN officials to the region. Israel refused to receive the mission.
Under intense US pressure, Israel relented and invited Jean-Claude Aime, the secretary-general's top assistant on Middle East matters, to Israel - though not in connection with the Temple Mount killings.