US abstention said to be a warning to Israel

Experts say US failure to veto UNSC resolution on Gaza shows Washington's patience running thin.

UNSC gaza 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
UNSC gaza 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
UN experts said the US abstention on Thursday night's Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza should be viewed as a warning to Israeli leaders that Washington's patience may be running thin. Outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who spent three days in New York shuttling between conference chambers with her cell phone clutched tightly in her hand to help broker a deal between Arab nations and Western powers, told reporters Friday that the abstention was meant as an endorsement of the multilateral peace talks taking place in Cairo. "It was simply believed that this might have been a little premature," Rice said at a briefing, referring to the British-sponsored resolution. She said that she did not believe the final text implied any equivalence between Israeli, a UN member state, and Hamas, which she described as "a terrorist organization," but said she felt it was important for the Security Council to articulate its "condemnation of all acts of terrorism." "For the council to express that this all began with the refusal of Hamas to actually extend the [cease-fire] that Egypt had negotiated before, we thought these were important points, and given the situation in Gaza, that it was acceptable for the UN to speak," Rice said. Veteran UN watchers told The Jerusalem Post that the Americans' unwillingness to veto the British resolution, whose text was amended to reflect the concerns of Arab leaders, was unusual. "The fact that the US didn't veto is a victory, of sorts," said Warren Hoge, a former New York Times UN bureau chief who now works at the International Peace Institute, a think-tank that conducts research on UN affairs and conflict resolution. The US vetoed an earlier Security Council statement, proposed by Libya, condemning the outbreak of violence in Gaza, objecting to the "unbalanced" equation of Hamas shelling with the Israeli military operation. But Rice arrived in New York apparently committed to seeing through a Security Council measure, despite repeated Israeli insistence that it would not accept any resolution as binding. "That's the most [the US has] ever done on a resolution the Israelis opposed, which I see as a sign that Israel may have gone too far," said Thomas Weiss, codirector of the UN Intellectual History project and a professor of political science at the City University of New York. "If you're reading tea leaves, if I were an Israeli diplomat I'd be worried," Weiss told the Post. Israel's UN Ambassador Gabriela Shalev reiterated after the Security Council vote that Israel will only accept a measure that places responsibility for the military action on Hamas's shoulders. "The international community must focus its attention on the cessation of Hamas's terrorist activity and make clear that a terrorist organization can never be a legitimate leadership," Shalev said. Hamas also dismissed the resolution, with spokesmen in the Middle East expressing irritation that they were not consulted. "Nobody consulted Hamas or talked to Hamas. Nobody put Hamas in the picture and yet Hamas is required to accept it. This is unacceptable," Muhammad Nazzal, a senior Hamas official based in Syria, told Al-Arabiya television. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki told The Associated Press Friday that both Israel and Hamas were showing "total disrespect" for the UN Security Council by ignoring the Security Council's call for a truce. Malki warned that Arab ministers who took part in the negotiations plan a "reaction" if Israel and Hamas fail to acknowledge the UN resolution over the weekend, but did not elaborate. Resolution 1860 passed late Thursday by consensus, with the other 14 members of the council voting unanimously in favor of the text, which called for "an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza." It was not drafted under the UN's Chapter Seven, which would have permitted the creation of an international military force to implement the terms of the resolution. UN officials said they do not expect the Security Council to reconvene to discuss further steps in the coming days, as the diplomatic focus now shifts to Cairo, where Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak continues efforts to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon intends to travel to the Middle East shortly to push for an end to the crisis, spokesman Farhan Haq said. AP contributed to this report