UNITED NATIONS -- Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar is proposing that the Security Council involve itself directly in a search for a way to protect Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories.
The proposal, made yesterday in a report prepared by Perez de Cuellar listing Palestinian accusations of Israeli mistreatment in the occupied territories, puts the United States in a serious quandary.
Washington will have to decide either to support action against its longtime ally, Israel, which rejects any United Nations involvement in the occupied territories, or block any council action and thus risk endangering the solidarity of the anti-Iraq coalition it has assembled since Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2.
Given the sensitivity of the issue, neither the United States mission nor the State Department made any immediate comment on the report.
One recommendation in the report suggests that the Security Council invoke a 1949 human rights treaty for the first time and call together a 164-nation conference to discuss possible measures for preventing human rights violations in the occupied territories.
That meeting would bring together all the countries that signed the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which lays down the rights of civilians in occupied military areas. Israel signed the treaty, but has long contended that the treaty does not apply to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli Mission to the United Nations issued a brief statement saying the Israeli government does not believe the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to the occupied territories in law, but repeating its claim to be obeying its provisions in practice.
It said Israel has "sole responsibility" for administering the territories, adding that "this responsibility is not subject to review or intervention by other authorities."
The secretary-general also told the Security Council that it already had the authority to establish a new United Nations monitoring force in the territories that could be charged with checking on human-rights abuses, possibly by giving a fresh mandate to a United Nations peacekeeping force already operating in the area.
But the report acknowledges that for any new measures of protection to be effective, "the cooperation of the Israeli authorities is, under present circumstance, absolutely essential."
The report was requested by a unanimous vote of the Security Council after at least 17 Palestinians were killed near Al Aksa Mosque last month after the stoning of Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall.
It is expected to be debated by the council in the coming days, when members discuss the merits of the secretary-general's suggestions for giving additional protection to Palestinians living in the occupied territories.
Many of the accusations made against Israeli security forces in the occupied territories are that they have violated the convention by deporting Palestinians, and imposing collective punishments against civilians, such as destroying homes of families of suspected terrorists, diplomats say.