U.N. breaks impasse over 2 words

March 19, 1994|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- For three weeks, the matter of two words kept the United Nations from registering the world's horror at the massacre of 29 Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron and helped obstruct the Middle East peace process.

The words -- "including Jerusalem" -- were at the core of an impasse broken yesterday by decisions at the White House and in Jerusalem and Arab capitals that gave a nudge to Arab-Israeli negotiations.

Those two words are explosive because they sum up centuries of Middle East religious hatred and longing, bitter territorial claims by Jews and Arabs and the frailty of September's Israeli-Palestinian accord. The words were embedded in a U.N. condemnation of the Feb. 25 massacre that passed the Security Council yesterday.

The controversial phrase asserted that "territories occupied by Israel in June 1967, including Jerusalem," were governed by rules protecting residents of land under military occupation.

Containing sites holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Jerusalem remains the nub of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Divided from 1948 until 1967, with Jews barred from holy sites in the Jordanian-controlled Old City, it was united after the 1967 war, and the mostly Arab eastern sector was annexed by Israel.

Israel proclaims Jerusalem its eternal capital; Palestinians want it to be the capital of their future state.

For years, the United States supported an undivided Jerusalem but took no position on whose capital it should be. At the same time, it said any Israeli-controlled land beyond the pre-1967 borders, which includes East Jerusalem, was occupied territory.

During his election campaign, President Clinton proclaimed that "Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel and must remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths."

,.5l But he has made no move to shift the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, and the United States still bars spending of aid outside the 1967 "green line."

In numerous resolutions, the U.N. Security Council adopted the words, "Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including Jerusalem." This was to avoid suggesting that Jerusalem should be divided. But it implied that all of Jerusalem, not just the east, is occupied.

The Clinton administration sees such language as prejudicing negotiations over Jerusalem's status. So after the Hebron massacre, when Arab states tried to work the words into a U.N. resolution, the United States prepared to veto any wording that referred to Jerusalem as occupied "Palestinian" territory.

The United States blocked any resolution -- until the Palestinians took steps toward rejoining the peace process with high-level talks.

When it came up for a vote yesterday, the resolution referred to Jerusalem as occupied territory. U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright allowed the resolution to be adopted but abstained on the clause referring to the Holy City.

Eighty-two U.S. senators had urged the administration to veto the resolution outright instead.

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