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By Richard Walker

On Nov. 11, the United States for the 38th time since 1972 used its veto in the UN Security Council to protect Israel from condemnation for murdering Palestinian civilians in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.

The deaths of the 19 civilians, who included nine children, four women and six men, all from one family, and the injuring of 40 others came at the end of a five-day Israeli military operation in which a total of 50 Palestinians were killed. The 19 who died were asleep in adjoining homes when Israeli artillery shells blew apart their dwellings.

The UN resolution condemning Israel for the atrocity had the support of nine members of the 15-member Security Council. Britain, Denmark, Japan and Slovakia abstained, but the United States used its veto power to prevent the resolution’s passage.

Aside from a condemnation of Israel, the resolution called for the withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Gaza.

There had been several drafts of the resolution offered. The final one also condemned Hamas, calling for an end to the firing of rockets into Israeli territory.

Still, U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton (right) claimed the last
draft was “one-sided and politically motivated.” He complained that it did not use the term “terrorism” to describe the Palestinian government of Hamas.

French Ambassador to the UN Jean Mar de Sabliere said he was disappointed by America’s decision because the final draft resolution was a balanced one. Even the word “massacre” had been removed to make it more palatable to the United States and Israel.

Arab observers were quick to assail Bolton’s use of the veto, describing it as a deliberate attempt to protect Israel. In their view, it sent the wrong message to the Arab world. Moderate Palestinians, who are opposed to Hamas, viewed the U.S. move as yet another example of its lack of concern for the killing of innocent Palestinians and its acquiesence to the Israeli government.

Within the corridors of the UN, America’s heavy use of its veto power to give cover to Israel is regarded as nothing new. Some recent vetoes included a U.S. refusal to pass a resolution condemning Israel for the building of a massive barrier wall. The International Criminal Court in The Hague and major human rights organizations worldwide have described the wall as a criminal act because it splits Palestinian villages and forces some Palestinians off their property.

In 2002, a resolution condemning Israel for the killing of three UN staff in Gaza and the West Bank was blocked by then U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte. In language now familiar in American vetoes he described the resolution as “one-sided and politically motivated” and added that its backers, especially Syria, were more intent on condemning Israeli occupation than protecting UN staff. Negroponte unsuccessfully lobbied Syria to remove a reference to Israel in the resolution and to use generalizations to describe the deaths of the UN staffers.

Most members of the Security Council felt Israel also deserved criticism for blowing up a World Food warehouse containing 500 tons of food in Beit Lahiya in the Gaza Strip. Only five permanent members of the Security Council have a right of veto—Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States—and while Britain has recently abstained on resolutions condemning Israel the United States has taken the lead in blocking resolutions.

Between 1972 and 1997, for example, the United States vetoed 29 resolutions critical of Israel. Had U.S. officials not done so the total number of resolutions condemning Israel throughout that period would have risen to 95.

The 66 resolutions that were passed in that time frame represented a unique number in UN history. As a rule, Israel has ignored the UN, always certain in the knowledge that its vassal state, the United States of America, will manage somehow to block any resolution that would require Israel to concede territory to the Palestinians or to negotiate on other disputes with neighbors like Syria or Lebanon.

The first U.S. veto in Israel’s favor was cast in 1972 by the then-U.S. Ambassador to the UN George H. W. Bush. A year later, America again blocked a resolution that would have called for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories as part of previously recommended UN General Assembly proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement.

Henry Kissinger, as secretary of state, was fond of using America’s veto power, but his record in no way matched that of his successor, George Schultz, during the Reagan years. In fact, the Reagan administration, until this present one, stands alone in blocking 18 UN resolutions critical of Israel. In 1982 alone, Schultz promoted the use of the veto nine times to prevent the UN Security Council from condemning Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, its killing of civilians and its unwillingness to give up parts of south Lebanon that were at the center of the recent conflict.

(Issue #48, November 27, 2006)

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Updated November 25, 2006