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Pressure Mounts on Security Council to Rein in Israel

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2011 (IPS) - Calls are growing for a swift international response to the situation in the Middle East, as Israel continues to build new settlements in Palestinian territories with increased military actions against civilians.

However, there is no sign that the 15-member Security Council intends to take any immediate measures to rejuvenate the stalled peace process led by the U.N., the United States, the European Union and Russia.

“I don’t want to prejudge anything at this moment,” Ivan Barbalić, president of the Security Council for this month, told IPS in response to a question about whether or not the Council would soon be holding a meeting to discuss the Middle East situation.

Last week, the Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour sent a letter to U.S. ambassador Susan Rice, who was then president of the Security Council, in which he described the current situation in Palestine as “grave” and said it required “urgent attention and serious action” by the international community, including the Security Council.

The letter, which was also sent to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the president of the General Assembly, mentioned in detail the Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Mansour said the situation in and around Occupied East Jerusalem was “most severe”.

Mansour said this was being done “for the direct purpose of altering the demographic composition, character and legal status of its Palestinian inhabitants through forced evictions, home demolitions, revocation of residency rights, and other measures in flagrant violations of international and the past Security Council resolutions.”

The Palestinians have also been circulating a draft resolution that would declare Israel’s settlement building in East Jerusalem to be illegal.

The top Palestinian leadership holds that any attempt to restart the peace process would be futile unless the world community agrees to bind Israel through a Security Council resolution to freeze its illegal settlement activities in the West Bank and other Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, as Israeli troops killed two more Palestinians near the Gaza border, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated his position that the parties involved in the peace process – the Quartet comprising the U.N., U.S., Russia and the European Union – must take firm decisions.

For their part, the Israelis are insisting that instead of involving the international community for a negotiated peace, they would rather hold direct talks, a condition that is highly unlikely to be accepted by the Palestinian leadership which is more focused on gaining wider international support for the legitimacy of their struggle.

The Palestinians enjoy overwhelming diplomatic support in the 192-member U.N. General Assembly. The scene in the Security Council chamber is somewhat different, where over the years, the U.S. has repeatedly blocked resolutions that were either in support of the Palestinians or against Israel.

Sources told IPS that last week the chief Palestinian diplomat had met Ambassador Rice, but failed to get a clear response for a possible Security Council resolution to halt Israeli settlements. “It’s very clear that at the moment the U.S. is not ready for any Council resolution on a settlement freeze,” said a diplomat who did not want to be named.

However, it may not be so easy for the U.S. to continue its unconditional support for Israel. Pressure for change in the U.S. policy on Israel appears to be growing, despite the fact that the so-called Israel lobby is still far more powerful in the U.S. than any other interest group.

Last month, for example, Human Rights Watch called for Washington to stop giving aid to Israel in an amount equivalent to the costs of its spending in support of settlements, and to monitor contributions to Israel from tax-exempt U.S. organisations that violate international law.

Aware that the U.S. is Israel’s largest weapons supplier, Amnesty International has called for an arms embargo on Israel. Considering the wider support for the Palestinians on the international level, the noted U.S. intellectual and political analyst Noam Chomsky thinks that a shift in U.S. policy on Israel may not be impossible.

But “to break the logjam,” he writes in a recent article run by the New York Times Syndicate, “it will be necessary to dismantle the reigning illusion that the U.S. is an ‘honest broker’ desperately seeking to reconcile recalcitrant adversaries, and to recognize that serious negotiations would be between the U.S.-Israel and the rest of the world.”

In his view, “If U.S. power centers can be compelled by popular opinion to abandon decades-old rejectionism, many prospects that seem remote might become suddenly possible.”

At the U.N., when IPS asked about the secretary-general’s response to the letter, spokesman Martin Nesirky said: “The SG pays close attention to what is happening in the Middle East. This particular topic was taken to the Security Council. Now it’s up to the Council [to take action].”

Nesirky said Ban spoke to Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton Thursday. Ashton, who met Israeli officials Wednesday, said she would push for “urgent progress” in the peace process during her visit.

White House envoy Dennis Ross is also in Jerusalem for two days of closed-door talks with Israeli leaders.

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