Arab Foreign Ministers criticize US veto on Gaza

Bashar Ja’afari (centre), Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations, is seen here holding informal discussions with Riyad H. Mansour (back to camera, right), Permanent Observer of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations, before the start of the Security Council meeting on the Middle East. (UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz)


NEW YORK — Foreign ministers of 11 Arab countries attending an emergency Arab League meeting in Cairo on Sunday, criticised a United States veto of a United Nations Security Council draft resolution that condemned the recent Israeli offensive on Gaza and that would have demanded that Israeli troops pull out from the area.

The draft resolution calling for the protection of civilians during Israeli military operations in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, was vetoed on Saturday by the US in a special meeting held here at the UN Security Council.

Though strong language proposed by Qatar – the only Arab member of the council - was modified first to placate other council members, the resolution still did not go through. Ten of the 15 members were in favour of the draft resolution, while four abstained, including the United Kingdom, Denmark, Japan and Slovakia.

Qatar’s ambassador to the UN, Nassir al-Nasser, said civilians desperately needed the protection of the international community. “Any lukewarm reason or response on our part gives the impression that we are shirking from our humanitarian responsibilities,” he said.

Some members in favour of the resolution spoke after the vote, including Congolese Ambassador Basile Ikouebe. “I can convey to you how troubled my delegation is, and express my deep disappointment,” said Ikouebe, referring to last week’s killing of 18 civilians in Beit Hanoun, Gaza – the event that prompted the Qatari call.

Qatar had added words condemning Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel, and called on the Palestinian Authority to bring an end to violence. The draft also took out an earlier request for a UN Observer Force, replacing it with the “possible establishment of an international mechanism for protection of civilian populations.”

Before the vote, US ambassador John Bolton spoke out against such a mechanism, saying, it is “a promise which is unwise and unnecessary, and at any rate, raises false hopes.”

“We are disturbed about the language of the resolution, which, in many places, is biased against Israel and politically motivated. Such language does not further the cause of peace,” said Bolton. He added that the draft’s preamble “equates Israeli military operations, which are legal, with the firing of rockets into Israel, aimed at civilians, which are acts of terrorism.”

The US “no” vote effectively killed the resolution. Only the five permanent members of the Security Council [France, UK, China, Russia, and the US] have veto power. The last seven vetoes cast by the US have involved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Our people, despite this disappointment, will never lose hope,” said Palestinian observer ambassador at the UN, Riyadh Mansour.

“The adoption of this text would have sent the right message to both parties,” said French ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere. “I hope that the fact this text has not been adopted will not renew tensions on the ground.”

Al-Nasser said the Council’s failure to pass his proposed resolution would “call into question the very credibility the Security Council when it comes to the implementation of the provisions of international humanitarian law.”

In light of the council’s failure to pass the resolution, Mansour referred the case to the Arab League meeting in Cairo on Sunday, where ministers decided to refer the failed draft resolution to the UN General Assembly for a non-binding vote. They also decided to end the financial embargo against the Palestinian people, which was put in place – at the insistence of Western governments - since the democratic election of a Hamas-led government in February. Western nations and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organisation because it has refused to renounce violence and recognise Israel as a state.

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