Sun, Sep 21, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Israel scoffs at UN resolution `slap'


Israel dismissed a UN resolution demanding it retract threats to remove Yasser Arafat while Palestinians hailed the vote as another sign of support for their leader.

The overwhelming support in the UN General Assembly on Friday -- 133 nations voted in favor of the measure -- comes a day after the incoming Palestinian prime minister stridently defended Arafat, saying he is key to peace efforts and the US should treat him as a real partner.

Prime Minister-designate Ahmed Qureia's criticism of US policy on Friday was the strongest sign yet he does not plan to challenge Arafat, who Israel and the US, which opposed the UN resolution, tried to circumvent by pressing for the creation of the post of prime minister.

Instead, Arafat appears to have maintained a central role, handpicking Qureia after the resignation of the first prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, and moving to shape a Cabinet of loyalists from his Fatah party.

Regardless, Bush said Thursday that Arafat "had a failed as leader" and accused him of forcing out Abbas, who resigned Sept. 6 after wrangling with Arafat for months.

Qureia called Bush's statement "regrettable" and said it "does not serve the peace process."

Arafat also responded Friday. "You have to know we are the authority of the Palestinians that has been recognized by all the Palestinians," he told ABC News. Bush "has to remember that President Clinton was dealing with me, his father was dealing with me. And he was in the beginning with me."

Arafat's popularity soared after Israel's decision on Sept. 11 to "remove" him at an unspecified time. Israeli officials have suggested he may be exiled, killed or simply isolated at his shattered compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

A first attempt at the UN to condemn the Israeli decision was thwarted by the US, which vetoed a Security Council resolution because it did not censure the Palestinians for suicide bombings that have killed more than 400 Israelis in nearly three years of fighting.

But Friday in the General Assembly, Palestinian diplomats won the support of the EU and many African states by adding a condemnation of suicide bombings to match language in the resolution deploring Israel's "extrajudicial killings and their recent escalation."

Only two other countries -- Micronesia and the Marshall Islands -- joined Israel and the United States in opposing the resolution, though 15 nations did abstain.

General Assembly resolutions -- unlike those of the powerful UN Security Council -- aren't legally binding. But they do carry symbolic weight.

The vote was "a real slap to Israel and to its supporters," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior aide to Arafat

Israel said the Palestinians should focus on fighting terrorism, not diplomatic maneuvering.

"Once again the Palestinians have decided to focus their energies on rhetoric instead of fighting terrorism," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

US Ambassador John Negroponte called the resolution unbalanced for not condemning specific Palestinian militant groups.

Israel and the US say the Palestinians must take action against the militants, as required under the US-backed "road map" peace plan.

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