The U.N. Security Council voted 14 to 0 today, with the United States abstaining, to deplore Israeli steps to make all of Jerusalem, including the portion captured in the 1967 war, the capital of the Jewish state.
Except for the U.S. abstention, the council was unanimous in its vote for the resolution, which was put forward by 39 Islamic nations protesting moves in the Israeli parliament to change the status of Jerusalem -- one of the most contentious issues between Israel and Arab nations.
The vote here came as an Israeli parliamentary committee voted overwhelmingly to send the measure to the full parliament for action.
While Israeli leaders repeatedly have vowed they would never give up control of the Old City, captured in 1967, until now they have not formally acted to make the entire city Israel's capital.
Israeli officials and leading members of the American Jewish community had lobbied intensively in Washington over the last few days for an American veto of the resolution. The decision to abstain was taken this morning at a White House meeting.
Immediately after the vote, Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ephraim Evron expressed his "deep disappointment" at the adoption of the resolution and the failure of the United States to cast a veto. He called the action "pernicious and unhelpful to the peace process," because it ignores the development of the city "since its reunification and the religious freedom which Jerusalem has never known before."
Yehuda Z. Blum, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, said the resolution was biased and catered to "the views and interests of those who have sought all along to exploit the discussions here in their relentless and ongoing warfare against Israel."
"We had the usual healthy debate in Washington, which is always part of the decision-making process," one high-ranking U.S. official said.
But the official denied that public threats of an oil cutoff during the council debate by several members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had been taken into consideration in determining the U.S. vote.
In explaining the absention, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Donald McHenry criticized the council for a series of eight Middle East debates over the last four months which "have the effect, if not the invention, of undercutting the one active negotiation currently in progress" -- the Camp David talks.
The resolution is deficient, he said, because it omits any reference to Israel's right to peaceful and secure boundaries.
But McHenry also criticized Israel for its "unilateral act which has sought to change the character of the city outside a negotiated settlement."
The Israeli move -- including the announcement that the prime minister's office would be moved to East Jerusalem, and today's decision by the Israeli parliament to move the legislation out of committee and back into active consideration -- are inconsistent with international law and "indeed with the very nature of negotiation," he said.
In its statement, the United States reaffirmed past policy on Jerusalem, including the need to keep the city undivided, "with free access to people of all faiths." But U.S. officials, speaking after the vote, noted the original intention of the United Nations in 1947 to leave Jerusalem as an international city under neither Israeli nor Arab administration. The officials said that that position "is not inconsistent with U.S. policy."
McHenry, in his statement to the Council, also said that any comprehensive settlement emerging from the Camp David process must include an agreement on the final status of Jerusalem.
The past week's debate was more bitter than the previous seven debates because it dealt with the most emotional of all the Middle East issues dividing Israel and the Islamic countries.
The Arab objective, however, remained the same -- to dramatize the isolation of the United States and the Camp David process, from the mainstream of international public opinion.
The earlier votes dealt with Israeli policy on settlements in the occupied territories, the expulsion of Arab mayors from the West Bank, the incursions into southern Lebanon and the Palestinian right to the establish an independent state.
Only on the last of these issues did the United States cast a veto. Today, American officials here conceded that the "treadmill of actions and reactions in the Security Council" was likely to continue into the summer.
A special General Assembly session on Palestinian rights is scheduled to start on July 22. The Jerusalem issue also is likely to be taken up again if Israel pursues measures to assert permanent control over the city.
The U.S. abstention seems to have satisfied the Arabs, even the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO representative, Zedhi Labib Terzi, said he considered today's resolution to be unanimous "because the U.S. is in bondage now and cannot really take a position" until the presidential elections are over.
Western diplomats had feared that a veto might provoke Saudi Arabia and other Arab oil producers to cut their production. Kuwait's ambassador, Abballa Bishara, had warned during debate that he could not guarantee the flow of oil to any industrial nation unless the problem of Jerusalem was dealt with.
Iraqi representative Salah Ali warned that "the price for the American policy of injustice, bias and onesideness will be very high for the American people."
American officials insisted that the text of the resolution in itself makes no significant changes in the substance of U.N. Resolution 242, which is the U.N. framework for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East.
Today's resolution reiterates previous council settlements that all actions taken by Israel to alter the status of Jerusalem have no legal validity and "are null and void." It called for an end to Israeli occupation of Arab territories, "including Jerusalem."
The protests against the U.S. Abstention began even before the vote, when Howard Squadron, who takes over Tuesday as head of the conference of presidents of major American Jewis organizations, sent a cable to the White House urging a veto.
The adoption of the resolution, he warned, "would preempt negotiations between the parties and render them moot and meaningless."
The paragraph calling on Israel to end its occupation of Jerusalem would "return to city to the condition of divisiveness and strife that characterized the long years preceding its reunification in 1967," Squadron said.
"I regard the failure to veto this as a failure to defend the Camp David accords," Squadron said.