The State Department sought yesterday to play down U.S. differences with Israel in the wake of sharp Israeli and American Jewish criticism of the administration's vote Tuesday in favor of a U.N. resolution calling on Israel to refrain from deporting Palestinians from its occupied territories.
State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman denied that the vote represented any deterioration in U.S.-Israeli relations, which he described as "very strong . . . very diverse," and said the U.S. action was in direct "continuity" with longstanding U.S. opposition to the Israeli practice of deportations.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz yesterday also reportedly reassured a delegation representing American Jewish organizations that the vote did not mark any shift in the relationship between Israel and the United States.
"The secretary made clear that the U.N. vote was not a vote that disassociated the United States in any way from its special relationship with Israel," said Morris B. Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Abram led a delegation for a long-scheduled meeting to discuss Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. But he told reporters afterwards that much of the hour-long meeting with Shultz involved discussion of the recent violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abram said Shultz had pledged "to do everything possible" to revive the deadlocked Middle East peace process and, Abram added, "we expressed our full support for the president and secretary of state in pushing the process forward."
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres yesterday called the rare U.S. vote against Israel at the U.N. Security Council "a serious kind of deviation from the framework of our relations with the United States."
The vote sent U.S. officials scurrying to research when the United States had last voted against Israel at the Security Council. They said press reports Tuesday that the last such U.S. vote took place in 1981 were incorrect. The United States also voted in favor of a council resolution critical of Israel's siege of Beirut during the summer of 1982.
Redman said that the U.S. vote Tuesday in favor of the council's resolution calling on Israel to refrain from deporting Palestinians from its occupied territories was not "the first one" in which the United States and Israel had disagreed over Israeli policies.
He said the United States had made clear in recent days that it regards deportations as a violation of a 1949 Geneva Convention protocol regarding the protection of civilians under occupation. The United States had voted in favor of another Security Council resolution condemning Israeli deportation practices in late 1980, he said.
Redman was apparently referring to a resolution adopted unanimously Dec. 19 of that year which called upon Israel to allow two expelled West Bank mayors, Fahd Kawasme and Mohammed Milhem, to return to their homes.
However, the United States in May 1980 had abstained on a Security Council vote condemning Israel's deportation of the two mayors and a third Palestinian leader.
Redman said the latest U.S. vote represents "absolutely a continuity of our policy on this issue" and that the United States had expressed its opposition publicly to any deportation by Israel for some time prior to the vote. "That certainly comes as no surprise to Israeli authorities or to anyone else," he said.