UNITED NATIONS, FEB. 1 -- The United States today vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on Israel to abandon policies that violate the rights of West Bank and Gaza Strip residents and formalizing a leading role for the United Nations in negotiating a settlement of the underlying Arab-Israeli dispute.
The other 14 council members voted for the resolution, drafted by the British ambassador, Sir Crispin Tickell, in his capacity as council president for January.
American, Israeli and Arab diplomats all confirmed that the underlying motive for the U.S. veto was to preempt a U.N. role in peacemaking efforts and to enhance the chance of success of a bilateral initiative launched by Washington over the weekend. The process suggested by Washington, they noted, would involve Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Palestinian residents of the occupied territories, but would bar internationalization of the peace process, thus excluding the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Soviet Union.
Clovis Maksoud, the U.N. representative of the Arab League, cautioned, however, that "the veto will undermine the American initiative to some extent. While they try to satisfy Israel, the Americans will lose credibility with the Arabs." He said the attempts to circumvent the PLO "means there is no intention of a serious negotiating process."
The Americans, diplomats said, insisted on delaying a vote from Friday until today, to permit Washington's own initiative to be launched. Today, the Americans refused offers to negotiate changes in the resolution's text.
When the veto became inevitable, Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar urged the PLO and Third World members of the council to defer a vote, but they turned down his request. U.N. officials said Perez de Cuellar was trying to avoid polarization and what he feared would be a setback to negotiating efforts of any kind.
Israeli representative Eyal Arad, however, argued that "if the U.N. intervenes now it may endanger efforts in Washington, Jerusalem, Amman and Cairo to restart the political process." If the council insists this be done under U.N. auspices, as the resolution specifies, he said, "it will be impossible for Arab governments to accept Washington's proposal because they may feel bound by the council decision."
The chief American representative, Vernon Walters, was in Switzerland attending the annual World Economic Forum. His deputy, Herbert Okun, cast the veto and presided over the meeting, as council president for February.
Further U.N. resolutions, Okun said, "can detract from diplomatic efforts under way which are designed to address in a practical way the current unrest." He confirmed that the United States "is consulting with the parties directly concerned on ways to resolve the Palestinian conflict. . . . Agreement on a negotiating process and the appropriate auspices for negotiations can succeed only through the consent of the parties directly concerned. It cannot be imposed upon them, even by implication, as this resolution attempts to do."
The council has staged five debates on Israeli actions since protests began Dec. 9, and the United States has vetoed the last two after bitter Israeli protests that Washington had permitted adoption of the first three resolutions.
The resolution vetoed today would have called on Israel to abide by the terms of a 1949 Geneva Convention on the rights of civilians in occupied territories. It would have suggested that other governments pressure Israel to comply. The paragraph on which the U.S. veto was based would have affirmed "the urgent need to achieve, under the auspices of the U.N., a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, an integral part of which is the Palestinian problem." It would also have expressed the council's determination to involve itself in such a peace process.