GENEVA, MAY 26 -- A compromise proposal under which the U.N. Security Council would have sent envoys to investigate a recent surge in violence in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip fell through today in the face of Israeli opposition.
Clovis Maksoud, the Arab League representative to the United Nations, said the Bush administration had "flip-flopped" during negotiations from a promise of support for the compromise formula late Friday to bowing to Israel's refusal to receive such a fact-finding mission in territory under its control.
As a result, he said, Arab diplomats will report to an Arab summit conference, convening Monday in Baghdad, that the Security Council's two-day special session here failed to respond to a plea by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat for protection for Palestinians under Israeli rule in the occupied territories.
Arafat urged the Security Council Friday to dispatch "international emergency forces" after seven Palestinian workers from the Gaza Strip were slain last Sunday by an Israeli gunman, described by Israeli authorities as deranged. At least 16 other Palestinians were reported killed, most of them by Israeli security forces, in violence set off by the shootings.
U.S. and Israeli diplomats here appeared to leave open the possibility that envoys might be dispatched to the occupied territories by the U.N. secretary general, an idea cited Friday by Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Such a move would fall short of Arab proposals.
Arab disappointment at the outcome of the Security Council session and at the Bush administration's unwillingness to confront Israel over the compromise proposal raised the possibility that Arab summit leaders may ignore U.S. suggestions for moderation on proposals for Middle East peace talks and on the contentious issue of immigration of Soviet Jews to Israel, European diplomats said.
Maksoud said the disappointment also would be translated into an Arab push for "comprehensive resolutions" in the Security Council when it resumes debate Tuesday at U.N. headquarters in New York. These would include demands for sanctions against Israel, restrictions on immigration to Israel by Soviet Jews and other hard-line goals likely to produce an acrimonious atmosphere and result in a U.S. veto, diplomats said.
Arafat had asked the council to dispatch emergency forces to prevent further bloodshed in a 2 1/2-year Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation. In closed-door diplomacy, however, he later accepted the compromise for an investigating team that was worked out in consultations between Egypt and the United States, Arab and European diplomats said.
"It is a good idea, and we have approved it," Arafat said at a news conference today.
The PLO's acceptance of the compromise -- coupled with the decision to have Arafat address the Security Council in Geneva, averting a battle with the Bush administration over a visa request for the PLO leader to go to New York -- had led Egyptian, PLO and other Arab diplomats to believe the United States might go along with the idea despite Israel's opposition, diplomats said.
This expectation was heightened by statements in Washington by Baker and other officials indicating impatience with Israeli tactics in the occupied territories and agreement with a fact-finding mission, they added.
But Israel, represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, argued that the special Security Council session should make no decisions, and Netanyahu ruled out any mission dispatched by the council, saying Israel would only consider envoys proposed by Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar.
"We do not accept the Security Council's jurisdiction in this matter," Netanyahu told reporters.
Israeli diplomats said the stand was designed to avoid lending importance to Arafat's speech, his first before the Security Council, or creating any appearance of responding to his appeal for the council to place international protection between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
An envoy from Perez de Cuellar would carry less weight, they added. The secretary general has power to dispatch representatives without Security Council authority and frequently has done so to various regions, including the Middle East.
For similar reasons, Maksoud said, Arafat and his Arab supporters sought an investigating team named by the Security Council. European diplomats indicated that other Security Council members would have gone along, but said the key issue for Arafat and Egypt was to gain U.S. support over Israeli opposition.
The U.S. representative at the special session, U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, informed Arab diplomats today that the Bush administration would not go along with the compromise proposal despite earlier indications. Pickering relayed the decision after phone consultations with Washington, a diplomat said.
Pickering declined to comment on the backstage negotiations, but he said, "I think the kind of thing we are looking at is a mission on the initiative of the secretary general." Such a move would apparently align the U.S. and Israeli positions.
Maksoud said the United States had participated in working out the failed compromise, and charged that U.S. diplomats changed their position because of an Israeli "stranglehold on the decision-making process" in Washington.