The United States, working with Britain, continued its effort throughout last night to gain U.N. Security Council approval of a resolution criticizing Israel for killing 19 Arabs during Monday's rock-throwing riot in Jerusalem but stopping short of the tougher condemnation demanded by supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The stakes are considerable for U.S. policy in the Middle East. The Bush administration wants to express its displeasure with Israel for using excessive force, both to maintain the support of Arab countries allied with the United States against Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and to display U.S. disapproval of Israel's hard-line tactics in dealing with Palestinian dissent.
However, U.S. officials acknowledged, President Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III are eager to avoid charges that their concern about Arab support in the Persian Gulf crisis has caused them to ignore charges by Israel and its American supporters that the Jerusalem rioting was provoked by Palestinian agitators. To counter such suspicions, the officials said, the United States insists on a resolution that is balanced in apportioning blame and that will not give the PLO a propaganda windfall with which to attack Israel.
Diplomatic sources here and in New York said the problems barring agreement among the 15 Security Council members concerned the harshness of the language describing the Israeli action and what kind of investigative action the United Nations should take.
The United States wants Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to send a mission to look into the circumstances of Monday's clash on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The PLO, however, backed by several Third World countries, wants a commission of Security Council members with a broader mandate to ensure the safety and protection of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's government has said it would not accept such a commission, and U.S. officials made clear last night that the United States would feel compelled to veto any resolution calling for a commission with that kind of mandate.
The officials acknowledged that a veto could cause strains in the U.S. effort to hold together the fragile coalition of Arab states confronting Iraq and could also damage future U.S. calls for the Security Council to sanction further punitive action, both military and non-military, against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
For that reason, the officials said, the United States considers it extremely important to find a compromise capable of preventing a major rift. The officials said Baker spoke by telephone yesterday with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnardze and French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas and was cautiously optimistic that delegates at the United Nations would be able to reach agreement by today.
The proposed compromise vehicle is a British-drafted resolution that toughens slightly a resolution offered by the United States on Tuesday. The U.S. draft was criticized by the Arab countries as too soft, and the Third World members of the council, at the behest of the PLO, offered an alternative resolution "deploring the acts of violence committed by Israeli authorities" and calling for a commission composed of three Security Council members to "examine the current situation in Jerusalem" and recommend "means for ensuring the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians under Israeli occupation."
The sources cautioned that the British compromise language could be changed during the intensive negotiations. But, they said, its basic point is that the fact-finding mission should be carried out by an emissary of Perez de Cuellar. The envoy would report his findings to the secretary general who then would relay them to the Security Council.
In addition, the British draft characterizes Israeli actions by saying the council is "deeply concerned that Israeli security responded excessively, and with deadly force, thus resulting in the tragic consequences." It "condemns the violence and particularly the excessive Israeli response" and, in recognition of the fact that Arab demonstrators hurled rocks at Jews praying at the Western Wall beneath the Temple Mount, expresses regret at the injury of "innocent worshipers."
In a related development yesterday, Baker released an Oct. 2 letter from Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy giving assurances that Israel will not seek to settle Soviet Jewish emigres in the territories captured by the Jewish state during the 1967 Middle East war. The assurance was demanded by the United States as a condition to guaranteeing $400 million in housing loans for Israel to provide shelter for the immigrants.
In the letter, Levy said the loan guarantees will not be used in areas that were not under Israeli administration before June 5, 1967. However, the letter made no promise that Israel will not use funds derived from other sources to continue building Jewish settlements in the occupied territories despite U.S. opposition. Shamir announced last Sunday that a new Jewish neighborhood will be built in Arab East Jerusalem.
Special correspondent Trevor Rowe at the United Nations contributed to this article.