UNITED NATIONS, OCT. 12 -- The United States, shrugging off heavy pressure from Arab countries and its European allies, tonight won unanimous approval of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel for Monday's killing of 19 Palestinians in Jerusalem but stopping short of Arab demands that the United Nations be given the right to intervene in Israel's control over occupied Arab territories.
The 15-member Security Council passed a resolution backed by the United States and Britain following four days of intensive negotiations in which the Bush administration was warned that failure to take a very tough line against Israel could endanger the coalition of Arab countries put together by the United States to oppose Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
But the United States stood firm, making only minimal concessions, and most non-Arab members of the council belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement broke with the Palestine Liberation Organization's demand for a harsh condemnation of Israel and accepted what was essentially the basic U.S. position.
The 19 Palestinians were killed as security forces firing live ammunition put down a rock-throwing riot at Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the U.N. resolution "condemns especially the acts of violence committed by the Israeli security forces resulting in injuries and loss of human life." At least two other Arabs were killed later that day in rioting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The resolution also "requests" Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to send a mission to the region and submit a report by Oct. 24 "containing his findings and conclusions" about the situation of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
As part of the arrangement reached in tonight's negotiations, the current council president, Sir David Hannay, the British ambassador, read a statement saying the secretary general had explained that the mission would "submit a report and recommendations to the council on ways and means for ensuring the safety and protection of the Palestinians and civilians under Israeli occupation." But the statement added that under the Fourth Geneva Convention, the principal responsibility for protecting the Palestinians rests with Israel as the occupying power.
The United States, mindful of Israel's concern about Security Council interference in its affairs, thus succeeded in keeping the resolution general and, by including the U.N. role in the chairman's statement rather than in the formal resolution, weakened the PLO's ability to say it has the force of international law.
U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, who called Monday's killings "a tragic incident that never should have happened," said the international community should not misunderstand the meaning of the resolution. He said that while the United States is dedicated to doing everything possible to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer, the council action does not empower it to act in ways that change the U.N. role in the occupied territories.
Israel and its supporters in the United States are expected to offer at least pro forma criticism of the resolution and U.S. backing for it. However, diplomats here acknowledged that the U.S. strategy had the effect of averting much harsher criticism of the Jewish state. It also simultaneously expressed U.S. disapproval of Israel's tough tactics in suppressing Palestinian dissent and demonstrated to the Arab countries that the United States will not shirk from criticizing a close ally.
The PLO's disappointment at its failure to win a stronger resolution that would have provided a propaganda windfall against Israel was made clear by Nasser Kidwa, the second-ranking member of the PLO observer delegation at the United Nations, in remarks to the council just before the vote. "We can only note our feelings of discontent at the manner in which the United States has acted," Kidwa said. He charged that U.S. diplomats had put "tremendous pressure" on other countries to prevent passage of a resolution that would be of real benefit to the Palestinian people.
U.S. diplomats sought to portray the vote as a victory for Washington and insisted instead that the real credit belonged to those non-alignedcouncil members -- Ethiopia, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Yemen, Malaysia, Zaire and Cuba -- that resisted what one diplomat called "acting as mouthpieces for the PLO."
The United States, which wanted to avoid a veto that could have jeopardized the anti-Iraq alliance, nevertheless held firm against warnings from its allies that it would alienate the Arab countries if it failed to back a very tough resolution. These warnings came from such traditional U.S. allies as France, Canada and even Britain, which collaborated with Washington in putting together the compromise resolution ultimately adopted. Their fear was that a veto might help Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's efforts to persuade mass opinion in the Arab world that the United States is in league with Israel against Palestinian aspirations.
U.S. and French sources said President Bush was given an especially sharp reminder of those risks during the phone conversation Thursday with French President Francois Mitterrand. According to the sources, Mitterrand sought to impress on Bush his view that maintaining the coalition against Iraq should be the top priority of the Western powers and that to do that required strong action against Israel.
The sources said Mitterrand also told Bush that the U.S. president was allowing domestic political considerations, such as pressure from American Jewish groups and concern about the November elections to affect his judgment and statesmanship.