UNITED NATIONS, OCT. 13 -- For four days, the United States was besieged with warnings from its closest allies that it had to support Arab demands for severe U.N. Security Council action against Israel or risk damaging the international alliance opposing Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.
But by the time the issue came to a vote shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration had refused to give much ground. Even a phone conversation in which French President Francois Mitterrand reportedly told President Bush that Bush was letting pressure from American Jews and concern about next month's elections affect his judgment failed to push the administration off the course it had followed all week.
It made only minimal compromises in its original position that condemnation of Israel for Monday's killing of 19 Palestinians in Jerusalem should not be turned into a propaganda windfall for the Palestine Liberation Organization or designate the Security Council as protector of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Yet, when the vote was taken, all 15 council members supported a resolution that was largely in accord with U.S. insistence on coupling condemnation of Israel with indirect criticism of rock-throwing by Palestinians in the Jerusalem incident, and on limiting the United Nations to making a loosely defined report on the current situation in Israeli-occupied territories.
"We don't expect to get any thanks from Israel," said one U.S. diplomat here in recognition of the fact that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's government has expressed anger that the United States joined in a council condemnation of the Jewish state for the first time since 1982.
Still, while the United States made clear it would have vetoed the kind of resolution sought by the PLO, its main goal this week was not to serve as Israel's protector in the Security Council but to prevent damage to the anti-Iraq alliance. And, the immediate impression in the aftermath of last night's vote was that it managed to do that without resorting to the draconian measures against Israel that Mitterrand and other U.S. allies such as Canada and Britain felt were essential.
Diplomats here feel that the PLO's attempt to use the Jerusalem incident to link Israel to the Persian Gulf crisis failed, that European fears about disruptive effects on the anti-Iraq alliance were exaggerated and that the matter really was only a brief diversion from the United Nations' preoccupation with getting Iraq out of Kuwait.
U.S. officials and other diplomats noted that the United States recognized from the outset that it could not ignore the killings in Jerusalem if it expected to maintain the coalition of Arab states it has marshaled against Iraq.
Within hours of the Monday shootings in Jerusalem, Secretary of State James A. Baker III said the Israelis had handled the situation ineptly, and by Tuesday the United States was working to get a consensus among the Security Council's five permanent members on a condemnation resolution.
However, the PLO, whose support of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has placed it at odds with most countries, sensed a chance to link the Palestinian and Kuwait issues. Warning that the Arab world expected the Security Council's support on the Palestinian question, it put forward proposals that, in the U.S. view, would have opened the way to the United Nations moving into the issue and attempting to dictate a solution.
At the same time, opposition to the U.S. maneuvering for quick action on its proposed resolution came from non-Arab members of the Non-Aligned Movement. These Third World countries have become increasingly resentful about the way in which the new rapport between the United States and the Soviet Union has shifted power at the United Nations to the Security Council. In the non-aligned view, the permanent five make decisions and impose them on the smaller countries.
However, several sources here said, the West European governments made the mistake of assuming that the non-aligned countries automatically were supporting the PLO demands.
U.S. officials said they quickly realized that the opposition to the original American draft was not monolithic and that many African, Asian and Latin American countries regarded the PLO's demands as excessive. The U.S. officials also said that the two most important Arab countries in the anti-Iraq alliance -- Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- were unwilling to let the PLO drive a wedge in their partnership with the United States.
"They felt that condemnation of Israel was necessary but not at the expense of letting down their defenses against Iraq," an Arab diplomat said. "So they told the smaller Arab countries suspectible to their influence, 'This is the U.N., not the Arab League, and we must be realistic about what we can get.' "
These factors led the United States, in league with Britain, to offer a series of small concessions that fell far short of what the PLO wanted but that met many of the changes sought by other non-aligned countries.
Despite the Europeans' argument that the U.S. strategy was too little and too late, Washington stood its ground. By Friday evening, it had won over so much Third World support that even staunchly anti-American governments such as Cuba wound up voting for the compromise resolution.