Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's government is debating a proposal to end its bitter dispute with the United Nations by agreeing to receive a U.N. emissary in connection with the killing of Palestinians during last month's riots in Jerusalem, diplomatic sources said yesterday.
The proposal is being urged on the Israelis by the United States and American Jewish leaders as the best hope of easing the tension caused by Israel's rejection of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the killing of at least 17 Palestinians in the Oct. 5 rock-throwing riot at Jerusalem's Temple Mount.
At a White House meeting with American Jewish leaders Thursday, President Bush reportedly made a new plea for Israel to back off its initial refusal to receive a U.N. emissary. The sources said Bush refused to promise a U.S. veto of any further efforts in the U.N. Security Council to keep the issue alive.
The sources said the proposed plan centers on a formula for circumventing Israel's objections to the resolution's suggestion that Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar send an investigative mission to Israel. The proposed compromise calls for describing the purpose of a visit by the secretary general's representative in much more general terms, such as to conduct a dialogue about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
According to the sources, Shamir's cabinet is expected to discuss the idea Sunday. However, the sources stressed, the plan is expected to encounter fierce resistance from cabinet hard-liners and its chances of acceptance are unknown.
It is also too early to tell whether Israel's acceptance of a U.N. envoy would be sufficient to head off an expected move by the Palestine Liberation Organization to interject the United Nations into the dispute. The PLO is expected to propose a U.N. meeting in Geneva to discuss ways of protecting Palestinians under Israeli occupation, following a suggestion Perez de Cuellar made last week in an effort to pressure the Israelis.
Nevertheless, the sources said, the proposal to redefine the visit has the tentative backing of the Bush administration, which fears that continued bickering about Israel in the Security Council could strain the fragile coalition opposing Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. The United States also wants to redirect the Security Council's attention back to ways of putting pressure on Iraq, including consideration of a resolution authorizing the possible use of force to end the Persian Gulf crisis.
The sources said the new Israeli ambassador here, Zalman Shoval, has recommended that Shamir give the U.N. visit proposal serious consideration, and, they added, he has the backing of the heads of several U.S. Jewish organizations who attended the White House meeting Thursday.
The sources said that at the meeting the Jewish representatives expressed opposition to the idea of a Geneva meeting. But, the sources added, Bush refused to promise a U.S. veto of such a meeting.
According to the sources, the president made clear that while he wants good relations with Israel, his primary concern in the Middle East is maintaining the cohesion of the Arab states -- including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria -- that has contributed to the buildup of forces against Iraq.
The United States, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, is expected to push for formal U.N. approval of the use of force if non-military efforts fail to get Iraq out of Kuwait.
For that reason, the sources said, the administration has signaled Israel unmistakably that it does not want continued wrangling over the Palestinian issue, and it does not want to have to help Israel with a veto, thereby running the risk of angering the Arab states.
Moves by the PLO and Arab governments to convene a Geneva meeting are expected to begin at the U.N. next week, and U.S. officials believe the best way to head them off would be for Israel to agree that Jean Claude Aime, a U.N. assistant secretary general, should be permitted to visit Jerusalem, ostensibly to continue the dialogue that he began with Israeli officials last May after several Palestinians were shot by an apparently deranged Israeli on a rampage.
Correspondent Jackson Diehl contributed to this report from Jerusalem.