(AP) UNITED NATIONS – The United States vetoed an Arab-backed U.N. resolution Tuesday demanding that Israel halt threats to expel Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from the West Bank, because it did not contain a condemnation of terrorist groups such as Hamas.
Eleven of the 15 Security Council nations voted in favor of the resolution, while Britain, Germany and Bulgaria abstained.
Syria, the only Arab nation on the Security Council, had been pressing for a vote since last week’s decision by Israel’s security Cabinet to “remove” Arafat in a manner and time to be decided. Israel blames Arafat for sabotaging the peace process and doing nothing to prevent terrorist attacks.
At a council meeting Monday, virtually all the more than 40 speakers condemned Israel’s threats against Arafat.
Immediately after the vote, America’s U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte reiterated that the United States doesn’t support the elimination or forced exile of Arafat and believes that his diplomatic isolation is the best course.
He said the United States was forced to use its veto because the resolution failed to name groups such as Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which have claimed credit for numerous suicide bombings and other attacks against Israelis.
“The Palestinian Authority must take action to remove the threat of terrorist groups,” Negroponte said.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham said he told council members that the latest text was unacceptable because it would not promote the peace plan known as the “road map,” which is backed by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.
Britain, which holds the council presidency this month, proposed amendments on Monday dealing with implementation of the “road map,” but Syria rejected them.
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad expressed regret at the vote, calling the resolution “highly balanced,” and noting that most of the language came from previous resolutions that had been adopted by the Security Council.
“The fact that the U.S. delegation used its veto is something extremely regrettable,” he said. “It only complicates a situation in the Middle East that is already very complicated.”
Last Friday, the 15 council members — including the United States — agreed on a press statement expressing “the view that the removal of chairman Arafat would be unhelpful and should not be implemented.”
But Cunningham stressed that a press statement on a single issue was far different from a legally binding Security Council resolution.
“Extracting that one piece of the situation and embedding it in a Security Council resolution that has a lot of other things wrapped around it is a different proposition,” he said.
International criticism against Israel mounted after Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that killing Arafat was an option, although the foreign minister later backtracked on the remark.
At Monday’s council meeting, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman denounced Arafat as a stumbling block to peace, and said he inspired modern “mega-terrorism.”
“The resolution did not focus on terrorism killing innocent men, women and children and killing in the process the hopes for peace,” he said. “It did not focus on the clear legal responsibility of the Palestinian leadership to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.”
The rejected draft resolution would have demanded “that Israel, the occupying power, desist from any act of deportation and to cease any threat to the safety of the elected president of the Palestinian Authority.”
It would have condemned Israel’s targeted assassinations of militant leaders and Palestinian suicide bombings, “all of which caused enormous suffering and many innocent victims.” It would also have called for a cessation of “all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction.”
Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said the United States had lost its credibility to play an honest broker in the Middle East peace process. He warned that “serious consequences may follow the use of this veto, and the United states will bear the consequences for that.”
The last veto of a Mideast resolution was also by the United States on Dec. 20, 2002 — an Arab-backed resolution condemning Israel for the killings of three U.N. workers that U.S. officials termed one-sided.
One council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a U.S. veto would send the wrong message, especially to the Arab world at a time that the United States already faces seriously problems in Iraq.
Britain’s Emry Jones Parry said his country’s abstention was based on an assessment that the resolution was “insufficiently balanced.”
He called on Israel not to construe the outcome of the vote as an endorsement of its action and said the international community had rejected Israel’s threat against Arafat.
Germany’s envoy Gunter Pleuger said the council was “not living up to its responsibilities.” He called on Israel to revoke its decision.
Bulgaria’s U.N. Ambassador Stefan Tafrov said he abstained because there was no consensus in the council.
“It would be absurd, since we all agree that the expulsion of chairman Arafat would be a bad thing, not to agree on some kind of gesture,” he said before the vote. But “a blocked resolution might be worse than no resolution.”