Saudis Pushing U.N. Démarche Against Israel
May Force an American Veto That Could Alienate American Allies in Europe
DOre Gold, former Ambassador
By BENNY AVNI, Staff Reporter of the Sun
June 13, 2008
UNITED NATIONS — Amid reports of a widening rift between Saudi Arabia and America, Riyadh’s diplomats at the United Nations are pushing for passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements, a move that would likely force an American veto, which in turn could alienate American allies in Europe.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty
A view of the United Nations Headquarters on April 16 2008.
When the Saudis initiated a recent meeting with Arab ambassadors and proposed a resolution denouncing an Israeli decision to build hundreds of new housing units in two Jerusalem neighborhoods, some diplomats here raised eyebrows.
The timing, for one, was inconvenient for the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who is conducting direct negotiations with the Israelis, a Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity said. America traditionally has vetoed similar resolutions, saying they do not help such negotiations, the diplomat noted. “Maybe the Saudis, who are not council members, want to embarrass the Americans.”
The White House has not said whether President Bush will attend an oil summit, billed as a meeting of major oil producers and consumers to address rising petroleum costs, on June 22 in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Prime Minister Brown of Britain has said he will attend, and the Saudis are hoping that other high-level Western officials, including Mr. Bush, will follow suit.
“This is an idea that has kind of sprung on the international scene, and of course the president’s first question is, what are we going to try to accomplish?” National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters yesterday in Rome. “There are expectations that have been generated, and it is important that those expectations not be unrealized, because that in itself will have an effect on oil prices in the market.”
Washington has urged oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia to pump more oil to increase supply. But Saudi officials say the weak dollar and Israeli hints of an impending military attack on Iran, not declining production, are to blame for high prices.
The dispute over oil appears to be part of a larger rift between the two countries, with a London-based Arabic-language newspaper, Al-Quds al-Arabi, reporting recently that relations have reached their lowest point in years.
Some Riyadh watchers trace the shift to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iranian nuclear progress, published in December. The report convinced the Saudis that America was not going stop Iran, a Saudi foe, from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the president of the Jerusalem Policy Center for Public Affairs, Dore Gold, said.
“The Saudis seek strong American backing against Iran,” Mr. Gold, a former Israeli U.N. ambassador who has written extensively on the kingdom, said. “They don’t want to hear from Condi Rice about diplomatic progress between Abbas and Israel. They want to know what America is doing about Iran.”
The Saudis, he said, base their policies on their strong alliance with America — or on Arab consensus.
When the Israeli government earlier this month announced that it was planning to build nearly 900 new housing units in two neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Givat Zeev and Har Homa, Secretary-General Ban issued a strong statement: Israel’s “continued construction in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory” violates international law and Israel’s obligations under the road map and the Annapolis process. European countries and the U.S. State Department issued similar criticisms.
The Saudis, who consider themselves custodians of holy Muslim sites, including Jerusalem, have since initiated a drive to turn Mr. Ban’s statement into a binding Security Council resolution. They want to keep the resolution “simple — just about settlements,” an Arab diplomat close to the negotiations said.
They also want to be flexible, to allow for broad support, including from Western European countries. “We’ll see what they come up with,” one European diplomat said. “Our position on the settlements is very clear: We oppose them.”
If France, Britain, and other European council members voice their support, the resolution could drive a wedge between those countries and America, which has denounced the Israeli decision but is unlikely to allow the council to interfere with direct talks between the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs.
America will evaluate any council proposal “on several criteria,” an American U.N. ambassador, Alejandro Wolff, said. “Will it contribute to resolving the underlying problem or, conversely, is this designed simply to embarrass, to isolate, to impede, and to obstruct progress?”