JOHN BIERMAN October 22 1990



JOHN BIERMAN October 22 1990





For weeks, President George Bush was able to present it as an essential military operation, designed to preserve global order. Working through the United Nations, he gained the moral and military support of many Arab states—and other world leaders—in sending 200,000 troops to the Persian Gulf to oppose Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Then, last week, a violent confrontation in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem almost shattered the carefully constructed alliance. Israeli police shot and killed 21 rioting Palestinians near the holy city’s Western Wall, and wounded more than 100 others. In the aftermath, Washington acted swiftly to defuse the anger of all Arab states. In a highly unusual action, it drafted a UN Security Council resolution criticizing the shootings as “excessive.” That did not satisfy the Arabs. But after four days of debate, the 15-member council unanimously adopted an amended version of the resolution, as negotiated by Canada and Britain, condemning “the violence committed by the Israeli security forces” and setting up a UN fact-finding mission to investigate the killings and report by the end of the month.

It was the sharpest U.S. condemnation of the Jewish state since the United States supported a UN resolution condemning Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The decision immediately drew criticism from Israel and from U.S. Jewish organizations who said that the motion

should also have condemned the Palestinians for causing the Oct. 8 violence. But, in supporting the censure, the United States eased the strains on its fragile Gulf coalition. And officials at the United Nations were clearly elated with the hard-won unanimity. Yves Fortier, Canada’s UN ambassador, said that passage of the resolution was “a gigantic step in the right direction.” Added Fortier: “The American move, given their sensitivities and their relationship with Israel, is nothing short of revolutionary.” Council president Sir David Hannay of Britain said that the unanimity would give “a greater force to the message that is going out.” The crisis arose at a critical time for Bush. After a long presidential honeymoon, during which public opinion polls once registered an approval rating of 76 per cent, he was suddenly in trouble over his handling of an intractable domestic problem, the federal budget. His unsteady handling of that issue—in particular, his inability to rally the support of his own Republican party in Congress for tax increases—raised doubts about his political judgment.

Said Representative Thomas Downey, a liberal Democrat from New York: “This is a President who has troops on foreign soil and he is unable to command his own party.”

Terror: Tensions in the protracted Middle East crisis were heightened by the murder in Cairo on Oct. 12 of Rifa’at Mahjoub, the Speaker of the Egyptian parliament, the second-ranking politician in the country and a strong backer of President Hosni Mubarak’s policy of supporting U.S. intervention in the Gulf. Although the motives of the four-man assassination team that ambushed Mahjoub’s official car were unclear, analysts noted that they struck only six days after Mubarak accused Iraqi Presi-

dent Saddam Hussein of sending terror squads to destabilize Egypt. “It could be an internal operation or an external one,” said Interior Minister Mohammed Abdel-Halim Moussa.

Bush telephoned Mubarak to convey his condolences for what a Washington statement described as “the most vile kind of terrorism.” Earlier, Bush publicly criticized Israel for not acting “with more restraint” in dealing with the Palestinian rioters. Administration officials said in private that Bush was outraged over the shootings. Then, U.S. diplomats went into action to control the damage that the Jerusalem incident caused to the Western-Arab alliance against Iraq. Acting swiftly to counter Hussein’s renewed attempts to link the Gulf issue with Israel’s occupation of Arab lands, U.S. delegates at the United Nations initiated a resolution that some analysts described as the most critical ever of Israel. It characterized the Israeli police action as “excessive,” but placed no blame on the Palestinian rioters who initiated the trouble by stoning Jewish worshippers.

Israel’s UN representative, Johanan Bein, reacted bitterly. He said that his country was being made “a sacrificial lamb” to enable Bush to maintain his Gulf coalition. Spokesmen for U.S. Jewish organizations also responded angrily. Leaders of the powerful American Jewish Congress accused the administration of “caving in to the political needs of our newfound Arab allies.” And Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, said that Washington was “losing sight of

0 principle.” He added, “The Ê UN is engaged in hypocrisy.”

1 But many members of the g UN Security Council, notably g the seven nonaligned coun£ tries that support the Pales5 tine Liberation Organization,

made clear that the U.S. resolution did not go far enough. They drafted a resolution of their own, calling on the Security Council to send a special team to investigate Israeli treatment of the Palestinians in occupied lands and make recommendations for their protection. That resolution seemed to gain broad support. But when the U.S. delegation threatened to veto it, the nonaligned nations amended the resolution in an attempt to secure a unanimous vote. Apparently with the grudging approval of the PLO, they agreed instead to urge the sending of a less high-powered mission, representing not the Security Council but UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar.

But the Americans still objected to the section of the resolution calling for measures to ensure the safety and protection of the Palestinian population. U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering called for a more limited resolution that, while apportioning some blame to the Palestinians for provoking the Jerusalem incident, would have confined the secretary general’s mission to reporting on the current situation in the occupied territories without making recommendations for action.

Compromise: As UN diplomats debated, it became clear that, while anxious to compromise, some of America’s closest supporters in the Gulf, including Britain, France and Canada, favored the nonaligned resolution, which was sponsored formally by Yemen. Fortier told Maclean’s as the search for an acceptable compromise went on that Washington’s condemnation of the shootings in Jerusalem was “a very significant breakthrough” in U.S. policy. He added, “There is an awareness on the part

of the Americans that this set of tragic events cannot go unpunished by the international community.” Fortier added that he “and nearly every other member of the Security Council” were striving to find what he called “a happy marriage” of the U.S. and the nonaligned texts. But if no such compromise proved possible, he said, Canada would vote for the nonaligned resolution.

Britain and France also indicated that they would vote for the Yemeni resolution if no reconciliation was achieved. Bush telephoned French President François Mitterrand but failed to extract a commitment that France would change its stand. And in London, the British Foreign Office took the unusual step of announcing that Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd had phoned U.S. Secretary of State James Baker to warn him of the damage that a veto would do to allied efforts in the Gulf. Egypt’s UN envoy, Amre Moussa, was also outspoken: “Another American veto would be very harmful, very dangerous.” Against that pressure, the UN diplomats finally reached agreement on the Anglo-Canada compromise at week’s end. Under that resolution, the UN team will investigate only last week’s shootings, not the broader issue of the treatment of Palestinians.

One Western official told Maclean’s that one stumbling block at the United Nations was the Americans’ negotiating strategy. “You don’t put down your text Tuesday and say this is it,” said the official. “Many members of the nonaligned group, when they saw the text, said that it was unbelievable. Then, the PLO looked at it and said, ‘Let’s go for the moon.’ The

United States should have waited and negotiated.” That official also criticized the United States for sending in assistant secretary of state John Bolton “over Pickering’s head ” to negotiate with Security Council members. “It was like being called in by the schoolteacher after school,” the official said.

For his part, Fortier said that passage of the resolution represented a breakthrough for the Security Council. “In the past, we had never spent time fine-tuning the words of a resolution [critical of Israel] because we knew that the United States would veto it,” said Fortier. “There is a new process beginning, and the process is to involve the United States as Israel’s best friend.”

Nervous: Still, the drawn-out manoeuvring at the United Nations disrupted the momentum of U.S. Gulf policy. Since the crisis began with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, the Bush administration has steadily tightened diplomatic, economic and military pressure against Hussein by building up its military forces in the Gulf and sponsoring new Security Council initiatives. At the same time, it has rallied international financial support for the effort. But throughout the week, said one Washington official, “we have been rivetted to this Israeli-Palestinian issue—the Gulf has had to go to the back burner.”

Meanwhile, some independent analysts observed that U.S. policy was beginning to drift off course. Said Barry Rubin, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy: “I am beginning to get a little nervous. I wonder if the United States is losing control.” Amid reports that Kuwait is being looted and dismem-

bered by Iraqi occupation forces, Rubin questioned whether it might soon become impossible to put the tiny Gulf nation together again. “If this continues for six months,” he said, “Saddam [Hussein] will look like a winner, Kuwait won’t exist anymore, and U.S. troops will still be sitting in the desert.”

In London, Hurd appeared to address the same concerns in a BBC interview, stating that the alliance will have to decide “within a matter of weeks” whether to go to war. And Kuwait’s ambassador in Washington,

Sheik Saud Nasir al-Sabah, told U.S. congressmen that “time is running out” for his country (page 32). As he spoke, the massive military buildup in Saudi Arabia was nearing completion, with an estimated 300,000 servicemen and women from a dozen nations, of whom 200,000 are American and nearly 1,500 are Canadian.

Occupation: As the Americans and their allies prepared for a possible military showdown, the shootings in Jerusalem reinforced Hussein’s attempts to shift attention from his occupation of Kuwait to Israel’s 23-year-old occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Even the Arab states that support U.S. policy in the Gulf clearly want to avoid a direct link between the two issues, arguing that the Palestine problem must be tackled only after Hussein has been forced to withdraw from Kuwait. Said Martin Indyck, director of Washington’s Near East institute: “If we allow Iraq and the PLO to establish a direct linkage, it will delay the departure of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait until there is a solution to the Palestinian problem.”

For his part, Hussein fired a new round in his propaganda war against the U.S.-led alliance by

blaming a UN-authorized trade embargo for a lack of milk and medicine for Iraqi children. In a broadcast message marking Iraqi Children’s Day, Hussein said that “those who shed crocodile tears for children” were to blame for the death of any Iraqi child that was caused by “their unjust blockade.” Earlier in the week, Hussein had threatened to avenge the 21

Palestinians killed by Israeli police with a new long-range missile that he called Al Hijara, which means “the stone” in Arabic—an obvious reference to the stones that are the main weapon of the Palestinian intifadeh, or uprising—against Israel.

Iraqi threats also extended to the Soviet Union. Moscow formerly was Iraq’s main supplier of weapons but now supports U.S. efforts to force Hussein out of Kuwait. An Iraqi military spokesman warned the Soviets, who had access to “serious” Iraqi military secrets, not to disclose that information to U.S. Defence Secretary Richard Cheney during a scheduled visit to Moscow this week. If they did, he said, the Iraqi government might prevent the departure of 5,000 Soviet nationals from the country.

War: Meanwhile, some analysts said that Bush’s huge domestic problems, mainly related to fashioning a new budget, may lead Hussein to adopt an even tougher position in the coming weeks. And as oil prices continue to rise, the United States may be driven into a recession. In Washingá ton, the department of labor reported § that a 20-per-cent increase in gasoline z prices during September had helped ° push up the producer price index by 1.6 per cent. If wholesale inflation persisted at that rate, the department warned, it would result in a crippling annual rate of 20.9 per cent. But an open war, unless it is won swiftly, could have an even more devastating effect on the economies and the people of the United States and its allies.