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U.S. Puts Off Vote at U.N.

Diplomacy: Palestinian and Israeli envoys exchange bitter words amid Security Council debate on Jewish state's West Bank incursions.


UNITED NATIONS — On a day of bitter public argument between Israeli and Palestinian representatives, the United States on Tuesday averted a broader diplomatic rift over the Middle East by forcing postponement of a vote on an Arab-backed Security Council resolution condemning Israel's West Bank incursions.

Arab envoys said they might press for a vote as early as today. But other diplomats appeared to have little enthusiasm for a divisive debate on a declaration almost certain to provoke a U.S. veto and that would probably have little impact even if it passed.

The 15-member council is suffering from "resolution fatigue," said one U.S. diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the three Middle East resolutions passed with U.S. support in the last four weeks. Two of them also called for Israel's withdrawal from West Bank cities.

"The Security Council should get out of the business of producing documents," said James B. Cunningham, the deputy U.S. representative here. "The focus of activity is now where it should be, in the region, with Secretary [of State Colin L.] Powell engaging in all his contacts."

Other permanent members of the council agreed that further U.N. action would not help Powell's negotiations, and the secretary of State's mission was strongly endorsed Monday by most council members and Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The council has met on the Middle East crisis for 11 of the last 12 days, with members expressing deep frustration at their inability to get Israel to heed demands to withdraw from West Bank areas it has reoccupied and, to a lesser extent, to get Palestinian leaders to renounce violence.

Members also have repeatedly voiced anger at reports by U.N. agencies of Israeli soldiers entering U.N. hospitals and schools and allegedly keeping ambulances and U.N. aid officials out of refugee camps.

The council's latest Middle East debate began Monday and ended Tuesday with heated clashes between the usually even-tempered Yehuda Lancry, Israel's U.N. ambassador, and Nasser Kidwa, the coolly professional Palestinian representative.

Lancry accused Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, Kidwa's uncle, of personally arming and supervising Palestinian terror squads. Kidwa derided the charges as "silly and stupid," language Lancry angrily said was inappropriate in such a forum.

But the bitterest exchange invoked the explosive memory of the Holocaust, with Lancry accusing Kidwa and other Arabs in the Security Council debate of comparing Israel's treatment of Palestinians to the mass murder of European Jews.

"Such analogies are absolutely indefensible and offensive," Lancry said. He then went on to link Palestinian terrorists to the legacy of the Holocaust, saying suicide bombers were the "spiritual progeny" of Nazi ideologues.

Kidwa denied making a comparison to the Holocaust, saying he was instead equating Israeli incursions into the West Bank with the Nazi occupation of cities throughout Europe.

"What the Israeli army has been doing against our people does not differ in many aspects from what the German armies, the Nazi German armies, did in many European cities, and against the inhabitants of those cities," Kidwa said.

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