United Nations Takes-Up the Pressing Issue of Israeli Nukes

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The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to adopt a resolution urging Israel to open its nuclear facilities for inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) “without further delay.”

The resolution was adopted 174 votes to six with six abstentions. The six nations which voted against the measure were Israel, the United States, Canada, Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. Incidentally, UNGA resolutions are non-binding, but they reflect world opinion and carry moral and political weight.

Israel is yet to confirm or deny whether it has nuclear weapons under its policy of “nuclear ambiguity,” but it is widely believed that the Jewish State has a nuclear arsenal. Israel is also not a signatory to the 1970 NPT, which is intended to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. India, Pakistan and North Korea are the other nuclear-capable nations yet to sign the NPT.

The U.N. adopts the resolution amid speculations that Israel may soon launch a unilateral military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities if Tehran does not stop its disputed uranium enrichment work. Although Iran insists that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful civilian purposes, the West suspects the claim to be a cover-up for the country’s nuclear weapon ambitions. But Tehran argues that it has the right to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Israel has so far resisted efforts by Arab nations to create a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, insisting that a Mideast peace agreement must be in place before it can back such an initiative. Although Israel is widely believed to be the only State in the region having a nuclear arsenal, the Jewish nation insist that it will not be the first or last country to introduce such weapons in the Mideast.

Incidentally, a high-level conference on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East was originally set to open in the Finnish capital Helsinki in mid-December. But the conference, sponsored by Russia, the UK and the U.S., was canceled two weeks ago after Washington withdrew from the meeting, citing political turmoil in the region and Iran’s defiant nuclear program. But most Arab nations believe that the U.S. move was prompted by Israel’s refusal to attend the conference.

Notably, Tuesday’s UNGA resolution was the second setback to Israel at the world body in recent days. Last Thursday, the UNGA voted to upgrade Palestine’s “permanent observer” status at the world body to that of a “non-member observer State” despite stiff opposition from the United States and Israel.

Israel rejected the General Assembly vote as “one-sided,” stressing that the Palestinians’ U.N. bid violated peace accords under which the Palestinian Authority was established states clearly that a Palestinian state should emerge only as a result of bilateral negotiations.

Israel reacted to Thursday’s UNGA vote by announcing plans to construct 3,000 new settler homes in the occupied Palestinian territory of West Bank. Israel also withheld the December installment of tax revenues amounting 460 million shekels ($120 million) to the Palestinian Authority.

The Israeli move attracted widespread international criticism, with several world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, warning that it would undermine ongoing efforts to restart the currently-stalled Middle East peace talks. Besides, several EU nations, including Britain, France, Spain, Denmark and Sweden summoned Israeli Ambassadors in their countries to lodge their formal protests at the settlement expansion plans.

The elevated status of a “non-member observer State” allows the Palestinians to participate in debates at the U.N. But it does not provide an automatic entry into U.N. agencies or provide any guarantees in that regard. However, outcome of the U.N. vote amounts to an implicit recognition of Palestinian statehood.

Incidentally, the Security Council had rejected a Palestinian bid last year for a full U.N. membership for a Palestine State with pre-1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital. Palestine was later admitted as a member-state to the UNESCO despite objections from Israel and the U.S.

Palestinians believe that the non-member observer State status would eventually lead to Palestine’s recognition as a U.N. Member-State. Such a development would allow them to haul Israel to the International Criminal Court and other international forums over issues relating to the 2008 invasion of the Gaza Strip as well as building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Currently, the U.S.-mediated peace talks are deadlocked over Israel’s refusal to extend a construction freeze in the West Bank after its expiry on September 26, 2010. Palestinians insist that they will return to direct peace talks only if Israel stops settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel has settled about 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the 1967 Six-Day War. However, its annexation of the captured area is not recognized by the international community, which considers building settlements in the occupied land as illegal.

A previously agreed 2003 peace plan mediated by the Middle East Quartet, comprising the U.N., European Union, the United States and Russia, requires Israel to dismantle settlement outposts erected since 2001 and freeze all settlement activities, while Palestinians are required to halt all violence against Israel. It is ultimately expected to lead to an independent Palestinian State alongside Israel with East Jerusalem as its capital.

by RTT Staff Writer

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