UNITED NATIONS — As Palestinian Arab rockets struck two Israeli towns yesterday, U.N. bodies prepared to launch no fewer than two overlapping "fact-finding" missions to second-guess Israel's anti-terrorist tactics. President Carter could head one of those missions.
The U.N. General Assembly is expected to convene a special emergency session tomorrow to deal with the November 8 Israel Defense Force artillery strike on the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, which killed 19 civilians. A draft resolution for the assembly session calls on the U.N. secretary-general to establish a fact-finding mission into the event and requests that he report back to the assembly in a month.
And yesterday in Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council, which in its five months of existence has failed to pass one resolution on any country other than Israel, concluded its third emergency session on the Jewish state. In the session's resolution, the council called on its president, Ambassador Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, to establish a fact-finding mission to investigate the incident at Beit Hanoun.
A diplomat in Geneva who requested anonymity said the sponsors of the resolution are planning to ask Mr. Carter to head the investigation. Other candidates include the diplomats Martti Ahtisaari of Finland and Sadako Ogata of Japan.
Israel, which is conducting its own investigation into the incident, has yet to decide on its level of cooperation with the U.N. probes.
"I wish there was some coherence at the U.N.," a U.N. official who requested anonymity said yesterday. As things stand, he added, no rule exists to prevent system-wide redundancies where separate bodies can create missions to investigate the same event.
The proposed resolution for tomorrow's General Assembly session draws most of its language from a Security Council resolution proposal that was vetoed on Friday. In addition to the fact-finding mission, the new proposal calls on "the international community, including the Quartet" — America, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia — to establish "an international mechanism to protect civilians."
The French ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, made similar suggestions last week at the 15-member Security Council. Europe was split in the Friday council vote: France and Greece voted for the Arab-sponsored resolution, while Britain, Denmark, and Slovakia abstained and America vetoed the resolution.
Asked about the idea of a council-sponsored fact-finding mission and the establishment of a mechanism to protect civilians in Gaza, the American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, responded to The New York Sun with one word: "No."
In the past, Arab and Muslim countries have used the General Assembly, where they can easily marshal a voting majority, to convene emergency sessions designed to override an American veto in the Security Council. Friday's assembly meeting will mark the 15th time the emergency session has been convened since its establishment in 1997 to condemn the construction of a new Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.
"The assembly turns itself into a court of law where the Arabs have a majority," the deputy Israeli U.N. envoy, Daniel Carmon, said. As result, he said, the assembly always deals with events like Beit Hanoun and avoids the underlying cause. "The cause is terrorism. The U.N. should not shy away from investigating terrorism," he said.
Specifically, he cited yesterday's events in Sderot, where an Israeli woman was killed and several injured in a rocket attack from Gaza that was also directed at the coastal town of Ashkelon.
In Geneva, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution by a vote of 32 in favor, eight opposed, and six abstaining, that condemned Israel for the "willful killing" of Palestinian Arab civilians. Most of the Europeans on the 47-member council opposed the resolution or abstained.
In the aftermath of the Beit Hanoun attack, which according to IDF commanders was the result of an error, many European leaders, including the British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, denounced Israel's recent incursions against rocket-launching sites in northern Gaza. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Olmert, have apologized for the incursions.
But in a speech to Jewish leaders in Los Angeles yesterday, Mr. Olmert vowed to continue the operations in Gaza. "At this time, the [IDF's] general staff is holding a meeting to discuss the steps that need to be taken," he said. "We will decide on more steps on the war against terror which is emanating from the Gaza Strip and which is incessant."