Britain issued a statement on behalf of the European Community condemning Israel and pointing out that the dumping of the deportees in southern Lebanon was an infringement of Lebanese sovereignty. But it stopped short of threatening punitive measures, saying only that it would support any action taken by the UN.
The UN resolution is expected to be a repeat of one adopted by the Council in January this year, when Israel threatened to deport a smaller number of Palestinians. 'On past form, it is unlikely they will comply,' said one diplomat. 'The pattern has always been that Israel hears the UN resolution and then does what it intends to do anyway.'
The situation now is, as one Western source said, 'a whole new ball game': the number is the biggest peacetime deportation by Israel, and it has undertones of the systematic moving of populations to which the Arab world is acutely sensitive. Even so, there is little expectation that the United States would allow a resolution through the Council threatening punitive measures to force its ally to take the deportees back.
As for the infringement of Lebanese sovereignty, the Council adopted eight years ago, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Resolution 425 calling for the removal of Israeli forces and the restoration of sovereignty. It was never implemented.
Western diplomats yesterday lamented the Israeli action, which they described as exaggerated. They pointed out that it had forced the moderates in the PLO and in the Palestinian peace process team to side with the extremists of Hamas - something that they would otherwise not have contemplated.
But although the action jeopardises the peace negotiations, the diplomats stopped short of accusing Yitzhak Rabin of deliberately endangering the process; rather, his action was a typical Israeli error of judgement prompted by domestic political realities.
With the latest round of peace talks concluded on Thursday, the negotiations are not expected to resume until mid-January at the earliest. Although the Palestinians threatened yesterday to boycott the talks until Israel allows the deportees to come home, diplomats hope this will give them enough time to be persuaded otherwise.
What worries diplomats more is the prospect of a new, bloodier type of intifada in the occupied territories - involving increasing numbers of guns, which the Palestinians will have little trouble acquiring from sympathetic countries such as Iran.
Yesterday's Foreign Office statement came after Britain tried in vain on Thursday to urge Israel to change its mind. Foreign Office officials held talks with Israel's ambassador, Yoav Biran, on Thursday, and EC foreign ministers met Israel's ambassador to Washington.
There were calls yesterday for the EC - which drives the line of Palestinian self-determination far more strongly than does the US - to take punitive action where the UN may fail to do so. Robert Adley, the vice-chairman of the conservative Middle East Council, said, 'The EC should sever all trade links with Israel until they cease their disgusting policy.'
This appeared highly unlikely: officials of Israel, which seeks expanded trade links with the EC, held talks with the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday 'to explore possibilities for a future, more far- reaching agreement between the EC and Israel', a Commission official said. Despite the deportations, the two sides agreed to resume the talks in January.
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