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UN General Assembly Set to Discuss Jenin Issues - 2002-05-06

The 189-member U.N. General Assembly will take up the issue of Jenin Tuesday, after the smaller, more powerful Security Council failed to censure Israel for rejecting a fact-finding mission to the West Bank refugee camp.

The General Assembly is meeting at the request of Arab diplomats. Unable to persuade a deadlocked Security Council to respond forcefully to Israel's rebuff of the Jenin mission, Arab representatives expect the Assembly to adopt a resolution sharply critical of Israel.

No single country can veto Assembly decisions, which are passed by majority vote.

Security Council president, Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore, says he regrets that the 15-member Council, which is charged with overseeing matters of international peace and security, was not able to adopt a unified stand on the Jenin issue.

At the same time, he notes the General Assembly is within its rights to respond differently. "If the General Assembly wants to adopt a resolution," he said, "the Security Council is not going to say, 'do not.' They are two independent bodies and if the General Assembly chooses to do so, it has every right to do so."

But a General Assembly vote is not tantamount to action by the Security Council. Assembly resolutions, unlike those in the Council, are not legally binding on governments.

Also, U.N. speechmaking, most of it predictable, will be competing for attention amid the flurry of diplomatic activity elsewhere, including a visit to Washington by Israel's prime minister.

Meanwhile, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has indicated he would rather put the embarrassment over the Jenin mission behind him at this point, and focus on a political solution to the Middle East crisis. In aborting the mission, Mr. Annan said too much time had passed for the facts of the Israeli assault to be determined with any degree of accuracy.