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Later this week the General Assembly of the United Nations will go through what has become an annual ritual of passing a resolution about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Broadly, it will call on Israel to withdraw its troops from occupied land and to resume negotiations for a Palestinian state. Apart from the United States, Israel will have few supporters in the debate and the resolution will be passed overwhelmingly; there is no veto power on General Assembly resolutions, unlike those of the Security Council.

However, this annual event has acquired a little extra interest this year because a speech made last week by the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations has been disowned by his government. Yehuda Lancry told the General Assembly that Israel supported the vision of “two states living side by side in peace and security” as the ultimate goal of negotiation, but his statement was publicly repudiated on Sunday by Prime Minister Sharon after a cabinet meeting. Although Mr Sharon has accepted the principle of President Bush's plan for a Palestinian state to be established in three years, announced last June, he has always said that it would depend on detailed negotiations. Foreign minister Netanyahu is opposed to a two–state solution under any circumstances.

So why did Ambassador Lancry make such a mistake? Mr Sharon's spokesman said that his statement was made without cabinet authorisation “Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue or because English is not his mother tongue”. Perhaps. But what is fairly certain is that the Ambassador's career in the diplomatic service will not prosper.

MONITOR