J'lem asserts that council "delivered an unequivocal message to the Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza."
By ALLISON HOFFMAN, JPOST CORRESPONDENT, NY
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution Tuesday backing the bilateral Israeli-Palestinian peace process launched at Annapolis last year, cementing hopes that the initiative will outlive the Bush administration.
The resolution, sponsored jointly by the United States and Russia, passed with 14 nations voting in favor and Libya abstaining.
It was the first successful effort in five years to corral the members of the Security Council into committing to peace in the Middle East, and marked a success for outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose term has been blemished by the failure to reach a peace deal.
Israel welcomed the resolution, with officials in Jerusalem asserting that the council "delivered an unequivocal message to the Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza."
"The Security Council's statement that lasting peace can only be based on mutual recognition, ending terror and incitement, and committing to the two-state solution, is an endorsement of core Israeli principles for the peace process," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The statement also welcomed the council's "call for the states of the Middle East to create an environment conducive to bilateral negotiations, including by promoting mutual recognition and peaceful coexistence in the region, in parallel with progress in the bilateral process."
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni characterized the resolution as "a vote of confidence in the process Israel is advancing with the legitimate Palestinian leadership, that has no substitute, and that confirms that with sensible leadership it is possible to harness the international community to support Israel's interests and the interests of advancing genuine peace."
Livni said that while Israel would continue direct bilateral negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, "the negotiations must be accompanied by parallel and uncompromising efforts against Hamas rule in Gaza and terrorist groups that target innocent civilians. Concern for security is the first and highest imperative."
The US administration's involvement in the Security Council resolution, and the assumption that this would be the Bush people's parting statement on the Middle East, caught some Israeli diplomatic officials by surprise.
One official said the signal Israel had been getting was that either Rice or President George W. Bush would make a parting speech, or perhaps even present a document on the Middle East, as a way of "codifying" what the administration has accomplished since Annapolis 13 months, and what has been agreed in the Israel-Palestinian negotiations since.
Nonetheless, the widespread feeling in Jerusalem is that the UN document will anchor the Annapolis process, ensuring its continuation after Bush hands over the presidency to Barack Obama - and no matter what the outcome of Israeli elections in February and the Palestinian election also expected early in the new year.
The two-page document, drafted in broad terms that made no mention of any specific concessions or negotiating points, called on Israelis and Palestinians to "refrain from any step that could undermine confidence or prejudice the outcome of negotiations." It did not make any mention of Gazan rocket attacks or of settler violence in the West Bank.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed both flashpoints in his remarks before the vote, calling on member countries to help "stabilize the situation on the ground" and support the bilateral talks.
He added a clarion call for a two-state solution.
"The occupation that began in 1967 must end," Ban said. "Palestinians must see the establishment of a state of Palestine alongside Israel, to coexist with it in peace and security."
Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour said after the vote that he believed the Security Council had signed up for a supervisory role for the Annapolis process.
"We are very happy to see the Security Council shouldering its responsibility in dealing with this question," Mansour told reporters outside the council chamber. "They have the responsibility to have a mechanism in order to supervise the process for the purpose of ensuring the success of this process."
Mansour said he was disappointed the resolution did not include tougher language relating to the Gaza blockade but proclaimed that he hoped the coming year would be one of peace: "We should learn lessons from the fact that we did not succeed in 2008 and remove obstacles from our path to increase the chances of succeeding in 2009," he said.
Tuesday's vote followed a meeting Monday in New York of the Quartet members - the US, the UN, the European Union and Russia - who reaffirmed their support of the Annapolis process, which they described as "irreversible."
The Quartet members called on both parties to intensify negotiations to establish a Palestinian state as soon as possible.
In a direct message to Hamas leadership, the Quartet called on "all Palestinians" to "commit themselves to nonviolence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations."
The group's statement also called on Israel to cease humanitarian blockades on Gaza, and reiterated support for the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, urging it to be respected and extended in order to restore "normal civilian life."
The cease-fire expires on Friday.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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