UNSC nears first Mideast plan in 5 years

Draft resolution calls on Israelis, Palestinians "to fulfill their obligations;" vote expected Tuesday.

security council 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
security council 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
For the first time in five years, the UN Security Council (UNSC) is poised to adopt a resolution calling for collective peace in the Middle East. Council members met Saturday in a closed-door emergency session to discuss a US-drafted resolution, strongly backed by Russia, that appeared to have near-unanimous support. A vote on it by the 15-nation council is expected Tuesday. The two-page draft resolution calls on Israelis and Palestinians "to fulfill their obligations" under last year's peace deal brokered at Annapolis, Maryland, and for all nations and international groups "to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations." The council would reiterate "its vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders." Those US-sponsored talks had set a goal of achieving a substantive peace accord before US President George W. Bush leaves office in January, a scenario that appears all but impossible now. Now, the US focus is on a smooth hand-off to US President-elect Barack Obama that keeps up the momentum for peace, said US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who made a symbolic point of standing beside Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin while addressing reporters after the council session. "This is an important time for the council to express itself on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. There is transition taking place here - by here I mean the United States - and there is of course also transition possibilities in other countries in the region," Khalilzad said. It's also important, Khalilzad said, that nations "recognize the progress that has been made and for this process ... to be sustained, and for the council to express its support so that there is no pause in the negotiations" once Bush leaves the White House. Churkin said the draft resolution was presented to council members Saturday for the first time as a culmination of "this close joint work" between the US and Russia, which have been at serious odds much of this past year over Zimbabwe, Georgia and other issues. "We believe it's very important to continue the momentum," Churkin said. "Of course, we all cannot be satisfied with where the peace process is at now. But considerable effort has been made over the past 12 months or so. And we believe that the effort has to be pinned down, and it has to continue without a pause, which may be there because of some political circumstances: change of administration in the United States, elections in Israel, possible elections in the Palestinian autonomy." On Monday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will come to the UN for two days. First she will take part in the so-called Middle East quartet - the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations - that also will meet with Arab partners for talks on Middle East peace efforts. The next day she is participating in a council session on piracy from Somalia. "It is very important for the Security Council to show that they are on the side of the people on the ground" in the Middle East, said French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, whose nation holds the EU presidency until the end of the year. He said France has been urging for a long time that the Security Council get involved in the Mideast peace process. "So for us it could be a very important milestone ... to go forward to the solution of two states living side-by-side in peace," Ripert said. Before the council votes on the Middle East resolution, Libya has asked that it include language directed against Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Arab peace plan calls for Arab recognition of the Jewish state in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from all lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Not since November 2003 has the council passed a resolution on the Middle East that calls for collective peace by insisting on a two-nation solution for Israelis and Palestinians, according to Security Council Report, an independent not-for-profit organization. That earlier resolution, unlike the latest proposal, also had mentioned the need for a "just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks." The council needs only nine members to pass the new draft resolution, but diplomats said that with a resolution on such a complex issue as this one, some of its strength would be derived from passing it unanimously. Even if that does not occur, the resolution appears to be headed toward near-unanimous passage, several Security Council diplomats said. With all five of the council's permanent members on board, there appears to be no threat that any of them - the US, Russia, China, Britain or France - will use their veto power. "The Security Council, for a long time, has not been able to pronounce itself on anything on the Middle East process, or on the situation in the Middle East," Churkin said. "So to have this political statement coming out of the Security Council at this crucial juncture will not be an insignificant achievement."