UN set to adopt resolution urging Israel, Palestinians to continue talks
Initiative personally led by Bush who hopes to cement Annapolis peace deal ahead of administration change in Israel, U.S.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution on Tuesday calling on Israel and the Palestinian authority to continue negotiations on the core issues during the course of 2009, after both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders have completed their terms, in efforts to achieve "two states for two peoples."
The core issues on the negotiations table between Israel and the Palestinians include the fate of Jerusalem, parts of which the Palestinians envision as the capital of their future state, the fate of the Palestinian refugees, and the borders of a future Palestinian homeland.
Sources in Jerusalem said that the move was likely to force Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu to commit to the peace deal brokered at the November 2007 Annapolis conference, should he be elected prime minister in February, as polls predict.
The Annapolis talks had set a goal of achieving a substantive peace accord before President George W. Bush leaves office in January.
The move to bring the council to adopt the resolution was personally led by U.S. President George W. Bush, who hosted the Annapolis conference. The initiative is seen as a bid to cement the Annapolis process with the approval of the highest authority.
Bush believes that a UN resolution will sum up his efforts toward Middle East peace and underscore his vision of two states for two peoples. Bush is also interested in making the Annapolis process "irreversible" with the resolution, shielding it from the administration changes in both Israel and the U.S.
Security Council members met Saturday in an emergency session to discuss the resolution, strongly backed by Russia, which appears to have near-unanimous support. A vote on it by the 15-nation council is expected Tuesday.
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 U.S.-sponsored talks had set a goal of achieving a substantive peace accord before President George W. Bush leaves office in January, a scenario that appears all but impossible now.
"Now, the U.S. focus is on a smooth hand-off to President-elect Barack Obama that keeps up the momentum for peace," said U.S. 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 U.S. 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, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will come to the UN for two days. First she will take part in a meeting of the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators - 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 Six-Day 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 U.S., 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."