In a sudden about face, the United States on Friday withdrew a United Nations resolution endorsing this week's agreement by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try to reach a Mideast peace settlement by the end of 2008 after Israeli objected to it.
Israel expressed opposition to the American initiative to pursue Security Council support for the proposed resolution because it does not consider most of the member states of the council to be friendly toward Israel.
U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff informed the Security Council that the United States was pulling the resolution from consideration less than 24 hours after U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad introduced it and welcomed the very positive response from council members.
UN sources said that Israel expressed dissatisfaction over the fact that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, did not give it advance notice of its intentions to pursue UN adoption of decisions made at the Middle East peace conference held in Annapolis, Maryland earlier this week.
"It's not the proper venue," Israel's deputy ambassador Daniel Carmon told reporters after Friday's council meeting. "We feel that the appreciation of Annapolis has other means of being expressed than in a resolution."
"We were not the only ones to object, Carmon added," saying the Americans had told the Israelis that the Palestinians also objected. UN sources also said that the Palestinian Authority said it wasn't interested in a resolution.
Although Israel apparently had no problems with the uncontroversial text, analysts suggested it was worried a formal resolution would get the United Nations too involved in Middle East peace efforts. Israel and the United States often complain of bias in the world body against Israel.
However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, on Friday, that while he didn't know the details of the draft resolution, it was a sign of the seriousness of the United States, which he also perceived at this week's U.S.-sponsored conference in Annapolis.
"This means, if what we have learned is verified, that there are serious steps that speak to the existence of an American position supporting the negotiations," Abbas said.
Wolff told reporters the U.S. had held intensive consultations over the past few days and the upshot was that there were some unease with the idea of a resolution.
"The focus, we all realized again, should be placed and remain on Annapolis and the understanding that was reached there," Wolff said.
"It's a momentous decision... and rather than dilute from that and in respect to both parties in terms of what they thought would be most helpful, we reached a conclusion that it would be best to withdraw it," Wolff added.
Word of the opposition to the resolution came after Khalilzad told reporters after closed-door discussions Thursday on the draft resolution that there was enormous support for the decisions taken by Olmert and Abbas at the peace conference.
"Everyone that spoke was very positive," he said. "Everyone recognizes that we collectively and individually have to do what we can to be supportive, sustain the momentum and help the parties as they make the difficult decisions that they have to make."
Khalilzad had said he would consult with the Israelis and Palestinians overnight on the text of the resolution to ensure that it's what they want.
Indonesia's UN Ambassador Marty Natalegawa, the current council president, had expressed hope that the resolution would be adopted on Friday, after the council's monthly Mideast briefing.
"From the presidency perspective, we see there is a good potential for a common, positive response to Annapolis which we wish to nurture and capture as early as possible so that positive momentum is maintained," he said, before the resolution was withdrawn.
The Annapolis conference drew 44 nations, including Israel's neighboring Arab states whose support is considered vital to any peace agreement. A joint understanding between the Israelis and Palestinians, in doubt until the last minute, was salvaged and Abbas and Olmert reiterated their desire to reach a peace settlement by the end of next year.
Qatar's UN Ambassador Nassir Al-Nasser, the only Arab member of the Security Council, told reporters "we are happy with the language as it is in the U.S. draft resolution."
"I am happy that the council is dealing with this issue," he said. "For me, this is the main thing."
The draft resolution affirmed the Security Council's vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders.
It welcomed the diplomatic efforts at the Annapolis conference to realize this vision as a concrete step towards a comprehensive Middle East peace, and also endorsed the program of action for negotiations and implementation of outstanding obligations pursuant to the road map peace plan agreed upon by the Israeli and Palestinian leadership at Annapolis, Maryland on Nov. 27, 2007.
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