The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution Tuesday stressing that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process initiated by the United States last year is irreversible and urging intensified efforts to achieve peace throughout the Middle East.
The vote was 14-0 with Libya abstaining because the resolution did not condemn Israel's siege on the Gaza strip and intensified settlement activities.
In an effort to grant the resolution special significance, the security council's session was attended by its member states' most senior diplomats.
The resolution - co-sponsored by the United States and Russia, which have recently been at odds - backs the determined efforts by Israel and the Palestinians to conclude a peace treaty and fulfill the vision that they can live peacefully side by side as independent democratic states.
The negotiating process launched by President George W. Bush at Annapolis, Maryland, in November 2007 called for the Israelis and Palestinians to try to end their decades-long conflict and sign a peace agreement by the end of 2008. That goal would have given Bush a diplomatic victory just before turning the presidency over to Barack Obama - but it was not to be.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said before the vote that all council members regret that an agreement won't be reached this year, but he said a serious process is underway and the international community must ensure that the negotiations achieve results.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN observer, expressed hope that the two sides will succeed in removing all obstacles and reach a peace treaty in 2009. He said the Palestinians are happy that the Security Council - which has not adopted a comprehensive resolution on the Mideast since November 2003 - is now engaged and will be supervising the peace process started in Annapolis.
In probably her last UN appearance, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the negotiations born at Annapolis give me confidence that the goal of independent Israeli and Palestinian states living in peace and security is not just a vision, but it is a commitment of the parties and of the international community.
"There can be no turning back the clock," she told the council.
"We have to continue on the chosen path," Rice said. "That chosen path willfinally bring for the Israelis the peace and security that can only come from living side by side in reconciliation with a democratic neighbor of Palestine - and that path forward will finally give to the dignified people of Palestine, the dignity and the humanity that can only come from living in their independent and sovereign state."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not easy and will require political will and also courage to resolve.
"We have to achieve this momentum for peace and maintain it," he stressed.
The resolution adopted Tuesday declares the council's support for the negotiations initiated at Annapolis and its commitment to the irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations. It supports the Israeli and Palestinian determined efforts to reach their goal of concluding a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues, without exception.
On Monday, the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia - also said the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process launched at Annapolis is irreversible and should be intensified to establish a Palestinian state as soon as possible.
In her remarks before the vote Tuesday, Rice stressed that Israel must halt settlement activity while the Palestinian Authority has an absolute obligation to dismantle the infrastructure of terror in its territories, reform its security services and end incitement.
The council resolution also notes the importance of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which 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.
Israel objects to relinquishing all territory and the right of all Palestinians to return, and it wants to keep a unified Jerusalem as its capital.
The resolution urges an intensification of diplomatic efforts to foster in parallel with progress in the bilateral (Israeli-Palestinian) process mutual recognition and peaceful coexistence between all states in the region in the context of achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Lavrov said Russia will "do our utmost to ensure that an international meeting on the Middle East in Moscow in 2009 takes an important step forward and ... speeds up the process of reaching an (Israeli-Palestinian) agreement."
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