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Department of Public Information (DPI)
14 January 2014
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
AS OLD QUESTIONS LINGER, NEW REALITIES COMPEL SECURITY COUNCIL TO RETHINK
TRADITIONAL MEANS OF TACKLING GLOBAL HOTSPOTS
Fewer Meetings as Members Pass 47 Resolutions, Issue 22 Presidential Statements
The Security Council went to great lengths in 2013 to adapt — and occasionally redefine — its traditional means of intervention so as to better accommodate twenty-first century realities as it worked to quell fresh fighting in the heart of Africa and soften fierce hostilities reshaping even the strongest alliances in the Middle East over the course of the year.
Monthly briefings on the Israeli-Palestinian situation followed their usual pattern in 2013, with top officials warning that the consequences of inaction on the conflict could be dire for all. Calls for both parties to show unswerving diplomatic commitment to direct negotiations, which had resumed on 29 July, reached a crescendo in October, when the representatives of Israel and the State of Palestine exchanged barbs over each other’s actions during a boisterous open debate. By November, the Council had heard that unless steps were taken to prevent the recurrence of negative developments, the chances of reaching a two-State solution could be irreparably damaged.
Question of Palestine
The Security Council’s regular monthly briefings followed their usual pattern, beginning on 23 January with the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process warning that that the consequences of inaction in the Arab-Israeli conflict could be dire for all. Without serious engagement, the peace process would remain on life support and stability on the ground would face further risk. Regional and international partners were increasingly alarmed that the only way to resolve the conflict was “slipping away”, and they questioned the effectiveness of international efforts to bring about decisive results. In the ensuing day-long debate, discussion focused on the obstacles to peace and their continued devastating consequences.
In his first address to the Council following the General Assembly’s 2012 decision to accord the State of Palestine non-member observer status in the United Nations, its Minister for Foreign Affairs quoted the response of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to that decision: “What the UN says does not interest me”. That attitude was manifest in Israel’s systematic escalation of the settlement campaign, particularly in and around occupied East Jerusalem, he noted, warning that unless all such practices were halted, Israel would bear responsibility for the destruction of the two-State solution.
Israel’s Permanent Representative said there were many security threats in the Middle East, but the presence of Jewish homes in Jerusalem was not one of them. He recalled that after the historic Assembly vote, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority had promised that his delegation would return promptly to the negotiating table, without preconditions. Yet, the Palestinians “have not lifted one finger to restart negotiations”, he said, adding: “Make no mistake, the major obstacle to the two-State solution is the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to speak to their own people about the true parameters of a two-State solution, to speak a lexicon of peace, not a litany of war.” (Press Release
Briefing the Council on 26 February, the Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs said it was already two months into a year that could preserve or extinguish what hope remained for a two-State solution. At the same time, he acknowledged that progress could not be expected without the articulation of a credible political framework within which to achieve a negotiated two-State solution. (Press Release
On 25 March, following a visit to the Middle East region by President Barack Obama of the United States, the Special Coordinator declared there was now an opening to develop a “serious and substantial” political initiative to achieve the negotiated two-State solution. The President’s visit marked an important opportunity to reinvigorate peace efforts. To be sure, the region faced a period of “extraordinary” turmoil, and the months ahead would not be easy, he cautioned. Both sides must show the political will and determination to make progress. (Press Release
Delivering the next briefing on 24 April, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs said that, as the grim tragedy inside Syria deteriorated, advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was central to forestalling further destabilization. A critical point was approaching for the viability of the peace process, and whether that prospect “solidifies or vanishes” would depend on the direction chosen by leaders on both sides. (Press Release
Briefing the Council again on 22 May, the Special Coordinator said the recent visit to Washington, D.C., by Arab Ministers had reaffirmed the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Government of Israel should respond positively to that “slight opening”. On the ground, he noted, both parties had exercised some care not to upset the fragile situation in support of ongoing diplomatic efforts; with the exception of the pre-approval of 300 housing units, no new approvals or tenders had been issued for settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since March. Nevertheless, recent tensions around Jerusalem, particularly restricted access to holy sites, were worrying. (Press Release
During a briefing on 25 June, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs declared: “The Middle East is living dangerous and tragic days as the scourge of war is once again destroying lives and burying hopes.” The whole region was “feeling the reverberations” as the bloody conflict in Syria unfolded. Courageous and mutual compromises were needed to resolve both the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rapidly escalating crisis in Syria, he said, noting several recent visits to the region by Secretary of State John Kerry of the United States. However, “rushing the parties back to the table without having the necessary framework in place and buy-in from both sides would be counter-productive”, he cautioned. (Press Release
The situation was at a “decisive point”, the Special Coordinator declared while briefing the Council before a 23 July open debate. Israelis and Palestinians had agreed, in principle, to return to the negotiating table. Now, “some very tough choices will be required from both sides in the period ahead”.
In the ensuing debate, speakers emphasized the importance of the opportunity presented by the agreement to resume negotiations. (Press Release
The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs told the Council on 29 July that the resumption of direct talks between the two sides represented a “small but important” opening for peace and an opportunity that “neither can afford to miss”. The talks would focus on all core final-status issues, he said, adding that progress towards ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could also bode well for regional stability, which was all the more critical in recent weeks in view of the volatile situation in Egypt, a fragile Lebanon and ongoing turmoil in Syria. The Secretary-General remained deeply troubled by Israel’s continuing settlement activity and by ongoing settler violence, he said, adding that he was also concerned about the fate of some 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, especially those on hunger strike and in administrative detention. (Press Release
On 17 September, the Special Coordinator said that 20 years of endless negotiations and conflict since the signing of the Oslo Accords had undermined belief in the possibility of peace, but the same 20 years had also demonstrated that fair, reasonable and legitimate solutions could be found. While acknowledging that developments in the region were “profoundly troubling”, he stressed that prospects for peace “should not be neglected, even against the background of turmoil elsewhere in the neighbourhood”. On the confidentiality of the negotiations, he said it was understandable that sceptics continued to question their substance, but the parties’ commitment not to reveal their contents should be respected. (Press Release
The Council heard again, on 22 October, that despite the difficult regional context and challenges on the ground, the opportunity created by the resumed talks must not be lost. Briefing the 15-member body during its open debate on the Middle East, which heard from nearly 50 speakers, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs urged maintaining, and even increasing, the momentum behind diplomacy, pointing out that for the first time in 17 months, the Quartet principals had met in New York on 27 September, with the chief negotiators for both sides, to discuss the progress of the negotiations. Both sides had stressed their shared goal of ending the conflict on the basis of a two-State solution, he recalled.
On the other hand, the Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine said the Council must be made aware of the vastly negative impact of unlawful Israeli policies on the ground. Israel’s representative said that examples of incitement were all too easy to find in Palestinian society. Highlighting the death of Gal Kobi, shot by a Palestinian “terrorist” in September, he stressed that it was time for the Palestinian leadership to condemn such violence.
In the ensuing debate, the representative of the United States said that country was deeply engaged in seeking a conclusion to the talks within the nine-month timeline. Other delegates voiced strong support for the resumed negotiations, but some registered concern over their slow pace and called for adherence to the timeline. Still others urged both sides to refrain from provocative acts — such as settlement building — that could derail the talks, while yet others appealed to the Council to uphold its most basic duty of ensuring that its resolutions were implemented. (Press Release
Briefing the Council on 19 November, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs said the negotiations were at a “delicate” moment, adding that unless steps were taken to prevent the recurrence of negative developments, as seen in recent weeks, the chances of reaching a two-State solution could be irreparably damaged. The consequences of failure would be dire, he warned, urging the parties to remain steadfast in their commitment to seeing the process through.
“Nobody predicted this would be an easy process,” he continued. While negotiators were working towards narrowing differences on substantive issues, strains had been growing “dangerously” between the parties, and following the 29 October release of 26 “pre-Oslo” prisoners, the process had suffered a serious setback with the announcement of new settlement building in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The United Nations was of the view that settlement expansion could not be reconciled with the vision of a two-State solution, and without progress soon, such a solution might be irreparably damaged, he warned. (Press Release
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