Following two days of debate, during which the Government of Israel was criticized for its recent decision to build a new settlement in the Jabal Abu Ghneim area of East Jerusalem, the Security Council this evening failed to adopt a draft resolution that would have called upon Israel to refrain from such settlement activities.
The vote in the Council was 14 in favour to one against (United States), with no abstentions. Thus, the measure failed due to a negative vote by a permanent member.
In response to the Council decision, the Permanent Observer for Palestine called for an emergency session of the General Assembly to take appropriate action. He said the United Nations would bear a permanent responsibility on the question of Palestine until that question was resolved in all its aspects.
Explaining his vote against the text, the representative of the United States said it would not have helped the Middle East peace process. The draft resolution made sweeping statements concerning the legal status of Israeli settlements, which the parties themselves had agreed were to be treated as a permanent status issue in the talks they were about to resume.
The action on the draft resolution this evening, which was sponsored by France, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom, followed a meeting on 5 and 6 March during which 49 speakers addressed the situation in the occupied Arab territories and the 26 February decision by the Government of Israel to build Har Homa, a 6,500 unit housing project in East Jerusalem.
Statements were also made this evening by the representatives of Costa Rica, Egypt and Israel.
The meeting, which began at 6:32 p.m., was adjourned at 7:06 p.m.
The Security Council met this evening to consider the situation in the occupied Arab territories.
The Council had before it a draft resolution (document S/1997/199) sponsored by France, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom, which reads as follows:
"The Security Council,
"Having considered the letter dated 27 February 1997 from the Permanent Observer of Palestine on behalf of the States members of the League of Arab States (S/1997/165),
"Expressing deep concern at the decision of the Government of Israel to initiate new settlement activities in the Jebal Abu Ghneim area in East Jerusalem,
"Expressing concern about other recent measures that encourage or facilitate new settlement activities,
"Stressing that such settlements are illegal and a major obstacle to peace,
"Recalling its resolutions on Jerusalem and other relevant Security Council resolutions,
"Confirming that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel which purport to alter the status of Jerusalem, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, are invalid and cannot change that status,
"Reaffirming its support for the Middle East Peace Process and all its achievements, including the recent Agreement on Hebron,
"Concerned about the difficulties facing the Middle East Peace Process, including the impact these have on the living conditions of the Palestinian people, and urging the parties to fulfil their obligations, including under the agreements already reached,
"Having discussed the situation at its 3745th meeting on 5 and 6 March 1997,
"1. Calls upon the Israeli authorities to refrain from all actions or measures, including settlement activities, which alter the facts on the
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ground, pre-empting the final status negotiations, and have negative implications for the Middle East Peace Process;
"2. Calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War of 12 August 1949, which is applicable to all the territories occupied by Israel since 1967;
"3. Calls upon all parties to continue, in the interests of peace and security, their negotiations within the Middle East Peace Process on its agreed basis and the timely implementation of the agreements reached;
"4. Decides to remain seized of the matter."
Action on Draft Resolution
FERNANDO BERROCAL SOTO (Costa Rica), speaking before the vote, said his country had been clear in its expression of dissatisfaction over the Israeli Government decision to build new settlements. It had supported the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the right of Israel to live within secure borders. His country had supported the original draft submitted by the European Union on the issue. The single-mindedness of the Council should be stated and the unity of its message should have been preserved. Unfortunately, the necessary unity was not achieved. It would have been better to keep the unity of purpose, even if it took the form of a presidential statement. In the current less-than-ideal situation, his country had decided to support the resolution. The spirit of Oslo must be maintained at all costs, as the only road to a lasting peace in the Middle East.
NABIL A. ELARABY (Egypt) said the draft currently before the Council reflected faithfully the positions of many delegations who had spoken in the debate and expressed concern about Israeli settlement activities. The overwhelming number of statements were in opposition to the Israeli decision. He expressed gratitude to the sponsors of the draft text, which was in line with what his Government believed to be the reaction of the Council commensurate with the seriousness of the Israeli action. It was a balanced text that avoided confrontation and supported continuation of the peace process.
The Council then failed to adopt the draft text by a vote of 14 in favour to one against (United States), with no abstentions. The draft was not adopted owing to the negative vote of a permanent member of the Council.
Speaking after the vote, BILL RICHARDSON (United States) said the decision of the Government of Israel to build the settlement in East Jerusalem ran counter to the peace process and achievements of the parties to date. It
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undermined the trust and confidence so badly needed in creating the appropriate environment for successful negotiations, especially on the difficult issues involved in the permanent status talks. An honest negotiating process was absolutely critical to achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East. His Government would do everything possible to ensure that the process retained its credibility and that issues reserved for permanent status negotiations could be addressed fairly and honestly in those negotiations.
Unfortunately, he continued, the draft resolution would not have helped the process. Despite the useful role the Council could and had played in working for peace in the Middle East, it was not an appropriate forum for debating the issues now under negotiation between the parties. The draft text made sweeping statements concerning the legal status of Israeli settlements, which the parties themselves had agreed were to be treated as a permanent status issue in the talks they were about to resume. The international community should make its views clear on important issues and, in that context, the United States had worked to reach a consensus on a presidential statement. But Council action to lay blame on one party or the other, or to interject itself into permanent status issues, was not the right way to go about it.
He said the record of the last few months proved that the parties themselves could resolve the many outstanding issues now before them. The international community should reiterate its support for the achievements of the partners and respect their commitment to work together. The current draft text would not move the process towards the common goal, and the United States had been obliged to vote against it.
NASSER AL-KIDWA, Permanent Observer for Palestine, expressed gratitude to the Council members who had sponsored and voted for the draft resolution. The positive role of Europe in the overall peace process was notable. A clear and unified position had been heard, which was critical of the Israeli settlement policies. The international community had sent a clear message to the Government of Israel, the occupying Power, and he hoped the message would be received with wisdom. The importance of Jerusalem to the Arab world required the Council to take a clear position. The European position and the moderate text had been accepted in the hope that consensus could be reached.
In spite of the fact that certain accommodations had been made, he said the Council still had not been able to adopt the draft due to a veto by a permanent member. The United States had previously voted against a draft on the seizure of Arab land in Jerusalem and now another veto had been used on the issue of Jerusalem. Israel's actions were harmful to the peace process. The United Nations would bear a permanent responsibility on the question of Palestine until that question was resolved in all its aspects. The approach
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by some States implied that Israel was allowed to take unilateral steps on the ground and the Palestinian people would have to be accommodated. The Palestinian people would not change their position on Jerusalem. He called for an emergency session of the General Assembly to take appropriate action.
DAVID PELEG (Israel) expressed the hope that the sponsors of the draft would realize that the Council was not the proper forum for issues that should be dealt with in direct negotiations between the two parties. Mechanisms had been created between Israel and the Palestinians to handle all issues, including permanent status. The Government reaffirmed its unwavering commitment to the peace process on all its tracks.
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