Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
SECURITY COUNCIL ADVANCED THEMATIC, DISARMAMENT, CIVILIAN-PROTECTION WORK
EVEN AS CONFLICTS IN AFRICA, MIDDLE EAST TOPPED 2009 AGENDA
With United States Presiding, Historic Meeting
Took First Significant Action on Nuclear Issues since Mid-1990s
While conflicts in Africa and the Middle East once again dominated the Security Council’s agenda in 2009, the United Nations body charged with maintaining international peace and security also advanced its work on increasingly critical thematic issues such as nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
In total, the Council convened 171 public meetings in 2009, down significantly from the 217 held in 2008. Eighty of those meetings, or just under half, concerned Africa. The 15-member body adopted 48 resolutions and issued 35 presidential statements. Once again it strove for consensus to heighten the effectiveness of its decisions, with only five resolutions requiring a vote and just one occasioning a veto by a permanent Council member.
The year began on a bitter note, with the Council seized of Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip following the 26 December breakdown of a truce with Hamas and a subsequent barrage of rocket fire into southern Israel. On 8 January, following a precipitous rise in the civilian death toll and days of intensive meetings, the Council adopted resolution 1860 (2009), despite the abstention of the United States, which called for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces.
While Israel withdrew from Gaza on 21 January, its continued blockade of needed goods, the continued smuggling of weapons by armed groups and a report by a United Nations fact-finding mission alleging war crimes during the offensive cast a pall over Council efforts to restart Middle East peace negotiations, as did continuing Israeli settlement activity and the effects of the intra-Palestinian split between Hamas and Fatah, according to regular monthly briefings to the Council. Despite relative calm and international initiatives – including an 11 May presidential statement urging diplomatic action, stepped-up engagement by the United States and Egypt and a Quartet parley in September – the impasse threatened the very possibility of a two-State solution, Council members heard during the last briefing of 2009 on the topic.
The General Assembly elected Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria to serve as non-permanent members of the Security Council for two-year terms starting on 1 January 2010. They replaced Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya and Viet Nam, which concluded their terms on 31 December 2009. Austria, Japan, Mexico, Turkey and Uganda remain on the 15-member body through 2010. China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States are permanent members.
Following are summaries of major actions taken by the Council in the past year:
Question of Palestine
Setting the course for the Council’s engagement on the question of Palestine were the humanitarian and political repercussions from the conflict in Gaza. The year was punctuated by frustrated efforts to rebuild the devastated enclave amid persistent crippling closures and ensure unimpeded humanitarian access; achieve intra-Palestinian reconciliation; prevent arms smuggling; fulfil Road Map obligations, especially those concerning settlements; and relaunch talks, together with a genuine readiness to negotiate on all core issues, including Jerusalem, borders and refugees.
Seized of the deadly 13-day conflict between the Israel Defense Forces and armed Hamas militants in the first days of January, the Council heard on the sixth day from the Secretary-General and President of the Palestinian National Authority. On that day three schools operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had been hit by Israeli air strikes in which dozens of civilians, were killed and which the Secretary-General called “totally unacceptable”.
Equally unacceptable, were any actions by Hamas militants that endangered Palestinian civilians, he added. The situation “must move from debate to action, and must do so immediately”, Mr. Ban urged, calling for an immediate ceasefire, durable and respected by both sides, condemning again the indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas and the excessive use of force by Israel.
Urging the Council to “save my people”, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas pressed for an immediate and full cessation of Israeli aggression. The Council’s choice was clear: it must show that the United Nations would not ignore the tragedy of the Palestinian people, nor would it leave the Middle East a “whirlpool of destruction during this new round of violence and hatred”. Israel’s representative said that for eight years the citizens of her country had suffered the trauma of almost daily missile attacks from Gaza. “No State would permit such attacks on its citizens. Nor should it,” she said during a debate featuring 14 foreign ministers. (See Press Release SC/9563.)
The wider United Nations membership was brought into the critical discussion on 7 January, with most delegates stressing that no military solution was possible. They called for intensified diplomatic efforts, warning that the violence threatened hopes for future Israeli-Palestinian peace and exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation in the densely populated territory. (See Press Release SC/9565.)
On 8 January, capping days of intense ministerial-level negotiations at United Nations Headquarters, the Council adopted resolution 1860 (2009), by a vote of 14 in favour with 1 abstention (United States), calling for an “immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza”. (See Press Release SC/9567.)
On 21 January – the day Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza – B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Council on the Secretary-General’s trip to the region. In a statement, Mr. Ban said conditions were still fragile and much more remained to be done on both the humanitarian and diplomatic fronts. (See Press Release SC/9578.)
Senior United Nations officials briefed the Council on 27 January, including John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who announced plans to launch an emergency appeal on 2 February. During his recent visit to Gaza, he said he had been shocked by the extent of the destruction and suffering. Karen AbuZayd, UNRWA Commissioner-General at the time, expressed deep sadness at what appeared to have been the systematic destruction of schools, homes, factories, shops and farms. (See Press Release SC/9585.)
Despite daunting challenges, peace could and must prevail, Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, told the Council on 18 February, in the first such formal briefing since the intensive diplomatic activity of January. He cited the severe repercussions of the Gaza crisis; continued division among the Palestinians; the new political situation in Israel; the inconclusive results of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2008; unmet Road Map obligations, especially those concerning settlements; and the freeze in direct Israeli-Syrian talks. In the year ahead, the international community needed to be united and determined as it intensified its efforts, he stressed, adding that the Secretary-General took heart from the Council’s active engagement and welcomed the clear statements of intent and early engagement by the new United States Administration. (See Press Release SC/9597.)
Mr. Pascoe reported on 25 March that, two months since Israel’s withdrawal, and international pledges of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid for the devastated Palestinian territory, very little concrete progress had been made towards establishing a proper ceasefire, opening border crossings into the enclave, ensuring unimpeded humanitarian access, preventing arms smuggling, or achieving intra-Palestinian reconciliation. Instead, there was worrying uncertainty arising from the intolerable situation at the Gaza crossings, resulting in a near-total ban on construction materials, the non-formation of a new Israeli Government and the lack of adequate steps to lift the occupation, as well as dozens of new demolition and eviction notices. (See Press Release SC/9626.)
On 20 April, Under-Secretary-General Pascoe underlined the international community’s commitment to a two-State solution and highlighted the nexus of recent and upcoming diplomatic activity. However, in a meeting on 11 May, in which seven Foreign Ministers participated, Secretary-General Ban noted that, following the inconclusive results of negotiations in 2008 and the bloodshed in Gaza, there had been almost no progress on two key recent Council resolutions – 1850 (2008) and 1860 (2009). The presidential statement that capped the May meeting urged vigorous diplomatic action to attain the desired goals, building on previous agreements. (See Press Release SC/9638 and SC/9655.)
Mr. Serry told the Council on 23 June that diplomatic efforts to reinvigorate the peace process had continued, and recent meetings – including one of the Quartet on 19 June – had been part of a concentrated push to relaunch efforts for a two-State solution. On 14 June, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had stated that the Israeli Government would accept a Palestinian State, but under stringent conditions related to territory, security, refugees, Jerusalem and the character of the State of Israel. He recalled the Secretary-General’s earlier statement in May that “actions on the ground, together with a genuine readiness to negotiate on all core issues, including Jerusalem, borders and refugees, based on Israel’s existing commitments, will be the true test of Israel’s commitment to the two-State solution”. (See Press Release SC/9691.)
A variety of “positive developments” were cited during a debate on the Middle East situation on 27 July, such as initiatives by Egypt and the League of Arab States to promote intra-Palestinian reconciliations and President Obama’s June address to the Muslim world in Cairo. Speakers underscored the importance of the shared responsibility of Israel, the Palestinian people and the wider Arab community to live up to the terms already agreed under the Road Map for peace. However, concern was expressed over the lack of progress since the adoption of Council resolution 1860 (2009) more than six months earlier, which had prompted some to call for more decisive Council action. (See Press Release SC/9717.)
Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, was able to report several important developments on the ground, as well as continued international efforts to create the conditions for the “prompt resumption and early conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations” in his 19 August briefing. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority had continued to impose law and order, and there had been a notable decrease in the number of Palestinians injured by Israeli military activities since mid-June, although attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians had continued. As a result of Israel’s easing of some movement restrictions, Nablus had seen a slow but significant revival of commercial activity. However, continued settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank remained of “grave concern”. (See Press Release SC/9732.)
The outlook was a bit brighter on 17 September, when Mr. Serry said he considered the upcoming meeting of the Quartet on 24 September (on the margins of the General Assembly’s general debate) as an important opportunity to lay the basis for progress. It was time to relaunch negotiations and to see them through to a two-State solution. “Today, we have a Palestinian Authority that is more than a partner for peace – we have a player ready to meet its responsibilities, determined to insist on its rights and desperately in need of support and enablement – from Israel, from the region, from the world,” he said. The Palestinian Government was resolved to complete preparation for statehood in less than two years, and Mr. Serry was convinced they could do it, “if they haven’t already”. The Palestinian Authority had announced its agenda on 25 August to complete the building of institutions of a State apparatus within the coming two years. It had continued to ensure law and order in West Bank cities and towns, he reported. (See Press Release SC/9743.)
A month later, on 14 October, the Report of the Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, featured prominently in Mr. Pascoe’s briefing. (It was to be presented to the Human Rights Council the next day.) The Under-Secretary-General noted that the Mission made several recommendations for ensuring accountability for perpetrators and redress for victims. It called on the Government of Israel to conduct independent investigations into the many allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the Gaza conflict. The Report also called on Hamas – “the relevant authority in Gaza” – to initiate genuine and effective proceedings into the many allegations of such violations.
Following the flurry of diplomatic activity, however, frustration began to mount over gridlock on the ground, and Mr. Pascoe said he could report no significant progress in the previous month on political efforts to resolve the conflict. “If we do not go forward decisively towards the two-State solution, we may go back to more violence, suffering and the loss of hope,” he warned. “Once extinguished, that hope will be very difficult to rekindle.” (See Press Release SC/9767.)
Describing the impasse by late November as “deep and worrying”, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios reported that international partners were seeking a way out, in the political quest for peace. Recalling warnings that violence and extremism threatened to fill the vacuum left by the lack of political progress, he said: “We now face a very real danger of such a vacuum, with no Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under way, no agreed terms of reference for such negotiations, and no framework in place to ensure implementation of Road Map obligations.” The Secretary-General had deplored Israel’s settlement activity, which was illegal, and expressed dismay at the continuation of demolitions and evictions in Jerusalem. (See Press Release SC/9796.)
“We are in a race against time to overcome the contradictions on the ground and the crisis of confidence between the parties, and move decisively towards a political end game,” Mr. Serry said on 17 December, during the Council’s last scheduled briefing of 2009 on the situation in the Middle East. Both sides need to do more, he said, pointing, among other things, to the need for Israel to fulfil its commitments, including a settlement freeze, under the internationally endorsed plan for a two-State solution, and for the Palestinians to resume negotiations in earnest and advance their State-building. “If we cannot move forward towards a final status agreement, we risk sliding backwards, with both the Palestinian Authority and the two-State solution itself imperilled, he asserted.” (See Press Release SC/9826.)
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For information media • not an official record
Document Type: Press Release, Round-up
Document Sources: Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Department of Public Information (DPI), Security Council
Subject: Armed conflict, Ceasefire, Gaza Strip, Humanitarian relief, Incursions, Palestine question, Peace conference, Peace process, Peace proposals and efforts, Quartet, Refugees and displaced persons
Publication Date: 08/01/2010