Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York
2011 Round Up
CIVILIAN PROTECTION REMAINS ATOP SECURITY COUNCIL AGENDA IN 2011 AMID VIOLENT
SUPPRESSION OF MASS PROTESTS, BIRTH OF NEW MEMBER STATE
Members Adopt 66 Resolutions, Issue 22 Presidential
Statements as Number of Meetings Rises Sharply from Previous Year
In a year characterized by mass protests and other challenges to entrenched leadership that frequently provoked violent reactions, the Security Council continued in 2011 to grapple with the question of protecting civilians in a manner consistent with the United Nations Charter, as the 15-member body remained seized of a wide range of conflicts, the birth of South Sudan, the Palestinian application for membership in the Organization and other developments.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained stalled despite much effort by the diplomatic Quartet to restart negotiations, the Palestinian bid for United Nations membership, and the exchange of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. In February, a text declaring the illegality of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — a major factor in the stalled negotiations, in the view of many — failed to win adoption due to a United States veto.
Question of Palestine
“I am acutely conscious of the unsustainable status quo, which is only thrown into sharper relief by the profound political changes now under way in the region,” said the Secretary-General in his mid-year report on the question of Palestine, declaring: “Peace and Palestinian statehood are long overdue” (document S/2011/585).
Indeed, the profound political changes in the wider Middle East highlighted the stasis of the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In monthly briefings to the Council throughout the year, senior United Nations officials stressed the urgent need for the parties to return to negotiations, to take “bold and decisive steps”, and for the international community to remain constructively engaged. Yet, by August, with no political breakthrough in sight and amid continuing Israeli settlement activity, the Palestinian leadership confirmed its intention to approach the United Nations with an application for recognition of a Palestinian State within the 1967 lines and full membership in the Organization.
Leading up to that decision was another calendar year fraught with seemingly insurmountable obstacles to a resumption of negotiations. The Council began its consideration of the situation as it had done in past years hearing a senior United Nations official voice serious concern at the lack of progress. “Peace and Palestinian statehood cannot be further delayed,” B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, emphasized in his briefing on 19 January. Despite international efforts to restart the stalled peace talks, they were still deadlocked and the goal of reaching a framework agreement on final-status issues remained elusive, he said. Helping to undermine trust and bolster prejudice was the sharp increase in settlement expansion on the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, following Israel’s lifting of its 10-month partial freeze on building in September 2010, he added. (See Press Release SC/10157.)
A month later, however, on 18 February, the Council failed — by a vote of 14 in favour to 1 against (United States) to adopt a resolution that would have described Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 as “illegal”, while reiterating its demand for an immediate cessation of all settlement activity. (See Press Release SC/10178.)
Where was the international community? Lebanon’s representative demanded before the vote. Where was the respect for international law? The Israeli occupation authorities had approved a plan to construct 1,400 new settlements just south of East Jerusalem, he noted, adding that there were also plans to erect settlements throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Indeed, since the suspension of the 10-month partial freeze, the rate of building had just about doubled, he said, pointing out that Israel continued to destroy buildings and other structures in East Jerusalem that were part of the Palestinian identity.
Palestine’s Permanent Observer said the situation must be remedied lest the prospects for a negotiated two-State solution be placed in permanent jeopardy. The situation was intolerable and the status quo untenable, he stressed. Israel’s representative said the text should never have been submitted as direct negotiations remained the only way to resolve the long-standing conflict. The Council should have called on the parties to return immediately to the negotiating table, without pre-conditions, in order to reach a final settlement of all outstanding issues.
The representative of the United States, who had exercised the veto, said her country rejected the legitimacy of settlement activity in the strongest terms, but emphasized that every action must be measured against the standard of its capacity to bring the parties closer or take them further from negotiations and agreement. The text had risked hardening positions on both sides, she said, adding that it could have encouraged the parties to stay away from the negotiations or to return to the Council whenever they reached an impasse.
Briefing the Council on 24 February, Robert Serry, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, pointed out that, in stark contrast to the dramatic political transformations in the Middle East, the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations remained at a standstill, with each party sceptical of the other’s intentions and of the international community’s seriousness. “I must in all frankness report low confidence and trust in each other and in international efforts to help them overcome their differences,” he said, calling for “credible and effective international intervention” to get the process back on track. (See Press Release SC/10182.)
A sharp spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence informed the briefing on 22 March, when Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, described as “alarming” rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel and the subsequent Israeli air strikes that had left three Palestinians dead. Important achievements, especially those relating to the Palestinian Authority’s State-building agenda, would be at risk if the political impasse continued, he warned, reiterating the urgent need to break the
political deadlock and calling for decisive action by the diplomatic Quartet and the wider international community to bring the parties back to the negotiating table.
He reported that, during the previous month, the Quartet had continued its efforts to help the parties find a way back to direct negotiations. As per the February agreement reached in Munich, Quartet envoys had met separately with Palestinian and Israeli negotiators and were giving serious consideration to their views on how to re-start talks on all core issues, including borders and security, he said, adding that the envoys planned to engage both sides further. The Quartet Principals were scheduled to meet in April in the hope of setting the stage for renewed talks. (See Press Release SC/10204.)
Opening a day-long Council debate on 21 April, Mr. Pascoe said both parties should be concerned that the political track was falling behind the significant progress of the Palestinian Authority’s State-building agenda. In the six areas in which the international community was most engaged, governmental functions were now sufficient for a viable State, he said, citing a recent United Nations report. In parallel, Israeli measures to facilitate movement had supported economic activity and access to basic services. At the same time, he pointed out that the reporting period had seen the highest levels of violence in Gaza and Israel in two years. (See Press Release SC/10230.)
Deadly clashes, as well as Palestinian reconciliation and State-building efforts, showed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not immune to the political changes sweeping across the Arab world, Mr. Serry told the Council in a 19 May briefing. “One way or another, change will come to it, too,” he said, adding: “This change must be shaped to positive ends.” Unfortunately, the search for a two-State solution was “stuck” and there was a genuine lack of trust between the parties, he noted. In the absence of negotiations and amid the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements, the Palestinians were preparing to approach the United Nations in September to seek recognition as a State, he reported. (See Press Release SC/10261.)
On 23 June, Mr. Serry cited United States President Barack Obama’s speech of 19 May, saying it offered a framework for resuming negotiations and seeking agreement. Stressing the urgent need to resume meaningful negotiations, he described the standstill in the Israeli-Palestinian political process as “dangerous”. (See Press Release SC/10290.)
Mr. Serry further warned the Council on 26 July that without a credible path out of the profound, persistent deadlock, coupled with far-reaching steps on the ground, the viability of the two-State solution and the Palestinian State-building agenda were in jeopardy. “I cannot but describe the situation where Palestinian State-building has matured in the West Bank, but the political track has failed to converge, as dramatic,” he said. (See Press Release SC/10340.)
Briefing the Council on 25 August, Mr. Pascoe said that recent terror attacks and escalating violence in the Middle East showed the urgent need for progress, but the political deadlock persisted. Profound differences remained over the terms in which to frame negotiations, he said, cautioning that “mistrust is deepening”. Calm was necessary if meaningful negotiations were to have a chance, but without a political breakthrough, and with Israeli settlement activity continuing, the Palestinian leadership had confirmed its intention to approach the General Assembly and the Council for recognition in September, he reported. (See Press Release SC/10367.)
With Prime Minister Najib Mikati of Lebanon presiding on 27 September, Mr. Pascoe told the Council that Palestinian and Israeli positions remained far apart after a week of “intensive diplomacy”, but the existence of some “building blocks” — a clear timetable, expectations that the parties must put forward proposals, and an active role by the Quartet — could make negotiations more effective. “It will not be easy, but now is the time for everyone to give diplomacy a chance,” he said.
Prime Minister Mikata said the “winds of change” were blowing in the Middle East, heralding the “Palestinian Spring” that had resulted in the previous week’s application for full United Nations membership. The Palestinians had reaffirmed their willingness to negotiate, but the negotiations were still clashing with Israeli intransigence and violations of international law, he added. (See Press Release SC/10396.)
On 28 September, the Council referred the Palestinian application to its Committee on the Admission of New Members, for “examination and report”. According to a statement by Council President Nawaf Salam ( Lebanon), the Palestinian President had submitted the application in a letter dated 23 September and addressed to the Secretary-General (document S/2011/592). He proposed that the Committee meet on 30 September, to consider the application. (See Press Release SC/10397.)
There were renewed appeals for Palestine’s United Nations membership throughout a day-long debate in the Council on 24 October, as the Permanent Observer described attempts to postpone consideration of the application as unacceptable and the status quo as “illogical and unjust”. Israel’s delegate said his country had accepted the Quartet’s call to re-start negotiations immediately, without preconditions. Describing the suggestion that settlements were the cause of the conflict as “interesting”, he pointed out that the conflict had been raging for nearly half a century before a single settlement had sprung up in the West Bank. The primary obstacle to peace was the Arab world’s refusal to accept the Jewish State, he reiterated. (See Press Release SC/10420.)
Mr. Serry, returning to the Council on 21 November, warned: “The viability of the Palestinian Authority and its State-building agenda — and, I fear, of the two-State solution itself — cannot be taken for granted.” Both parties had engaged separately with the Quartet in the framework of the 23 September statement, but direct negotiations, without preconditions, in which the parties would be expected to table territorial and security proposals within 90 days, were still not taking place. Instead, gaps in trust,
perception and substance remained, he noted, appealing to the parties to de-escalate, refrain from provocations, adhere to their obligations, enter direct talks and advance concrete and negotiable proposals. (See Press Release SC/10453.)
Delivering the last scheduled briefing on 20 December was Mr. Fernandez-Taranco, who said that credible progress in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians was more urgent than ever, but remained elusive in a context of tensions on the ground, deep mistrust and volatile regional dynamics.
“Our worry is that as the year draws to a close, the situation on the ground is deteriorating and the path towards peace remains dangerously uncertain.” Those negative dynamics must not be allowed to prevail, he added, emphasizing that too much was at stake. (See Press Release SC/10497.)
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For information media • not an official record
Document Type: French text, Press Release, Round-up
Document Sources: Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Department of Public Information (DPI), Security Council
Subject: House demolitions, Middle East situation, Palestine question, Peace process, Prisoners and detainees, Quartet, Settlements, Statehood-related
Publication Date: 12/01/2012