PRESS CONFERENCE BY OBSERVER FOR PALESTINE
It was regrettable that the Security Council had failed to adopt a draft resolution that would have established a new United Nations presence in the occupied territories at its meeting on 18 December, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Nasser Al-Kidwa, told journalists at a Headquarters press conference today
The result of the Security Council's deliberations and the vote were highly unfortunate, he continued, particularly in light of the continuing need for action. Only today, three more Palestinians had been killed by Israeli soldiers in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The draft resolution, he explained, would have led to the establishment of a United Nations force of military and police observers to enhance the safety and security of Palestinian civilians.
[On 18 December, the draft resolution received 8 votes in favour and 7 abstentions. Security Council decisions require 9 affirmative votes.]
He took note, however, that no Council members had cast a negative vote on the draft resolution — and that several members that abstained had indicated their support for the idea, and attributed their inability to support the draft to the timing of its consideration.
He believed that it remained the responsibility of the Security Council, under the circumstances of a continuing Israeli military campaign against Palestinian civilians, to try again, and to take such action by reconsidering that same draft resolution.
He said he was trying to answer the important question, "What's next?" Clearly the next step was to go back to the Security Council. He would do that after considering two things: possible progress, or lack of it, of negotiations currently under way in Washington; and the situation on the ground. If circumstances on both fronts warranted a return to the Council, then he believed that there was a good chance that the necessary majority in support of the draft would be achieved.
A correspondent asked whether, given the current United States administration's reported rejection of the draft resolution, he would wait until the new administration came to power before presenting the draft again in the Council. He said that the circumstances — more than 300 Palestinians civilians killed, including women and children, and 10,000 injured — meant he did not have the luxury of waiting. There was a pressing need for action.
Again, it was worth noting that no votes had been cast against the draft resolution on 18 December, he added. If the draft was presented to the Council again, as a consequence of developments in the Washington negotiations and in light, of what was happening on the ground, consideration by the Council should lead to a different outcome.
A journalist said that the United States had stated, .in its explanation of position after the 18 December vote, that it would oppose any resolution leading to the establishment of a force unless Israel consented. Any comment? Mr. Al-Kidwa responded that Israel was an occupying Power and the Council was dealing with occupied territory that was not under Israeli sovereignty. Israeli consent was not needed. Any suggestion that a priori Israeli approval was needed was shameful.
However, it was a fact of life that cooperation was needed from both sides for the implementation of any resolution adopted by the Council, he continued. He had no problem with that. If a permanent Council member chose to veto the draft resolution despite everything, then it could certainly take that decision. He had to deal with the situation as it existed in the Council, however, and the permanent member referred to — the United States — had not registered a negative vote on the draft on 18 December. He did not know the reason for that. But, the United States position alone could not serve as a reason for not introducing the draft resolution into the Council again.
Asked to respond to a statement attributed to the Secretary-General that the Council was most effective when it showed unanimity of purpose, he said that he would not necessarily disagree with that position. However, that was not to say that a lack of such unity, because of an unreasonable and probably even illegal position taken by one or more members, was a valid reason for the Council not to shoulder its responsibilities and at least try to take the necessary action.
He would wait a few days before calling for a return to the Council, he said, in response to a question about timing. In a few days the situation at the Washington talks should be clear. However, even today the situation on the ground was clear. Despite the negotiations, the killing of Palestinian civilians, including children, continued. In a few days he would be in a position to come to a conclusion. There was, of course, a technical problem. It was the holiday season and the United Nations would not be functioning in its normal way. However, he would try to proceed quickly.
Asked if that: meant that he might be calling for reconsideration by the Council in a few days, he said it was a possibility. Perhaps the meeting would take place before the change of Council membership, or perhaps immediately after. It would depend on what happened in Washington and on the ground.
[On 1 January 2001, the terms of five Member States currently holding non-permanent seats on the Security Council — Argentina, Canada, Malaysia, Namibia and the Netherlands — will expire, and they will be replaced by five new non-permanent members — Colombia, Ireland, Mauritius, Norway and Singapore.1
Asked why he did not take the proposal for the force straight to the General Assembly, where there was a high likelihood of majority support and no prospect for it to be vetoed, he said there were two reasons. First, Palestine had not yet given up on the Security Council. The 18 December Council meeting was unusual. Six members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) had insisted on presenting a draft resolution for a vote, even though they knew they did not have the required majority.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official had called the outcome or the 18 December Council meeting a victory for Israel, he continued, but it was ludicrous to suggest that getting no votes in favour of your position was a victory. Of course, Palestine had also not succeeded in getting what it sought. But, it was just round one, and he interpreted the absence of negative votes, and the statements by several abstaining Council members that they might be ready to act on the matter at a later stage, as important.
Second, Mr. Al-Kidwa said, should the General Assembly establish the force, it should do so through an emergency special session, not its normal fifty-fifth session, and there were certain legal requirements that must be met for such a special Assembly session to take place. The holiday situation also limited options in that regard. The preferred course of action was for the Security Council to establish the mission. However, the option of going to the General Assembly — either in emergency or regular session — would remain available as the option of last resort.
Asked why Palestine had called for the Council meeting on 18 December, given that the Washington negotiations were under way, he said that, in fact, his calls for Council action had started on 25 October. He had requested a vote on the matter last Friday, 15 December. The President of the Council asked him to wait until Monday, at which point no one knew that there would even be negotiations in Washington, and it was later postponed again.
However, Palestine insisted on action because it believed that seven weeks of waiting were enough, he said. It was time for the Council to take up its responsibility and for its members to make their positions public. To just wait, without a time limit set for the end of the waiting period, made no sense. No Council members had suggested delaying until a specific date. The situation on the ground was pressing and there was a need for action, and Palestine did not think that it could absolve the Security Council from fulfilling its responsibilities. He added that Palestine found it necessary to negotiate in Washington and, at the same time, seek action in the United Nations because Israel was negotiating in Washington and killing Palestinian civilians at the same time.
He believed that both the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab Group would be fully supportive of presenting the draft resolution to the Council again, he said. The idea of a United Nations force was first adopted by the Arab Summit. The Non-Aligned Movement was a co-sponsor of the original draft and he believed it would continue to support it. Its behaviour thus far had been heroic, in holding to its supportive position, despite pressure to change.
In response to another question, Mr. Al-Kidwa said that he looked forward to a positive relationship with the incoming United States administration, and he hoped the United States would continue to support the Middle East peace process, as well as bilateral relations with Palestine.