x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Security Council reaffirms peace plan

Decision-makers gather at UN headquarters to adopt a draft resolution reaffirming support for the Middle East peace process in advance of administration changes in the United States and Israel.

NEW YORK // Decision-makers gathered at UN headquarters yesterday adopted a draft resolution reaffirming support for the Middle East peace process in advance of administration changes in the United States and Israel. The UN Security Council resolution drafted by the United States and Russia, which passed 14-0 with Libya abstaining, declared that US-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are "irreversible" and urged both sides to redouble efforts to secure peace. It was the culmination of two days of meetings in Manhattan that saw Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, meet with Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, and senior Arab leaders, including Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE Foreign Minister.

The meetings took place on the cusp of substantial shifts in the political landscape, with president-elect Barack Obama preparing to take office on Jan 20. Israelis go to the polls weeks later. The Quartet - UN, EU, Russia and US - has sought to negotiate between Israelis and Palestinians on the principle of two states living side by side. This has been hampered by settlement construction, the Gaza blockade and political shifts in the US and Israel. The principal actors agreed upon a framework for action during a meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, last year, with the projected aim of hammering out a resolution by the end of this year. Leaders now agree that this ambitious target will be missed. This week's meetings reasserted the established peace process principles in advance of leadership changes in the US and Israel. The resolution, co-sponsored by the US and Russia, calls on the Israelis and Palestinians "to fulfil their obligations" under the Annapolis process and for all nations and international groups "to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations". "What that resolution does is to put the international community on the record in believing in the irreversibility of the Annapolis process - bilateral negotiations, a two-state solution a comprehensive solution," Ms Rice told journalists. "I believe that will then add the voice of the international community through its most powerful and most consequential body, the Security Council, to establish the Annapolis process as the way forward." On Monday, Prince Saud Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, said: "This meeting comes at a transitional period, and it has to pave the way for serious future action to reach peace. "It must change public opinion in the Arab and Islamic world to show there is serious international will from the international community to do this. "A lack of action in the Middle East peace process will increase the attractiveness of extremist ideologies, when feelings of desperation and frustration reach dangerous levels." Mr Obama has committed himself to working towards a two-state solution, although questions remain over of what strategy he and his chosen secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will adopt in pursuit of this goal. Many Clinton-era advisers are part of the president-elect's foreign policy transition team and there has been concern that they will try their own approach to peacemaking in the turbulent region. Recent polls indicate Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's former prime minister and head of the right-wing Likud party, will win the Feb 10 ballot, which could herald deviations from the Quartet strategy. Mr Netanyahu supports Jewish settlement expansion and is unlikely to negotiate on the fractious issue of Jerusalem, which both Palestinians and Israelis regard as their capital. He also says a Palestinian state must be demilitarised, have limited powers and be banned from making treaties with Israel's enemies. Ms Rice refused to discuss her specific recommendations to Mr Obama's transition team, but warned that the Annapolis process should not be abandoned as the two sides have made "significant progress on the core issues". "I just think that the Annapolis process, because it is both bottom-up and top-down, is the most likely chance that we have to bring about the two-state solution that the president has talked so much about," she said. The Security Council has not passed a resolution on the dispute between Palestinians and Israelis that calls for collective peace by insisting on a two-nation solution since 2003. Monday's Quartet meeting was also attended by Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, while Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister, on behalf of the rotating European Union presidency, and Tony Blair, the Quartet envoy, took part by video-link. jreinl@thenational.ae