x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

UN council a 'motionless spectator' in Middle East

Arab nations have assailed the UN Security Council for ignoring a resolution demanding Israel stops settlements on Palestinian soil.

UNITED NATIONS // Arab League members have assailed the UN Security Council for failing to support a draft resolution that demands Israel stop building settlements on Palestinian soil. Leading the charge of Arab countries during a full day of debate at UN headquarters on Tuesday, Qatar said the council had become a "motionless spectator" in the Middle East peace process.

Nassir Abdulaziz al Nasser, Doha's envoy, was joined by colleagues from Libya, Lebanon and Syria in criticising the 15-member council for not backing the draft resolution, which condemns Israel for continuing to build settlements on Arab land. Libya introduced the Arab League's resolution to the Security Council after Israel's housing minister announced plans to build 800 more homes in East Jerusalem. But the draft was sent back to the league for rewriting after Zalmay Khalilzad, who represents the United States at the United Nations, said it lacked "balance" because it criticised Israel but failed to place obligations on Palestinians.

"The Arab group has demonstrated vast flexibility with respect to the draft resolution on settlements in occupied Arab territories, and this demonstrates - if there is need for this - a sincere desire to serve the peace process," Mr Nasser told the delegates. "As a result, it is the responsibility of states present at this council to echo these good intentions and to implement this draft resolution, which is based on the illegal nature of these settlements in accordance with recognised international law."

During the debate, Qatar's ambassador said Israel's continued settlement construction was "like a slap in the face" to international peace efforts, then complained that the Security Council was failing to act. "In terms of illegal settlements, the Israeli interior ministry several days ago authorised the construction of 1,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem. And in the other parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, we see that the Israeli authorities continue to build the illegal separation wall," Mr Nasser said.

Qatar's key role in the debate marks the increasingly assertive approach the Gulf state has adopted after successfully brokering the Doha peace deal between rival Lebanese factions in May. Mr Nasser's concerns were echoed by other Arab League members, including Libya, Syria and Jordan, whose representatives spoke during the debate that featured almost 30 delegates to New York. Envoys from Lebanon, Cuba and Syria backed Qatar by highlighting lacklustre support for the Arab League's draft resolution, while Attia Omar Mubarak, Libya's ambassador, accused members of rejecting it on "flimsy pretexts".

Iran, in a row with the United States over its nuclear programme, went further. Its delegate, Mansour Sadeghi, criticised Washington for "threatening to use a veto" that "had not allowed the Arab group to present a draft resolution to the council". In his farewell address to the council, Dan Gillerman, Israel's outgoing UN envoy, made no reference to Israel's settlement activity, and instead urged the Arab and Muslim world to support moderate leaders against extremists.

"We are witnessing a horrible clash between moderates and extremists," Mr Gillerman said. "I hope very much that the Arab and Muslim world will realise that it is its duty and responsibility today in this very clash to support the moderates and marginalise the extremists." Mr Gillerman, who has pugnaciously defended his country's interests at the United Nations for more than five years, is to be succeeded by Gabriela Shalev, a law professor and the first woman Israel has named to the high-profile post. Lynn Pascoe, the UN's top political official, welcomed recent positive steps in the Middle East - highlighting indirect talks between Israel and Syria, and the agreement on a national unity government in Lebanon this month - but warned of a lack of progress in the West Bank.

Mr Pascoe, undersecretary general for political affairs, said Israeli forces in Nablus have closed schools, hospitals and media outlets that are alleged to be affiliated with Hamas. He said Israel had also banned dozens of international non-governmental organisations it accuses of raising funds for Hamas. He voiced concern "about the effects of Israeli raids on the efforts of Palestinian security forces to operate effectively in areas under their control".