Harvey Morris
The Financial Times
December 15, 2008 - 1:00am

The United Nations Security Council is on Tuesday set to adopt its first resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in five years, to keep alive a search for a two-state solution in a remarkable period of political transition.

With a new US president entering the White House in just over a month and elections due in Israel and probably in the Palestinian territories by next spring, the council plans to reaffirm international backing for a settlement.

The text is less notable for its content than for the fact that it is sponsored jointly by the US and Russia.

After circulating the draft at a rare Saturday meeting of the council, Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy, and Vitaly Churkin, his Russian counterpart – who this summer traded barbs over the Georgia crisis – stood side by side to laud their initiative.

During President George W. Bush’s second term, the US has shunned the Security Council as a forum for addressing the problems of the Middle East. However, diplomats speculated that Washington’s last-minute recourse to the UN was in part an effort to secure the legacies of Mr Bush and Condoleezza Rice, his secretary of state, as architects of Middle East peace.

Officials said it was also geared to binding a future Israeli government to a commitment to a two-state solution. Arab leaders fear the election of the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu, current favourite to win February’s Israeli election, could jeopardise the two-state agenda.

Ms Rice will be in New York on Monday to attend her last meeting of the international Middle East “quartet”, set up in 2002 to bring together the UN, US, European Union and Russia in the search for peace.

The talks are likely to touch on the failure of the so-called Annapolis process, launched by President Bush just over a year ago, to meet its ambitious goal of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of his term in office.

Western diplomats, including Tony Blair, quartet special envoy, insist nevertheless that progress has been made in secret talks between the two sides.

Tuesday’s Security Council resolution will reaffirm international support for the Annapolis process and call on both parties to fulfil their obligations under the quartet’s “road map”.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, has written to Monday’s quartet participants in a letter that is unusually critical of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and demands that restrictions on the civilian population of the territory end.

In the letter, seen by the FT, Mr Ban says he has repeatedly and unequivocally condemned rocket attacks on Israel from Hamas-ruled Gaza. “However, measures which increase the hardship and suffering of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as a whole are unacceptable and should cease. Basic humanitarian principles must be observed.”

Mr Ban has of late displayed impatience with Israel’s failure to respond to his demands for greater freedom of movement in and out of Gaza, including for UN relief workers and supplies.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017