Israel, in Change of Position, Rejects Security Resolution 1405,

Forcing Secretary-General to Disband Fact-Finding Team to Jenin Refugee Camp

Security Council Fails to React to Israeli Rejection

Throughout late April and early May, the Security Council remained seized with the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in response to the continued Israeli military assaults and Israelís flouting of Security Council resolutions 1402 (2002) and 1403 (2002). With the emergence of reports about atrocities committed by the Israeli occupying forces in the Jenin refugee camp, the focus of the Council shifted to that specific issue.

The Israeli occupying forces have, without a doubt, committed war crimes, defined as grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, against the Palestinian people. The occupying forces indiscriminately killed Palestinian civilians in the Jenin refugee camp. The camp was devastated by the Israeli assault. Homes were obliterated by the occupying forces, using tanks and bulldozers, and, in some cases, homes were destroyed while the inhabitants were still inside. Prior to that, the camp was attacked with missile fire from helicopter gunships. Then, for about 11 days after the Israeli attacks, the Israeli occupying forces prevented humanitarian organizations, including the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), from entering the camp to treat the wounded and provide emergency assistance to the civilian population. During this time of uncertainty, while the occupying forces obstructed access to the camp, the Israeli side made comments about hundreds of deaths and even attempted to remove the dead to what they referred to as a "cemetery for the enemy". The exact scope of what happened in Jenin, however, remained unclear, prompting calls for a neutral investigation by an impartial team.

In response to the overall situation, the Arab Group presented a draft resolution to the Security Council on 17 April. That draft demanded the immediate implementation of resolution 1402 (2002), including an end to the Israeli military siege on the Church of the Nativity in city of Bethlehem and the headquarters of the President of the Palestinian Authority in the city of Ramallah. The draft also expressed grave concern at the humanitarian crisis among the Palestinian civilian population and expressed shock at reports about the Jenin refugee camp. An amendment was added requesting the Secretary-General to establish a fact-finding mission on the events in the Jenin refugee camp.

On 18 April, the delegation of the United Kingdom (UK) distributed a draft resolution, which focused on the humanitarian situation and invited the Secretary-General to establish an independent commission to inquire into recent events in the Jenin refugee camp, requesting him to keep the Council fully informed.

Around this time, the Israeli occupying forces began permitting limited access to the Jenin camp, and the extent of the devastation was becoming more and more evident. After viewing the scene at the camp, the U.N. Special Coordinator, Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen, and the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Mr. Peter Hansen, emphasized the severity of the destruction wrought in the Jenin refugee camp by the occupying forces and the dire humanitarian situation on the ground as a result, including decaying bodies, destroyed housing and infrastructure and lack of food, water and medicines. Later, a report submitted by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Mary Robinson, to the 58th session of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory also stressed, inter alia, the graveness of the situation in the Jenin refugee camp and the critical humanitarian situation as a result of human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law by the Israeli forces.

In the meantime, the Secretary-General, partly in response to statements by U.N. officials, was signaling increasing interest with regard to uncovering the complete truth about what occurred in Jenin. In this regard, there were some consultations among the parties concerned as to what should be done. On 19 April, the Secretary-General informed several concerned parties that he intended to dispatch a team to investigate what occurred in Jenin.

Also, on that day, the U.S. delegation presented its own draft resolution to the Security Council focusing on the humanitarian situation and expressing concern at the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian civilian population. That draft also welcomed the initiative of the Secretary-General to develop accurate information regarding recent events in the Jenin refugee camp through a fact-finding team and requested him to keep the Security Council informed. After quick negotiations, the U.S. formally tabled the draft resolution and it was unanimously adopted that evening, 19 April, as Security Council resolution 1405 (2002). Both the Palestinian and Israeli sides welcomed this resolution and expressed readiness to cooperate with the Secretary-General.

On Monday, 22 April, the Secretary-General announced the composition of the team. The principals of the team were Mr. Marti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland, Ms. Sadako Ogata, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Mr. Cornelio Sommaruga, former head of the ICRC, in addition to two advisers, later increased to three. The team was also being provided with technical expertise, through a number of experts in forensic science, and a general support staff. The Secretary-General also expressed his expectation "that the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will fully cooperate with the team and provide free and complete access to all sites, sources of information and individuals that the team considers necessary for the exercise of its functions." On that day, the Secretary-General also sent a letter to President Arafat conveying resolution 1405 (2002) and informing him of the fact-finding teamís mission.

Israel, the occupying Power, then began back peddling. It first began criticizing the composition of the team and attacking the integrity of at least one of its members. Then it began demanding changes in the teamís composition and demanding also restrictions on the mandate and the scope of the mission. The Israeli government then requested to send a delegation to discuss the matter with the Secretariat, which was accepted by the Secretary-General on the understanding that no negotiations on the team would take place. The reality of the matter was that the Israeli military and specifically the war criminal, General Shaul Mofaz (Chief of Staff of the Army), were blocking the mission, clearly in an effort to cover up the truth about Jenin and fearing follow-up actions. In response, the Secretary-General, feeling cheated by the Israeli side and intent on maintaining the integrity of the mission, refused to change the composition of the team or to restrict its access.

In the interim, the Security Council failed to provide the necessary support for the Secretary-General due to U.S. blockage of Palestinian and Arab attempts, which began with submission of a draft on 24 April, for the Council to adopt a concise resolution in this regard. The days passed with no action taken and, by the 30th of April, the members of the team were still stuck in Geneva, waiting to carry out their mission to Jenin, and, at that point, various signs were emerging that the Secretary-General might be giving up on the team. On that day, the Arab Group revised the text of the draft resolution, invoking Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter (which allows the Council to enforce its resolutions) and deciding that Israel shall immediately receive the fact-finding team. The draft resolution, however, was still not put to a vote due to continued American opposition.

Then, on 1 May, the Secretary-General sent a letter to the Security Council, informing the members of the developments in this regard and specifically the unwillingness of Israel to cooperate with him in fulfillment of resolution 1405 (2002). The Secretary-General also informed the Council of his intention to disband the fact-finding team the next day. The Council became split, with the Arab position being supported by the NAM members of the Council as well as Mexico, Russia and China. According to this view, there was still chance for the fact-finding team to carry out its work, and the Council should move to adopt a stronger resolution demanding the cooperation of Israel, the occupying Power, in this regard. However, the other position, held by the Western countries, was that the possibility for the team was over now and the Secretary-General should simply prepare a report based on the available information.

The U.S. delegation, feeling the pressure, then presented a draft resolution that only regretted the decision of the government of Israel not to cooperate with the Secretary-General and requested the Secretary-General to keep the Council informed about the situation as accurate information became available. The European members of the Council expressed readiness to accept stronger language for such a resolution, perhaps condemning Israel, and more specific language requesting the Secretary-General to report to the Council on the events in Jenin.

The Palestinian delegation and the Arab Group did not accept the U.S. draft and insisted on their own draft, which did not generate the necessary 9 votes due to the threat of a U.S. veto. In response, the following day, the European delegations tried to put forth a third draft, which was firmly opposed by the U.S, which resulted in the absence of any formal proposal before the Council. On the same day, Syria, at the request of the Arab Group, blocked the proposed letter by the President of the Council to the Secretary-General on the matter as being too little too late.

The Security Council nevertheless convened a formal meeting on Thursday, the 2nd of May, during which representatives, including of Palestine and Israel, addressed the Council in a public debate on the matter. By the end of the day on Friday, when the debate concluded, the atmosphere was very tense and the burden of the failure of the Council was clearly felt. This failure came in spite of the clear positions voiced by all the Member States that addressed the Council, who, inter alia, condemned Israelís refusal to comply with Security Council resolutions and to cooperate with the Secretary-General and emphasized the need for the Council to take action to save its severely damaged credibility and to enforce its resolutions. With the failure of the Security Council to act, the membership resorted to resuming the Tenth Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly to address the ongoing situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, and specifically the issue of the Jenin refugee camp.