Security Council Adopts Resolution 1397 Kofi Annan Expresses Strong U.N. Position on Illegal Israeli Occupation and Deterioration of Situation Sharon on Rampage Against the Palestinian People


In a surprising and important move, the United States presented a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council on 12 March 2002 on the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The U.S. move was taken in response to a resolution that was presented by the Arab Group and was about to be put forth for a vote that day. The Arab resolution was drafted by Palestine and introduced earlier in the day by Jordan in its capacity as chairman of the Arab Group and Syria in its capacity as the Arab member of the Security Council.

The U.S. draft contained several parts of the Arab draft but was much weaker from the Arab point of view. Yet it represented new acceptance by the U.S. of Security Council engagement in Middle East issues, particularly Israeli-Palestinian issues, and acknowledgement of the need for the adoption of a resolution, which the U.S. has long objected to. As such, the pleasantly surprised members of the Council made an effort to deal positively with this U.S. overture and tried to bridge the gaps between the two drafts.

The Palestinian side had difficulties in particular with the absence of clear references in the U.S. draft to the obligations of the occupying Power under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the absence of any reference to a final settlement as the aim of resumed negotiations between the two sides. The U.S. delegation accepted some of the proposed changes to its text, which improved it slightly. Most importantly, was the U.S. acceptance of a new preambular paragraph to the resolution affirming "a vision of a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders".

The inclusion of this paragraph of course helped to overcome the Palestinian delegationís difficulties regarding other parts of the resolution as well as the general reservations of the Arab Group. The Group therefore decided not to pursue a vote on their draft. Syria, however, continued to adhere to a different evaluation of the draft, arguing that the weakness of the resolution could not justify a positive vote on the U.S. draft.

With agreement reached on the U.S. draft, the Council then reconvened around midnight to take a vote. As expected, the draft received 14 votes in favor and 1 abstention, becoming Security Council resolution 1397 (2002).

This was the first time that the U.S. supported a Security Council resolution on the Palestinian question, let alone introduced one. (During the Carter administration, the U.S. supported resolution 465 (1980) and then formally withdrew its vote the next day.) Typically, the U.S. has either vetoed or abstained on resolutions on the question of Palestine before the Council.

It was also the first time that the Security Council articulated its vision with regard to the State of Palestine and even dealt with the issue of statehood. In addition, resolution 1397 (2002) welcomed the contribution of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. This was a positive first step in addressing the Saudi initiative in advance of the Arab Summit scheduled for late March in Beirut. Moreover, the parts of the resolution related to the situation on the ground, including the demand for the immediate cessation of all acts of violence and the call for implementation of the Tenet Understandings and Mitchell Recommendations, were also important.

In general, despite its weaknesses, resolution 1397 (2002) clearly represents a positive and important step. However, it is imperative that there be follow up and that the resolution be built upon, especially in terms of implementation and the broader political context, particularly after the Arab Summit.

As for the U.S. change in position, it could perhaps be attributed to several factors. These factors included, inter alia, the precipitous deterioration of the situation on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and what the U.S. administration may have perceived to be total disregard by Mr. Sharon of repeated calls for restraint and a cessation of military assaults. Another likely factor was concern that the planned visits of U.S. Vice President Cheney and General Zinni to the region would be undermined by a negative U.S. position in the Council. Also playing a role was the pressure of many friends, including the members of the European Union and some Arab friends, as well as the pressure exerted here at the U.N. by the Arab Group, including the presentation of a draft that would have received the support of all other Council members.

Yet another very important factor was the tough position taken by the U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in his statement before a public meeting of the Council on that morning of 12 March. In addition to the strong language used by the Secretary-General with regard to Israeli practices and violations and his call for an end to the illegal Israeli occupation, he essentially challenged the Security Council to act when he stated: "Finally, I call on the Security Council to lend its full authority and influence to the vital cause of peace." This statement by Mr. Annan was preceded by an important briefing he had given the Security Council on the situation almost three weeks earlier at meeting of the Council on 21 February 2002.

That briefing by the Secretary-General was followed by a debate of the Council on the serious situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory upon the request of the Arab Group. The Council convened on 26 and 27 February and was addressed by more than 40 speakers, including Palestine. The overwhelming majority of speakers in the debate expressed grave concern at the growing crisis due to the escalation of Israeli violations and attacks against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, most speakers affirmed the need for the Security Council to take urgent action to prevent the further decline of the situation as Israel continued to ignore repeated international pleas to cease its military assaults. In fact, the Security Council had repeatedly failed to undertake any concrete measures to address the deterioration of the situation since its adoption of resolution 1322 on 7 October 2000 at the start the Israeli military campaign.

The meeting of March 12 and the subsequent adoption of resolution 1397 (2002) were in fact preceded by the most heightened and widespread intensification of Israeli attacks against the Palestinian people. From late February and since the beginning of March, the Israeli military campaign took on a more vicious and deadly form, with large-scale attacks and massive raids being launched against Palestinian refugee camps, towns and cities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In less than two weeks, more than 180 Palestinians, including men, women and children, were killed by the Israeli occupying forces. In fact, in one day alone, on Friday, 8 March, 40 Palestinians were killed.

The war crimes, State terrorism and human rights violations committed by the occupying forces markedly escalated with the declaration by Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to, inter alia, carry out "an aggressive and continuous campaign without letup" with the aim of "battering" the Palestinian people and leadership into submission to the will of the occupying Power. Following this declaration, the Israeli military campaign intensified in all its forms, with attacks being launched against Palestinian targets by air, land and sea, using all types of heavy weaponry from Israelís lethal military arsenal, including machine guns, tanks, helicopter gunships, naval gunboats and F-16 warplanes.

The Israeli occupying forces continued to use excessive, indiscriminate and deadly force against the civilian population in countless assaults carried out in Palestinian refugee camps, villages, towns and cities, killing and wounding hundreds of Palestinians and causing widespread destruction of property, including homes, and of vital infrastructure. In addition to the extensive loss of life and destruction, including, in several instances, of U.N. property, Israelís imposition of a constant military siege on the Occupied Palestinian Territory has caused the complete socio-economic suffocation of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian refugees in particular, who have lived in misery, poverty and despair for decades, have been most seriously impacted.

Throughout this same time period, the occupying forces persisted with the incessant bombardment of Palestinian Authority security and police installations throughout the Occupied Territory. The Israeli attacks against Palestinian Authority facilities included repeated attacks on the official compounds of President Yasser Arafat in both Gaza City and Ramallah. Attacks against the Presidentís compound in Ramallah were carried out while he was present there, and one attack was even launched as President Arafat was meeting with EU Special Envoy Moratinos on 6 March.

In conjunction with the incessant assaults, Israeli occupying forces carried out several illegal incursions into Palestinian refugee camps, including Jabaliya, Khan Yunis, Balata, Tulkarem, Nour al-Shams, Deheisheh, Aida and Amari, as well as into several Palestinian towns and cities, including Gaza City, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Jenin and Nablus. During the huge incursion into Ramallah, Israel deployed more than 150 tanks and thousands of soldiers, who carried out countless raids in the city and the Amari camp.

In addition to the carnage and devastation incurred during the many incursions, the occupying forces carried out round ups of Palestinian males, aged 15 to 60, questioning thousands and detaining and abducting hundreds. The occupying Power also continued to carry out its policy of extrajudiciary executions during this time period.

In further contravention of international humanitarian law, the occupying forces also continued to attack ambulances and medical personnel, killing several paramedics as well as preventing many of them from reaching and assisting those wounded in attacks, which often resulted in victims bleeding to death. Moreover, at the numerous Israeli army checkpoints throughout the Occupied Territory, soldiers continued daily to harass and humiliate Palestinians, often firing upon them and killing several people. At the same time, illegal armed settlers continued to harass, terrorize and attack Palestinian civilians, in one instance even raiding a Palestinian village, wounding several people and damaging a mosque and a medical clinic.

The number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli occupying forces since the beginning of this bloody military campaign on 28 September 2000 surpassed 1,000 victims on 7 March 2002. The martyrs, children, women and men, have included Palestinians from all over the Occupied Palestinian Territory and from all sectors of life. As of the date of the print of this issue, more than 1,100 martyrs had been killed by the occupying forces. (This figure does not include the hundreds of Palestinians who have died as a result of other practices and measures of the Israeli occupation such as, for example, those who have died at checkpoints after being prevented from reaching hospitals or those who have died from medical traumas experienced following raids and bombardments.)

Yet, the latest developments, including the adoption of Security Council resolution 1397 (2002) and the mission of U.S. General Zinni to the region, have revived hopes for the possibility of a cease-fire and an end to the Israeli assaults and the deadly cycle of violence as well as the resumption of negotiations on a final settlement. Moreover, the Palestinian people and leadership have been encouraged by recent statements by U.S. President Bush regarding the offensive nature of Israeli actions and the need for such actions to cease, signaling perhaps Americaís growing intolerance for the continuing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.

Now, the next important step, after dealing with the immediate situation on the ground, will be the Arab Summit and the possible adoption by the Summit of the Saudi Crown Princeís initiative. This should lead to a new political framework, on the basis of which the parties have to quickly negotiate a final settlement. However, absent of a drastic change in Israeli positions and practices against the Palestinian people, it is impossible to imagine any serious progress in the Middle East.