U.S. Thwarts Security Council Efforts to Protect Palestinian Civilians

1st Veto for New Administration on Compromise Draft Resolution

The U.S. exercised its veto power in the U.N. Security Council against a draft resolution put to a vote before the Council on 27 March 2001. The members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) caucus of the Council - Bangladesh, Colombia, Jamaica, Mali, Mauritius, Singapore and Tunisia - presented the draft following a lengthy debate on the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, during which a total of 47 speakers addressed the Council. In addition to those cosponsors, the draft resolution was supported by China and the Russian Federation. The 4 European members of the Council - France, Ireland, U.K and Norway – abstained, and Ukraine did not participate in the vote. The final vote on the draft was: 9 in favor, 4 abstentions, 1 against (veto) and 1 non-participation.

At an earlier stage, the NAM members of the Council had presented a draft resolution which was the same as the draft voted on by the Council on 18 December 2000, which got 8 votes - one vote short of the required 9 in favor. That draft focused basically on the issue of providing protection to Palestinian civilians through the establishment of a U.N. observer force. (With Security Council membership rotation, NAM members in the Council increased by one since January.) This step was followed by an initiative on the part of the 4 European members of the Council, advocating the need for a broader approach to deal with the situation on the ground, required actions by the parties and the Middle East peace process. Their initiative also focused on reducing the element concerning the provision of protection and dealing with it in a two-step approach by giving the Secretary-General a mandate in this regard and requesting him to present a report to the Council. The Europeans justified this approach on the premise that the original NAM draft ensured a U.S. veto and would block potential for any serious engagement by the Council in dealing with the situation on the ground and helping the parties to overcome existing difficulties.

The Palestinian and Arab delegations, as well as the NAM members, agreed to deal with the European initiative and give it priority. They continued with this positive attitude even when the Europeans presented their first draft, which was totally unbalanced and was presented only after consultations with the U.S. On the morning of 26 March, after thorough consultations among Palestine, the Chair of the Arab Group (United Arab Emirates), the representative of the Chair of the Arab Summit (Egypt) and the members of the NAM caucus, it was decided that a new draft would be presented by the NAM caucus based on the European initiative, as amended by the caucus. The text, while representing a big compromise by the caucus, nevertheless reflected the limits for such a compromise. (See text of draft on page 3.) After that important step, the U.S. indicated readiness to engage. A small informal working group was set up, with the participation of the U.S., U.K., France, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Tunisia and Palestine, to negotiate a possible agreement on the text.

Serious negotiations took place for long hours, including one night until pre-dawn. The negotiations continued until the working group reached what the Palestinian side thought was an agreed text, pending the approval of capitals, on Tuesday, 27 March at 6pm. Two hours later, in what appeared to be a complete reversal, the U.S. went to the Council, without informing the Palestinian side of its position, and indicated that it still had several problems with the negotiated text. As such, the U.S. decided it could neither continue negotiations that night nor could it vote on the draft and it couldn’t even specify a time for a future vote.

At that point, it was impossible for the Palestinian, Arab and NAM delegations not to feel disappointed and to proceed with the only option left, which was putting the NAM draft resolution to a vote. An important factor of consideration was that the Arab countries had indicated from the very start of the exercise, which lasted about 2 weeks, that the situation on the ground required quick action by the Council and that it should be taken before the Arab Summit.

Shortly prior to the vote, the NAM members of the Council, showing even more flexibility, considered the possibility of accepting a vote on the negotiated text if any member of the Council was ready to present the draft. However, the 4 European members decided to formally present the draft as their own, thus procedurally blocking the possibility of taking action on that draft.

At 11pm, on 27 March, the Council convened a short meeting to vote on the draft, which resulted in the U.S. veto. During the meeting, the coordinator of the NAM caucus, Bangladesh Ambassador Chowdhury, made a statement on behalf of the cosponsors, explaining the background for NAM’s position in voting on the draft. The European members then indicated that their abstentions did not reflect any change in policy and that they wanted to continue trying to have action by the Council on this serious matter with a successful outcome.

The unfortunate veto of the U.S., which prevented the Council from undertaking its duty and responsibility, poses the following question: What is next in terms of action by the U.N.? The Palestinian side maintains that the U.N. has a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine, and it is not ready to absolve the Security Council or other U.N. organs of that responsibility. The existing options are now either to resume the 10th emergency special session in light of the U.S. veto or to have another try in the Council. Both options are being considered.

The following are excerpts from the statement made by the Permanent Observer of Palestine, Ambassador Al-Kidwa, during the above-mentioned meetings of the Security Council:

Statement on 15 March 2001:

  • "Our Observer Mission sent 30 letters to the President of the Security Council and identical letters to the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly… In these letters, we detailed the Israeli actions under the military bloodletting campaign: willful killing, even in circumstances where the safety of the occupation forces were not jeopardized; the wounding of many victims - shooting at the upper limbs and upper parts of the body; the targeting of people by sharpshooters and by other means; using types of ammunition unknown to us; the use of tanks, helicopters and other heavy weapons to shell Palestinian Authority headquarters and other civilian targets; restrictions on the movement of individuals and goods in Palestinian territory and between the Palestinian territory and the outside world; collective punishment, such as an almost continual curfew on the population of Hebron, and the destruction of agriculture, land and other economic installations; and the non-transfer of taxes collected for the Palestinian Authority."

  • "As for the current Israeli Government, its positions completely contradict the bases of the peace process and the agreements concluded between the two parties. This Government, through the head of its cabinet in particular, claims that it cannot negotiate while the violence continues, as if the Palestinian side were responsible for the occupation and the practices of the Israeli army, the settlers and the campaign against our people. It acts as if we can isolate the situation on the ground from the political situation and future of an entire people."

  • "More serious than that, however - and here we are talking about the essence of that Government’s position - is its reluctance to negotiate a final settlement in favor of new interim arrangements and solutions. This clearly indicates its desire to disassociate itself from the implementation of resolution 242 (1967). It would like to impose an eternal interim stage on the Palestinian people following the five interim years and their extension."

Right of reply to Israel’s Statement on 19 March 2001:

  • "The Israeli Ambassador indicated that 97% of the Palestinian people and 42% of Palestinian territory are under Palestinian control. The figure lies, of course, at least given the fact that Occupied Jerusalem itself has over 200,000 Palestinians. We also know that over half of the land under the control of the Palestinian Authority remains under security control of Israel… The Israelis believe that it is acceptable for Palestinians to live in isolated cantons, and that it is even a good thing. This in fact is a reflection of racist thinking that is no different from racial discrimination under apartheid and the establishment of bantustans in South Africa."

  • "How, when there are 10 times as many Palestinian victims, can we talk about Palestinians as the real cause of the present tragedy?… How can we accuse an entire unarmed people of practicing force and violence against the most powerful military force in the Middle East?"

  • "The problem here is that the international community has hesitated before Israeli intransigence - the reason being that the most powerful member of the Security Council continues to support Israel. Israel is not forced to deal seriously with the Security Council because of the Council’s continuous hesitation before Israel… How can a Minister for Foreign Affairs, after a Security Council meeting, threaten the Palestinian side by saying, ‘If you go to the Security Council, we will not resume negotiations’?"

Statement following the veto on 27 March 2001:

  • "As far as we, the Palestinian people, are concerned, we believe that this failure also means a failure to contribute to ending the tragedy that has been taking place in the Occupied Palestinian Territory because of the bloody and oppressive campaign being waged against our people by Israel - the occupying Power…"

  • "Since November 2000 we have made efforts to establish a U.N. observer force to provide protection to the Palestinian people… We shall certainly return at a later date to see what can be done, in cooperation with Council members who are willing, in service of the principles of peace, justice and legitimacy… At the same time, we shall continue to welcome the efforts of the Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan; we call upon him to continue with those efforts, especially as the Council has been prevented from undertaking its duty."