General Assembly Holds Xth Emergency Special

Session on Jerusalem and Illegal Israeli Settlements

Second U.S. Veto Triggers Rare and Difficult Procedure

Rejection of Israeli Actions; Concern for Peace Process;

Opposition to Abuse of Veto Behind Palestinian Success

For the first time in fifteen years, the General Assembly held an Emergency Special Session on 24 and 25 April 1997 to consider the "Illegal Israeli Actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the Rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory". The Assembly overwhelmingly adopted what many view as the toughest resolution on the issue in a long time, condemning the construction by Israel of a new settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim, recommending measures and establishing a mechanism for follow-up.

The Tenth Emergency Special Session (ESS) was convened in accordance with General Assembly resolution 377 A (V) of 1950, entitled "Uniting for Peace", under rule 8(b) of the rules of procedure of the General Assembly. The concept this is based on is: if the Security Council fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security because of the exercise of veto by a permanent member, the General Assembly should consider the matter, with a view to making appropriate recommendations to members for collective measures. The rare and difficult procedure was triggered by second U.S. veto in the Security Council, on 21 March 1997, which was cast in spite of the strong position expressed by the General Assembly in resolution 51/223, adopted on 13 March 1997 in an urgent meeting of its 51st session.

The veto was cast at a time of the continuation by Israel of building the settlement in Jabal Abu Ghneim and other settlement activities, the general deterioration of the situation and the threat by Israel to the agreements reached, which threatened international peace and security. The Arab Group therefore began preparations for the convening of the Emergency Special Session. The idea was supported at high levels by the Al-Quds Committee on 27 March 1997 and the Arab Ministerial Meeting on 31 March 1997. Qatar, the Chairman of the Arab Group for the month of March, made the official request to the Secretary-General for the ESS on 31 March 1997. On the same day, the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in New York announced its support for the request. A decisive turn came, however, on 13 April 1997 during the Xth Ministerial Meeting of NAM in New Delhi, at which the movement decided to convene the ESS.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations initiated the procedure on 1 April by informing Member States of the official request and seeking their opinions on the issue. The U.S. and Israel expressed opposition and the European Union (EU) decided not to respond to the Secretary-General for reasons regarding the procedure and not the subject matter itself. Nevertheless, on 22 April, the required majority, 93 positive responses, was attained and by the end of the day the Secretary-General sent a note to Member States announcing the convening of the ESS on the morning of 24 April. Among the Member States that responded positively totaling approximately 100 countries, twelve were not members of NAM, including two permanent members of the Security Council, the Russian Federation and China.

In the meantime, negotiations were being conducted on the text for a draft resolution, which was prepared by Palestine and supported by the Arab Group. The first step was to achieve consensus among the members of NAM, after which negotiations were aimed at reaching agreement with the EU, Japan and others. From the start, the Palestinian delegation insisted that the draft resolution should contain the following four elements: reiteration of established U.N. positions regarding Jerusalem and settlements; recommendation to Member States for collective measures; reiteration of support for the peace process and agreements reached; and establishment of a mechanism for follow-up.

In the end, agreement was reached with the EU and others and the draft resolution maintained all four elements in 15 preambular paragraphs and 13 operative paragraphs. Among the most important of these paragraphs was one that calls for the cessation of all forms of assistance and support for illegal Israeli activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, which includes assistance and support coming from private sources in Member States. Another operative paragraph recommends that States take measures on a national or regional level to ensure respect by Israel, the occupying Power, of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Other paragraphs require the Secretary-General to monitor the situation and to submit a report on the implementation of the resolution within two months of its adoption and authorize the President of the General Assembly to resume the meetings of the Tenth ESS upon request from Member States.

The Vatican also became engaged in the negotiations and made some suggestions with regard to the situation in Jerusalem. The same was done by some Latin American states, in particular Venezuela. This resulted in the inclusion of paragraphs reaffirming the legitimate interest of the whole international community in the question of the city of Jerusalem and recommending that the solution to the question of Jerusalem, to be reached in permanent status negotiations, include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and conscience of its inhabitants and access to the holy places.

Prior to the vote, Germany, in a very unusual and unexpected move, decided to break from the position of the EU and abstained. That was followed by some others indicating the same position. In spite of all kinds of pressure, the resolution was overwhelmingly adopted by 134 votes in favor, 3 against and 11 abstentions on 25 April 1997.

The convening of the ESS and the adoption of such a strong resolution was a significant Palestinian success, which was not easy to achieve. The majority of Member States, obviously motivated by their rejection of illegal Israeli policies and practices, their concern for the Middle East peace process and the integrity of the agreements reached, as well as their opposition to the abuse of veto power, chose to support the convening of the session and the adoption of the resolution.

At this stage, however, the important thing is to ensure that the resolution be implemented and that Israel not be allowed, one more time, to defy international law and the will of the international community. For this to happen, States must implement the provisions of General Assembly resolution ES-10/2, and the mechanism for follow-up should be used until Israel complies.