U.S. Vetoes European Draft Resolution on Jerusalem;

General Assembly Overwhelmingly Adopts Same Text

For the second time in less than two years, the United States vetoed a draft resolution, on 7 March 1997, in the Security Council regarding the issue of Jerusalem. The draft resolution was presented by France, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom in an indication of deep European irritation over the recent policies and actions of the Israeli government in this regard. The draft resolution received 14 votes in favor, reflecting the near unanimity of the position of the international community on the matter.

This recent episode began with indications by some Israeli officials regarding an impending decision by the government to build a new settlement in Jabal Abu-Ghneim to the south of Occupied East Jerusalem. The Arab Group at the United Nations reacted immediately and initiated consultations with all members of the Council with the aim of preventing the materialization of the decision. On 25 February 1997, the President of the Council (Kenya) met with the Israeli Charge d'affaires to convey the concerns of the Council and to ask that the decision not be taken. The next day, however, the Israeli government decided to proceed with the settlement and, on that same day, the Arab Group requested a formal meeting of the Council to consider the situation.

The members of the Council met privately with President Yasser Arafat, during his brief visit to New York, on the morning of 5 March 1997, and in the afternoon the Security Council convened its official meeting. Approximately fifty speakers delivered statements before the Council, all of whom expressed deep concern over the Israeli decision and called for the cessation of all settlement activities. They also expressed support for the peace process and emphasized the need for the parties to comply with the agreements already reached.

The initiative by the European members of the Council to present a draft resolution, which happened for the first time, was indeed a significant political development. The U.S., on the other hand, attempted to dilute the momentum of the Council through postponement and through suggestions that the Council adopt a statement instead of a resolution. At the last minute, the U.S. encouraged a text for a statement through the President of the Council (Poland). Egypt stressed that the Arab Group opposed anything less than a resolution and the Europeans indicated that the suggested text was not an acceptable basis for negotiations. (The Arab Group was chaired by Palestine in February and Qatar in March.)

In general the U.S. maintained its traditional position, which seeks to keep the Council out of issues relating to the Middle East. On the other hand, the Palestinian and Arab sides, supported by the rest of the world, maintained that the Council must carry out its responsibilities, including on the Middle East, especially when agreements between parties are violated and actions contrary to international humanitarian law and relevant Security Council resolutions are taken.

As a result of the U.S. veto, the Arab Group called for an urgent session of the General Assembly to consider the situation. The Arab Group also decided to maintain the same text of the resolution with the addition of an operative paragraph requesting the Secretary-General of the United Nations to inform the Israeli government of the content of the resolution. The Assembly met for two sessions on 12 March to hear the statements of many member states, and met again on 13 March to vote on the draft resolution, which by then was cosponsored by 57 states, including all 15 members of the European Union. The draft, which was presented by Indonesia, was adopted as resolution 51/223 and received 130 votes in favor, with only Israel and the U.S. voting against it. Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstained.

The result of the vote represented a near unanimous position by the international community and sent a clear message in this regard to the Israeli government. It reaffirmed that United Nations organs must fulfill their responsibilities toward the situation in the Middle East.

The following is the text of the General Assembly resolution 51/223 of 13 March 1997:

The General Assembly,

Having considered the letters dated 21, 25 and 27 February 1997 from the Permanent Observer of Palestine on behalf of the States members of the League of Arab States (A/51/805-S/1997/149, A/51/808-S/1997/157 and S/1997/165),

Expressing deep concern at the decision of the Government of Israel to initiate new settlement activities in the Jabal Abu Ghneim area in East Jerusalem,

Expressing concern about other recent measures that encourage or facilitate new settlement activities,

Stressing that such settlements are illegal and a major obstacle to peace,

Recalling its resolutions on Jerusalem and other relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions,

Confirming that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel which purport to alter the status of Jerusalem, including expropriation of land and properties thereon, are invalid and cannot change that status,

Reaffirming its support for the Middle East Peace Process and all its achievements, including the recent Agreement on Hebron,

Concerned about the difficulties facing the Middle East Peace Process, including the impact these have on the living conditions of the Palestinian people, and urging the parties to fulfill their obligations, including under the agreements already reached,

Having discussed the situation at its 91st and 92nd plenary meetings on 12 March 1997,

1. Calls upon the Israeli authorities to refrain from all actions or measures, including settlement activities, which alter the facts on the ground, preempting the final status negotiations, and have negative implications for the Middle East Peace Process;

2. Calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, which is applicable to all the territories occupied by Israel since 1967;

3. Calls upon all parties to continue, in the interests of peace and security, their negotiations within the Middle East Peace Process on its agreed basis and the timely implementation of the agreements reached;

4. Requests the Secretary-General to bring to the attention of the Government of Israel the provisions of this resolution.