USA vetoes draft UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements + takes back its alternative offer, too

The U.S. cast its first veto in the UN Security Council on Friday [18 February] under the Obama administration, according to the Washington Post’s Colum Lynch.

UN photo of US Amb Susan Rice casting veto on 18 Feb 2011

UN photo of US Ambassador Susan Rice casting veto on 18 February 2011

All of the other 14 members of the UNSC voted in favor of the resolution, which would have condemned Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.  At least 120 UN member states co-sponsored the resolution, despite a few last-minute drop-outs…

The draft resolution, if it had passed, would have “demanded that “Israel, as the occupying power, immediately and completely ceases all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and that it fully respect its legal obligations in this regard”.

The British Ambassador later made a point of saying not only that Israeli settlements are illegal, but also added that the three largest EU members hope to see Palestinian State by September of this year. Britain and France are two of the Security Council’s five permanent members who have the power to veto a resolution, and Germany is now one of the Security Council’s ten non-permanent members who have ordinary voting powers — all three voted in favor of the Palestinian-supported draft resolution that the U.S. vetoed.

The U.S. apparently preferred to say only that Israeli settlements were “illegitimate”.

UPDATE: A post on the Arabist blog here highlights this point:
“It’s rather morbid to read the detailed justification for this. From a State Dept. briefing here:
QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador Rice, you say that you reject the continued building of settlements on the West Bank as being illegitimate. Yet you vote that no on a resolution that calls it illegal. Why is that, considering that the State Department, as far back as 1978, considered settlement activities illegal?
AMBASSADOR RICE: The United States has not characterized settlement activity as illegal since, I believe, 1980. And – but what we do believe firmly and have reiterated forcefully, including today, is that continued settlement activity is not legitimate”…

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Fifth anniversary of the International Court of Justice opinion on The Wall – the first attempt at legal clarification, according to Egypt's Judge Al-Araby

From the separate opinion of Justice Nabil el-Araby of Egypt, in the International Court of Justice’s opinion on The Legality of the Construction of A Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, on 9 July 2004, who argued that the UN has a special responsibility for Palestine:
“What I consider relevant to emphasize is that this special responsibility was discharged for five decades without proper regard for the rule of law. The question of Palestine has dominated the work of the United Nations since its inception, yet no organ has ever requested the International Court of Justice to clarify the complex legal aspects of the matters under its purview. Decisions with far-reaching consequences were taken on the basis of political expediency, without due regard for the legal requirements. Even when decisions were adopted, the will to follow through to implementation soon evaporated. Competent United Nations organs, including the General Assembly and the Security Council, have adopted streams of resolutions that remain wholly or partially unfulfilled. The United Nations special responsibility has its origin in General Assembly
resolution 118 (II) of 29 November 1947 (hereafter, the Partition Resolution). Proposals to seek advisory opinions prior to the adoption of the Partition Resolution were considered on many occasions in the competent subsidiary bodies but no request was ever adopted … The Sub-Committee in its report, some two weeks before the vote on the Partition Resolution, recognized that: ‘A refusal to submit this question for the opinion of the International Court of Justice would amount to a confession that the General Assembly is determined to make recommendations in a certain direction, not because those recommendations are in accord with the principles of international justice and fairness, but because the majority of the representatives desire to settle the problem in a certain manner, irrespective of what the merits of the question or the legal obligations of the parties might be. Such an attitude will not serve to enhance the prestige of the United Nations. . . .”  The clear and well-reasoned arguments calling for clarification and elucidation of the legal issues fell on deaf ears. The rush to vote proceeded without clarifying the legal aspects. In this context, it is relevant to recall that the Partition Resolution fully endorsed referral of “any dispute relating to the application or interpretation” ‘ of its provisions to the International Court of Justice. The referral “shall be . . . at the request of either party. Needless to say, this avenue was also never followed. Thus, the request by the General Assembly for an advisory opinion, as contained in resolution 10114, represents the first time ever that the International Court of Justice has been consulted by a United Nations organ with respect to any aspect regarding Palestine”.

Justice el-Araby’s opinion, part of the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion on The Wall,  can be read in full here.

Reaction slowly coming in to Israeli tender for more housing in Har Homa

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said at the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Brussels today that the announcement this week of new tenders for 307 new housing units to be built in the Har Homa settlement just outside Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem, did not help to build confidence between Israelis and Palestinians as a new series of negotiations is about to get underway. News reports call this a “rare U.S. criticism of Israel”.

UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon said, through a spokesperson yesterday, that the move was unhelpful.

Actually, that comment from UNSG BAN had to be prodded. In the first reaction, a deputy UN Spokesperson said at first that she had no comment. Here is the exchange, starting with a journalist’s question, as reported in a UN transcript of Thursday’s regular noon briefing:
“Question: Do you have anything to tell us on Israel building over 300 new houses in eastern Jerusalem? And whether this is a breach to the Road Map and the commitments announced in the meeting Mr. Ban Ki-moon attended in Annapolis a few days ago?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have an immediate reaction to that today.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later announced that the UN’s position on the illegality of settlement activity is well-known. These new tenders for 300 new homes in east Jerusalem, coming so soon after the renewed commitment to Road Map implementation at Annapolis, are not helpful, she said. She added that the UN will be discussing this with Quartet partners.]

It seems clear that this criticism would not have been forthcoming if the Palestinians were not cooperating with the American-backed Annapolis process of negotiations.

The growth of the Har Homa settlement on the formerly green wooded hilltop known as Jebel Abu Gheneim has been phenomenal, exponential, and inexorable, since construction started ten years ago, and accelerating recently — but the criticism and protests have been only sporadic. The land was expropriated in the early 1990s, causing an international outcry and many meetings of the UN Security Council in New York, but construction did not begin until 1997.

The Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, located in Bethlehem, reports on its website that just “Between the years 2003 and 2007, the Israeli Ministry of Housing in corporation with the Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem declared 6 tenders to build an additional 2536 new illegal housing units in Har Homa settlement”.

The expansion has been very notable even this year:
ARIJ photos of Har Homa expansion between January and in October 2007

ARIJ reports the following tenders for the 2536 units of new housing in Har Homa settlement since early 2003:

Date of declaration – 1/3/2003
Housing Units – 108

Date of declaration – 15/8/2003
Housing Units – 78

Date of declaration – 2/4/2004
Housing Units – 700

Date of declaration – 23/8/2004
Housing Units – 150

Date of declaration – 27/8/2005
Housing Units – 500

Date of declaration – 9/1/2007
Housing Units – 1000

As discussed in the UN Security Council in 1997 — when Benjamin Netanyahu was Israel’s Prime Minister — the Israeli plan was to build a 6,500 unit housing project in the Har Homa settlement on Jebel Abu Gheneim. See the 6 March 1997 UN press release here.

This would appear to mean that only about one-third of the planned Har Homa has so far been built

ARIJ writes that “Ten years after Har Homa (Abu Ghneim), since the construction in of Har Homa started and it never stopped once despite wide criticism. Israel continues with its policy: forcing facts on the ground … The existence of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and their expansions are Illegal and contradicts with the international law rules, United Nations Security Council Resolutions such as 237 (1967), 271 (1969), 446 (1979), 452 (1979), 465 (1980), 681 (1990), and 799 (1992). Resolution 446 March 22, 1979 calls on Israel to rescind its previous measures and to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature and materially affecting the demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem and, in particular, not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories’ Also resolution 452 of 1979 ‘calls upon the Government and people of Israel to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem’. Furthermore the Fourth Geneva Convention also states in Article 49 that ‘The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own population into the territories it occupies’, and Article 174 of the same convention ‘prohibits the ‘extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly’.” This ARIJ report is posted here.

No resolution was adopted in the UN Security Council on the Har Homa settlement building, and — due to the U.S. vetoes of two draft resolutions , the matter went to a UN General Assembly Emergency Special Session, where resolutions were adopted condemning the plan and calling for an immediate halt to the construction of the settlement.

U.S. withdraws its proposed draft UN Security Council resolution endorsing Annapolis Joint Understanding

In what appears to be an embarrassing and inept episode, the U.S. withdrew on Friday a draft resolution it had proposed to the UN Security Council because Israeli officials had said they felt it was “inappropriate” — they apparently did not want the Security Council involved — and because Israeli officials, in what has become a standard complaint that will kill any initiative, said that they were not informed about the move in advance.

Reuters has now reported that “Israeli deputy U.N. representative Daniel Carmon told reporters Israel welcomed council support for Annapolis, but added, ‘We feel that the appreciation of the council has other means of being represented and reflected than resolutions’. The brief draft resolution, made available to journalists, would have endorsed actions agreed at Annapolis and called on all states to support them as well as to aid the struggling Palestinian economy. Although Israel apparently had no problems with the uncontroversial text, analysts suggested it was worried a formal resolution would get the United Nations too involved in Middle East peace efforts. Israel and the United States often complain of bias in the world body against the Jewish state. [n.b., it was thought that those complaints are now largely over, thanks to the years of efforts by former UN SG Kofi Annan to make Israel more comfortable in the world body: during his administration, a 1974 resolution known as the “zionism is racism” text, was repealed, and the UN has now adopted several resolutions and a secretariat program of action to disseminate knowledge of the Holocaust, for example)”…

The Reuters report added that “Both Israeli and Palestinian officials indicated they had not seen the text before the United States circulated it to the other 14 members of the council, who do not include either Israel or the Palestinian Authority … Palestinian diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said on Friday his mission had still not seen the draft and therefore had no comment on it”. The Reuters report on the U.S. action in the UN Security Council is here.

The Associated Press added that The State Department said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had decided such a resolution was unnecessary. ‘We have looked at this and, at the end of the day, the secretary believes that the positive results of Annapolis speak for themselves and there is really no reason to gild the lily’, spokesman Sean McCormack said. ‘I am not sure that we saw the need to add anything else to the conversation. Sometimes, the results and the event speak for themselves’. Two U.S. officials, who on condition of anonymity described Rice’s decision to withdraw the draft document, said there were several concerns about the resolution, including the failure to consult the Israelis and Palestinians on the language and the possibility that some on the Security Council might try to add anti-Israeli language to it” … The AP’s updated report is posted here.

UN now has a "provisional" geographical definition of Shebaa Farms

A small corner of land that belongs either to Syria or to Lebanon is a real problem that many grown men have not been able to solve. It is the Shebaa Farms.

The United Nations took the position a few years ago that it belonged to Syria — and it just so happens that that part of Syria is occupied and has been “annexed” by Israel, though this annexation has been declared “null and void” by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly.

Syria and Lebanon wrote letters to the United Nations saying that the Shebaa Farms belongs to Lebanon — but the UN says that Syria did not provide enough documentation.

Hizballah, formed to resist the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, says that its mission will not be accomplished until the Shebaa Farms is returned to Lebanon.

And, an Israeli reserve Brigadier General told a group of journalists during a very recent tour of the Golan Heights that of course the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese. What, the journalists asked, is the problem then. But, he says, Hizballah is on the case, and the Lebanese Government does not want anything to do with Hizballah. So, the matter will stay as it is.

Israel invaded south Lebanon in 1972 because of Palestinian cross-border attacks. It withdrew unilaterally, after years of fighting Hizballah, in May 2000. Since then, Hizballah has insisted that its resistance will continue, because Israel’s withdrawal was not complete. The UN was asked to physically demarcate the Israeli-Lebanese border on the ground, and it more or less did so, with blue pillars, and painting stones blue — making the Blue Line. The UN relied on documents from the period of the French Mandate that ruled Syria, formerly part of the Ottoman Empire that was defeated during the First World War. The UN did not take Hizballah’s side.

Last summer, Israel went to war with Lebanon after Hizballah attacked a small group of Israeli soldiers near the Shebaa Farms, and seized two of them, who are still being held captive without any contact with the International Committee of the Red Cross. (Lebanese detainees are being held by Israel and Hizballah wants them returned to Lebanon.)

Yesterday, according to Haaretz, UNSG BAN Ki-moon “released the findings of cartographer Miklos Pinter, whose assignment had been to determine the borders of the disputed area. ‘I am pleased to report that, based on the best available information, the senior cartographer has arrived at a provisional definition of the Shaba Farms area’, writes the Secretary General. He also points out that ‘this exercise has not been aimed to delineate international boundaries as regards to the Shaba Farms, but should assist Lebanon and Syria in their efforts to agree upon their common border’. According to Pinter’s findings, the territory in question includes many IDF military positions, and serves as a strategic crossroads between the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel.

Continue reading UN now has a "provisional" geographical definition of Shebaa Farms