With its days in office running out, the Bush administration turned to the United Nations to put its imprimatur on the struggling peace initiative that the United States launched in Annapolis, Md., a little more than a year ago.
In a resolution co-sponsored by the United States and Russia, the U.N. Security Council declared its support for the process initiated at Annapolis and its commitment to the “irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations” between Israelis and Palestinians.
Security Council Resolution 1850 — adopted December 16 by a vote of 14-0, with Libya abstaining — also reiterated the council’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The resolution marks the first time in five years that the council has weighed in to lend its support to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The Bush administration launched the so-called Annapolis process at a November 2007 summit in the Maryland city. At the time, the administration and the parties committed themselves to reaching a framework peace agreement by the end of 2008 on a final peace accord and the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state. The bilateral negotiations that followed, however, have failed to yield significant results, hampered, in part, by political turmoil in both Jerusalem and Ramallah.
The Bush administration’s push for the resolution appeared to be an effort to secure the continuation of the process it started a year ago as it leaves office — and amid uncertainty over who will be leading Israelis and Palestinians in the future. Some Middle East experts, however, say that the resolution accomplishes little.
“This is the default position,” said Aaron David Miller, a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars who has served as an adviser to six secretaries of state on Middle East issues. “We have no framework agreement, no Palestinian state, so this is just passing on a structure of talks rather than substantive progress.”
Observers described the resolution as a way for the Bush administration to help pass the torch of the peace process to the incoming Obama administration. But Washington is not the only place undergoing a leadership transition.
In Israel general elections are scheduled for February 10, 2009. The ruling Kadima party, now led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, is trailing in the polls behind the right-wing Likud party, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Livni has participated in negotiations with the Palestinians conducted with the aim of advancing toward an accord. Netanyahu, however, has indicated that while he wants to continue talking with the Palestinians, he would put land concessions on hold and focus instead on economic issues.
Meanwhile, in Ramallah, the term of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expiring January 9. Hamas, which controls Gaza, is likely to step up its criticism of Abbas if he does not hold presidential elections once his term ends. He has indicated he will probably postpone the election, a move that has tacit support from much of the international community.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that while the parties have not fulfilled the objective of reaching a framework agreement by the end of this year as set out at Annapolis, serious progress had been made and the process needed to continue.
Speaking to reporters at the U.N., Rice stressed that the resolution puts “the international community on record in believing in the irreversibility of the Annapolis process — bilateral negotiations toward a two-state solution, a comprehensive solution and the various principles of Annapolis and what the parties have established since then.”
Asked how Netanyahu might deal with this initiative if he is Israel’s next prime minister, Rice said that the new Israeli government would have to chart its own course. But, she added, “I believe that the international community will have done what it can do in the strongest possible terms, and that is to put the weight of the Security Council behind not just the two-state solution but a particular process for getting there.”
Riyad Mansour, head of the Palestinian observer mission at the U.N., told reporters that Palestinians were “happy” that the Security Council “will be supervising the peace process started in Annapolis.” He expressed hope that the two sides will succeed in reaching a peace treaty in 2009.
The Israeli government had initial reservations about the resolution. But it ultimately supported it. In particular, Israel was pleased by the resolution’s emphasis on bilateral negotiations, as opposed to multilateral negotiations involving outside parties.
“We are committed to the peace process, but the peace process is something that has to go on between the parties themselves,” Gabriela Shalev, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., told reporters. “There can be some kind of pushing from the outside, but in the end, it must be the two parties” that reach an accord.