The United Nations Security Council failed today to adopt a draft resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli soldier abducted by Palestinian armed groups from Gaza and for a halt to what it called a “disproportionate” military reaction by Israel, due to a veto by the United States, which called the text unbalanced and outdated.
Denmark, Peru, Slovakia and United Kingdom abstained from voting on the draft, which also called for the release of all Palestinian officials detained by Israel and called on the Palestinian Authority to take “immediate and sustained” action to bring and end the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel.
The text would have explicitly condemned Israel’s current “military assault” in Gaza, which, it said, “has caused the killing and injury of dozens of Palestinian civilians” and destroyed Gaza’s main power station.
In addition, the draft called on the international community to provide emergency assistance to the Palestinian people to help alleviate the dire humanitarian situation, and on the Israeli Government to restore and maintain the continuous and uninterrupted supply of fuel to Gaza, and to “act expeditiously” to replace destroyed equipment at the power plant.
Explaining Washington’s negative vote, Ambassador John Bolton of the United States said the text did not reflect important new developments, including the fact that the Secretary-General is sending a team to the region.
Calling the draft “unbalanced,” Ambassador Bolton said it “placed demands on one side of the Middle East conflict but not the other.” If adopted, the text would have exacerbated tensions in the region while undermining the vision of a two-State solution as well as the credibility of the Security Council itself, he said, adding that the United States had worked to achieve a more balanced text, one which acknowledged that Israeli actions came in response to attacks, but no agreement had been reached.
Following the vote, JOHN BOLTON ( United States) said that all were aware of the delicate situation in the Middle East, where new developments were unfolding, even as the Council met. In light the current situation and fluid events taking place on the ground, the United States believed that draft resolution had not only been untimely, but was already outdated. The international community had just witnessed a major escalation by Hizbollah, and the Secretary-General had just announced that he was sending a high-level diplomatic mission to the region. The United States believed that those new developments should be included in any major resolution.
He said that the text before the Council had placed demands on one side, while not placing reciprocal demands on the other side in the Middle East conflict. The text would have undermined the Council’s and the international community’s stated support for a two-State vision for peace in the Middle East and, equally important, its passage would have undermined the credibility of the Council in that region. He said that public statements by United Nations officials must reflect positions on which the Organization’s major bodies had agreed.
The resolution should have acknowledged that Israeli military actions were the direct result of repeated military attacks from inside Gaza, as well as the abduction of an Israeli military officer from Gaza. While the United States remained gravely concerned by the situation, it was steadfast in its belief that the best way to initiate steps towards a solution was the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli military officer. At the same time, he said, that attention should focus not just on Hamas, but on State sponsors of terror who backed them, namely Syria and Iran.
Without the help of Damascus and Teheran, terrorist groups in the region would lose major support to continue their destabilizing activities. He called upon Syria and Iran to end their role as State sponsors of terror, and called on Syria, especially, to arrest a Hamas ringleader currently residing there. He called on the Palestinian Authority to stop all violence and terror, and adhere to the principles stated by the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East, namely to renounce terror, recognize Israel and adhere to previous agreements and obligations.
He said the United States was, of course, concerned by the duration of the current events and the lack of a solution. But, it was equally concerned about whether the Council’s action made such a solution more — or less — likely, and whether the Council was acting to merely show that it was “engaged” in the matter. The United States was committed to the search for a lasting peace in the Middle East, which would have been undermined if the current resolution had been passed.
HUGO PEREYRA ( Peru) said his delegation had abstained, because the resolution did not adequately reflect the situation in the Middle East. It did not take into account the fact that elements of Hizbollah — a terrorist organization — had kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and launched rockets at the Israeli military*. Also, it did not take into account the prerequisites for Palestine, reflected by the Quartet in the Road Map.
He said Peru regretted the escalation of the violence and called for the freeing of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers, as well as the release of Palestinian officials illegally detained by Israel. Although Peru recognized the right of Israel to defend itself, it must do so in compliance with international law, and should avoid excess force. He regretted the damage caused to the Palestinian and Lebanese civil society.
ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ ( Denmark) said that, unfortunately, her delegation was not in a position to vote in favour of the draft. Had the draft included a more thorough recognition of the complexities on the ground, her country could have voted in favour. As the situation had deteriorated over the last few days, she was concerned about the loss of civilian life and the deterioration of the human condition in Gaza.
She urged both parties to abstain from any action that violated international law, and on Israel to abstain from disproportionate action. She also called for the release of the Palestinian officials illegally detained by Israel. She further called on the Palestinian Authority to end violence, including the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. The abducted Israeli soldier should be released immediately and unconditionally. The recent events underlined the necessity of negotiations that would lead to a two-State solution.
MICAL MLYNAR ( Slovakia) said that his delegation had, unfortunately, been unable to support the text, although it was deeply concerned about recent events in the Middle East, particularly the deaths of civilians on both sides, and the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure. He called on all parties to exercise restraint. But, he said that any action taken by the Council in these matters should be very carefully considered, and should aim to support the search for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Slovakia was very concerned that the Hamas-led Palestinian Government had not committed itself to the principles set out by the Quartet, including non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of existing agreements and obligations. Since those three elements, along with the condemnation of terrorist acts, had not been sufficiently represented in the draft, Slovakia had been unable to support it. He added that Slovakia would also have liked the text to reflect recent events on the ground regarding Lebanon, as well as a more explicit call to adhere to the obligations of the Road Map.
EMYR JONES PARRY ( United Kingdom) said he was deeply concerned by the crisis in Gaza, which was undermining efforts to ensure lasting peace in the Middle East. The United Kingdom was working strenuously to see that the situation did not escalate, and was urging all parties to prevent the situation from deteriorating further. Only through negotiation could a peaceful settlement be reached, he added.
He called for the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli military officer and an end to the firing of rockets from Gaza into northern Israel. At the same time, the United Kingdom was concerned about the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population. And, while Israel had every right to protect itself, it should do so in a way that did not cause civilian casualties or injuries, or destroy Palestinian infrastructure. He said that any statement from the Council should be balanced and should reflect all relevant aspects of a given situation. While he appreciated the efforts of the text’s sponsors to reflect some of the United Kingdom’s concerns, he was convinced that it was not sufficiently balanced and regretted that he could not support it.
MUTLAQ AL-QAHTANI ( Qatar) said his country had submitted a balanced draft resolution that reflected the views of the majority of Council members. However, the Council could not adopt such a balanced resolution for reasons clear to everybody, as had happened so many times when the Palestinian people had cried for protection. As the Council’s response was weak, it seemed the Council was shunning its responsibilities.
He said the pictures of innocent people being killed and slaughtered would never be wiped out of the people’s memories. The failure of the Council to assume its responsibilities in maintaining peace and security and to put an end to the aggression would only encourage the aggressors. The non-interference of the Council would cause doubts regarding its ability to implement its resolutions and international law, and to implement its basic mandate of maintaining international peace and security.
RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine, thanked all those who had supported the efforts aimed at having the Council address the current crisis situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. All efforts had been aimed at getting a balanced draft resolution. He thanked the Council members who had voted in favour and had tried to uphold international and international humanitarian law, which were being grossly violated by Israel, as it carried out its assaults against Palestinian civilians, particularly in the Gaza Strip. The deterioration on the ground as a result of Israeli aggression and escalation of violence gave urgency to the matter.
He said he was “highly disappointed and frustrated” at the Council’s continued inability to act, while Palestinian children were killed by Israeli forces. That harmed the credibility of the Council, sent the wrong message to the occupying Power and fuelled the culture of impunity that had allowed Israel not to be held accountable for its actions. Israel was turning the Gaza Strip into a “wasteland of death, rubble and misery”. It destroyed homes, agricultural lands and infrastructure, including a ministry of the Palestinian Authority. Because of the continued bombing of the civilian population, yesterday, at least 23 had been killed, including a family of nine. That was State terrorism against a civilian population, and constituted war crimes. The perpetrators of those crimes must be held accountable and brought to justice.
The situation was deteriorating every day, he said. Tensions and frictions continued to rise in the whole region. The situation required, therefore, immediate concerted action by the international community, before it deteriorated further and plunged the whole region into a cycle of violence and conflict. The Council should uphold its duties of maintaining international peace and security, and protecting a civilian population, and, he believed, ultimately would do so.
He said the question of Palestine could not be excluded from the Council’s mandate and the Council’s repeated failure to act could only prolong the conflict, resulting in more bloodshed and loss of life, and greater instability throughout the region. He hoped the Council would soon find the determination to uphold its resolutions and to pave the way for a final, peaceful resolution of the tragic and long-lasting conflict, for the sake of both the Palestinian and Israeli people, as well as for the region as a whole.
DAN GILLERMAN ( Israel) thanked the United States for its bold stand and expressed appreciation to those countries that had held the position that Israel had hoped the entire international community would hold. He recalled that, nearly one year ago, Israel had disengaged from the Gaza Strip. After that painful and heart-wrenching event, the Palestinian Authority had had two choices: to make a better life for the Palestinian people or to turn Gaza into a breeding ground for terror. Sadly, the Palestinian Authority had chosen to make its own people hostage to its terrorist agenda. Six years ago, Israel had withdrawn from territories in Lebanon. That Government, at that time, had also had two choices: to rebuild the country after years of civil war, or to allow the southern part of its territory to be turned into a terror base for Hamas. Sadly, it had chosen the latter.
There was no reason for violence from those two places, from which Israel had completely withdrawn. Israel would not allow those areas to be used as breeding grounds for terror. It would not be held hostage to terror. He noted that Hamas was a globally recognized terrorist organization and then asked the Council to consider the significance of that group heading up the newly-elected Palestinian Government. He also asked the Council to consider Hamas actions after that election. What the international community was witnessing today were the actions of Hamas and Hizbollah. But those groups were merely the “blood stained fingers” on the hand of the world’s most heinous axis of terror: Iran and Syria.
They were a threat not just to Israel, but to the entire free world. Both Governments supported radical elements and weakened voices of reason. They were instigators and supporters of terrorism, and their actions knew no heinous bounds. No delegation or Government should ignore their actions or intent. Appeasement and silence made a perilous strategy, he warned. Israel had disengaged from Gaza because it did not want to be an occupier. Let there be no confusion: Israel did not want to control Palestinian lives. Let there be no confusion: terror was the occupier. It was terror that was menacing Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian civilians.
Israel was doing what it could to protect civilians on both sides. But, it was Hamas that deliberately targeted defenceless women and children, while Israel took every effort to avoid civilian areas. There was a major difference in the approach of the two sides, he said. For Israel, every dead Palestinian child was a mistake and a tragedy. But, for Hamas, every dead Israeli child was a cause for celebration. He reiterated that Israel would not be held hostage to terror and called on the international community to put political pressure on Hamas, as well as Damascus and Tehran, to bring an end to the use of the Palestinian Territory as a base for terrorist operations.
*Editor’s Note: The dictionary definition of the word “kidnap” necessitates that the abduction of a person is illegal. As the Israeli soldier was part of an occupying force, captured during a military raid against a military target, in international law he is considered to be a “prisoner of war”, not a kidnap victim. The rules governing the treatment of prisoners of war are spelled out in the third Geneva Convention of 1949, article 13 of which requires that POWs “must at all times be treated humanely”.