Israel-Palestinian peace process is irreversible

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council approved a resolution Tuesday stressing that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process initiated by the United States last year is irreversible and urging intensified efforts to achieve peace throughout the Middle East.

The vote was 14-0, with Libya abstaining.

The resolution -- co-sponsored by the United States and Russia -- backs "the determined efforts" by Israel and the Palestinians to conclude a peace treaty and fulfill the vision that they can live peacefully side by side as independent democratic states.

The negotiating process launched by President Bush at Annapolis, Md., in November 2007 called for the Israelis and Palestinians to try to reach a final peace deal by the end of 2008.

That goal would have given Bush a diplomatic victory just before leaving office -- but it was not to be, despite months of intense negotiations.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said all council members regret an agreement won't be reached this year, but said "a serious process is under way" and the international community must ensure the talks achieve results.

Both Israel and the Palestinians welcomed the resolution.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer, expressed hope that the sides will remove "all obstacles" and reach a peace treaty in 2009. He said the Palestinians are "happy" that the Security Council -- which has not adopted a comprehensive resolution on the Mideast since November 2003 -- is actively engaged.

'A vote of confidence'

In Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has been Israel's chief peace negotiator since Annapolis, said the resolution gave an important "international endorsement" for the peace efforts.

"The Security Council's clear support is a vote of confidence in the process Israel is advancing with the legitimate Palestinian leadership," she said.

Livni said negotiations would continue, though talks must be accompanied by the Palestinian government's efforts to crack down on militants and end the Hamas militant group's control of the Gaza Strip.

In probably her last U.N. appearance, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the negotiations born at Annapolis "give me confidence" that the goal of independent Israeli and Palestinian states living in peace and security "is not just a vision, but it is a commitment of the parties and of the international community."

"There can be no turning back the clock," she told the council. "We have to continue on the chosen path."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the issues at the heart of the conflict are complex and will require "political will and also courage" to resolve.

The sides have failed to bridge disagreements over core issues, including their final borders and the competing claims to the holy city of Jerusalem.

Political uncertainty on both sides has also clouded the picture. Israel is headed toward elections in February, and the front-runner, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been cool to the Annapolis process.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, disagree over when the term of Israel's negotiating partner, President Mahmoud Abbas, is to end. Hamas says he must step down in January, though he has vowed to stay in office.

In Geneva, meanwhile, the U.N. human rights chief criticized Israel for detaining and expelling a U.N. envoy investigating the Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

Israel says it stopped Richard Falk, the U.N. Human Rights Council monitor for the Palestinian territories, at the airport Sunday because it perceives him to be severely biased.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay says Israel's treatment of Falk was "unprecedented and deeply regrettable."

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