Research Report

Posted 17 December 2007
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Special Research Report No. 4: The Middle East 1947-2007: Sixty Years of Security Council Engagement on the Israel/Palestine Question

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IntroductionRecent DevelopmentsSummary of Analysis and IssuesProcedural AspectsThe Council’s Role in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973: The Arab-Israeli WarsThe Period of Conflict involving Non-State Actors: Terrorism and Counter-TerrorismA Vision for Two States: Israel and PalestineThe Impact of VetoesUnited Nations Peace Operations in the Middle EastConclusion

Introduction
For sixty years, the Security Council has had the issue of peace and security in the Middle East on its agenda. A central issue throughout the period has been what the Council now calls the Palestinian question.

Since 1947, a great deal has been written about the Council’s involvement at various stages. But it is hard to find any published account of its overall involvement.

From the outside—and perhaps also to elected members who serve only two year terms—Council action on the Middle East often appears fragmented, limited to the crisis of the moment or a distinct phase of the situation and, often, absent altogether.

It is easy to overlook the fact that the UN’s involvement in this issue began in 1948 and that for more than 25 years the Security Council was intensively involved. By contrast, over the past twenty years there has been relatively little Council action on the Palestinian question, despite significant events on the ground. This relative Council silence seems to have given rise to concerns amongst many UN member states that the Council is not living up to its responsibilities. Many contrast the Council’s huge activism since 1990 on conflict and security issues all around the world, with its relative inaction on the Palestinian situation. Some contrast the recent period with the very active role which the Council played in the early years and which is discussed in section 5 of this report.

It seems that there are a number of reasons for the historical pattern that has occurred and especially the relative lack of Council action over the past two decades. And it seems also to be the case that, over time, the reasons have evolved.

  • In the 1970s and 1980s cold war considerations clearly played a large part. These were reflected not only in the cold war induced deadlock which characterised virtually all Council activity at that time, but also in quite specific concerns by Israel and the US both about the Council’s failure to condemn terrorism and about the possibility that UN mandates and UN peacekeeping in particular could lead to openings for deployment in the region of troops by cold war adversaries. The failure of the Council in 1979, due to the position of the USSR to approve a UN peacekeeping force as envisaged in the Egypt-Israel peace agreement, seems to have been another factor in building disillusionment. Another significant factor, discussed in detail below, flows from the fact that from the late 1970s the conflict became one not between states but between Israel and various non-state actors—making it especially difficult for the Council as it operated in those days to play an effective role. In addition, various UN General Assembly resolutions, seen by Israel and the US and a number of other western members as biased against Israel, also coloured the situation.
  • With the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference and the 1993-95 Oslo Peace Process it seems that a new rationale for keeping the issue out of the Council emerged. It seems that proposals for Council discussion were often deflected based on the argument that quiet diplomacy, orchestrated off stage, seemed to be working. A renewed UN role risked rocking the boat. (And the persistence of UN General Assembly resolutions, seen by Israel and the US as biased against Israel, continued to be a factor. Perhaps the most notable example was the General Assembly resolution equating Zionism with racism (A/RES/3379) of November 1975.
  • After the Oslo process stalled in the late 1990s (and not withstanding the fact that the General Assembly had by this time revoked the Zionism and racism resolution (A/RES/46/86 of 1991) it seems that new reasons emerged for sidelining the Security Council. In other conflict situations small groups variously called “Contact Groups” or “Groups of Friends” had become the tool of choice for conflict resolution—although in some cases they operated in close conjunction with the Security Council. In April 2002 such a group was formed for the Middle East situation. It was called “the Quartet”. But, very unusually, the UN dimension in the Quartet was inserted not via the Security Council, but by inviting the Secretary-General to be a member of the Quartet, along with the EU, Russia and the US. In addition to these new reasons, it seems that ongoing concern by Israel about a balanced Council position on terrorism remained a key factor in its position.

As explained in section 3 of this report, it would be a mistake to assume that the relative absence of the Council from the centre of action on the Middle East problem means that it has been completely disengaged—even in recent times. Annex 1 contains a listing of the various occasions on which the Council has taken action under “the Middle East including the Palestinian question” agenda item since 2000. What is especially notable, however, is that despite the efforts by various Council members described below and an important report on 11 December 2006 (S/2006/956) by outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan, there was only one action in 2006 and in 2007 only two press statements.

Against this background, and in light of the steady deterioration in the situation in 2006-07, it seemed until very recently that any prospects for a constructive initiative in the Council had become ever more remote. However, in recent months new developments (described in detail below) have emerged—in particular the US sponsored international meeting in Annapolis on 27 November 2007.

The US has called the Annapolis event a “launching pad” for an intensive negotiating process and President Bush has promised a sustained US commitment to support the negotiations. Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have said that the current momentum represents “a real possibility to achieve peace,” and will be maintained. However, some experienced observers remain very sceptical, based on history, about the prospects. It remains to be seen how events will play out following the joint understanding” signed at Annapolis.

It also remains to be seen whether the process in the coming months will involve any role for the Security Council. Israel clearly remains very sceptical about whether the Council could add any value. In response, others argue that it is precisely the absence of an active, prudent and principled support by the Council that has encouraged the pessimism and fatalism that doomed some past negotiating opportunities. The negative response by Israel on 30 November to the draft resolution submitted to the Council by the US on 29 November endorsing the Annapolis programme of action has increased concerns.

Nevertheless, in light of the apparent interest by some members—and the clear unanimous commitment of the Council members in 1990 to support a peace process once one became active—this Special Research Report analyses the Council’s role in the past and discusses this in the context of issues likely to arise in the future. It attempts to be balanced and objective. But it is not a comprehensive history. Our goal is to provide a report which is focused not on the situation as a whole, but rather on the Security Council’s role.

2. Recent Developments
On 16 July 2007 the United States floated the idea of a multilateral international meeting to advance the vision of the establishment of a “two state” solution—a Palestinian and an Israeli state, side by side living in peace. The Secretary-General’s Personal Representative and Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process at the time, Michael Williams, in a Council briefing on 25 July characterised the development as leading to a “…more positive atmosphere of trust.” He concluded that:

“…there has been a promising start to the new relationship of Prime Minister Olmert, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad” and that if certain conditions occurred “…the international meeting this autumn will hopefully be an important step to begin bilateral negotiations for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” (S/PV.5723)

On the same day, an Arab League delegation composed of the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt visited Israel for high-level discussions on the Arab League Peace Initiative of the Arab summit meeting in Riyadh in March 2007.[1] The visit by the two ministers followed their meeting with Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni in Cairo in May 2007.

The Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said on 29 July that any international conference should have UN involvement, either through the auspices of the Quartet or

“…in the framework of the Security Council…”

Intensive rounds of diplomacy in the region followed in order to set the stage for the proposed international meeting. On 30 July, on the occasion of a visit to Moscow by President Abbas, President Putin said that Russia will support Mahmoud Abbas as the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people, seemingly aligning Russia’s position more closely with that of the other Quartet member states.

The Secretary-General in August appointed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as the Quartet Representative and in a letter to the Security Council, provided details of the mandate and requested Council support for a small team of experts to assist Blair. (The Council took note of the proposed arrangements in a letter of 22 August, S/2007/508.) In his letter the Secretary-General said:

“Recent events in Gaza and the West Bank make it more urgent than ever to move forward with the search for peace in the Middle East” (S/2007/507 of 22 August 2007).

Members of the Quartet met in New York on 24 September, on the margins of the General Assembly and gave the November meeting strong endorsement. After the meeting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confirmed that other important parties, like Syria, would be invited. The Quartet Envoy Tony Blair said he believed the process now had “momentum.”

On 26 September the Chairman of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non Aligned Movement sent to the Security Council a ministerial declaration (S/2007/581) which “welcomed the initiative to convene a conference… actualizing the two state solution.” The declaration also called on the Security Council to “assume its responsibilities” and on the Quartet to “engage the Security Council.”

Following more diplomatic work in the region by US Secretary of State Rice, including meetings with President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, the United States confirmed on 20 November that the proposed international meeting would be convened on 27 November in Annapolis, Virginia. On 25 November, Syria confirmed that it would attend the Annapolis meeting.

On 27 November, over forty states and international organisations gathered in Annapolis. Immediately before the meeting opened President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert announced that they had agreed to a joint understanding committing themselves to an intensive negotiating process with a view to concluding a peace agreement before the end of 2008 “…resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception.”

On 29 November, the US proposed a draft resolution in the Council welcoming the outcome of the Annapolis meeting. However, on 30 November the draft was withdrawn. The US explained that Israel was opposed to such an action.

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3. Summary of Analysis and Issues
This is not a summary of issues in the Middle East—or even of all the issues relevant to the Palestinian question. Linkages are drawn in later sections to closely related situations, including the complex connections with the situations in Lebanon and between Israel and Syria. The purpose of this section is to draw together some threads which emerge from the analysis in this Special Research Report and to discuss some of the issues of relevance for the Security Council.

1) Reputation of the Security Council
There seems little doubt that the reputation of the Security Council has suffered as a result of perceptions (by both sides) that it has failed to adequately address the underlying issues. An important issue therefore is whether the current situation offers an opportunity to redress that problem. A closely related issue is whether the risk of attempting something and failing could in fact worsen the situation and damage the Council’s reputation even further.

In this regard it is useful to recall an important decision by the Council in 1990. In December 1990, after very long negotiations in which Finland, Malaysia and Yemen played key leadership roles, the Council reached consensus on resolution 681 which focused on a specific deportation incident. Of much greater importance was the unanimous agreement reached on a Council statement addressing the Palestinian situation in general. The statement represented a major new step forward in terms of the Council commitment to the issue. It was as follows: 

“The members of the Security Council reaffirm their determination to support an active negotiating process in which all relevant parties would participate leading to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace to the Arab-Israeli conflict through negotiations which should be based on resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) of the Security Council and which should take into account the right to security of all states in the region, including Israel, and the legitimate political rights of the Palestinian people.

“In this context they agree that an international conference, at an appropriate time, properly structured, should facilitate efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement and lasting peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

 

“However, the members of the Council are of the view that there is not unanimity as to when would be the appropriate time for such a conference.

“In the view of the members of the Council, the Arab-Israeli conflict is important and unique and must be addressed independently, on its own merits” (S/22027 of 31 December 1990 and S/PV. 2970 part II).

At the time this statement did enhance the Council’s reputation. And hopes were raised for a new era of cooperation in the Council on the Palestinian question. However within a few months the momentum which had been secured was overtaken by the events of the first Gulf War. Nevertheless many of the elements that were agreed seem to have lasting importance—not least the “…determination to support an active negotiating process…” And the Council demonstrated again on 30 November—by the willingness of all 15 members to adopt a resolution welcoming the Annapolis outcome—that it was prepared to take a further step in giving effect to that commitment.

2) Role of Permanent Members
This Report shows clearly the historical importance of P5 positions in determining whether initiatives on the Middle East succeed or fail. An important issue at this juncture, therefore, is the position of P5 members on any renewed Security Council engagement.

It seems unlikely that China would have national interest reasons for blocking an initiative that could add value. And, in the post cold war era, the same seems likely to be true of Russia. However, Russia’s membership of the Quartet, and enjoying an equal role in that context with the US and the EU, may be an important factor. Achieving this role was a significant foreign policy success for Russia. An important issue for Moscow therefore is likely to be whether any initiative relating to the Council might change the dynamics and lessen its role in the Quartet. (On the other hand it is important to recall that Russia has been open to various initiatives on the Middle East in the Council in recent years.)

The UK and France are only indirectly associated with the Quartet (via the EU) but follow it very closely. It is possible that they may prefer their input to be exclusively via the Quartet, but perhaps that should not necessarily be taken for granted.

For Washington the Quartet role is of key importance. Procedurally the Quartet is a very convenient forum for the US. It avoids the complications inherent in a wider group. And for a time it seemed relatively successful in conferring some multilateral legitimacy and sense of oversight—although for many states the positive role of the Quartet seemed to have waned well before the Annapolis initiative.

Substantively the US seems always very concerned to be assured that any initiative in the Council on the Middle East would be both balanced and actually add value. A related issue for Washington will be the position of Israel. The traditional Israeli anxiety has been that the Council could tilt the negotiating field negatively. It is important to note however that already this year the US has shown some openness to renewed Council engagement—most particularly in January when Indonesia proposed an initiative described below and on 30 November by proposing a draft resolution welcoming the Annapolis outcome. As the history outlined in this Report shows, there have been important points in the past (1990 and 2003 being just two examples) when other key US national interests intersected with the Israel/Palestine issue, and the US concluded that for wider reasons there was positive value in a Council role. A key issue therefore will be whether a similar scenario could emerge at the current time. 


3)
Added Value
Taken decade by decade it is easy to see why the perception has taken root that over sixty years the Council has never really grappled with the Palestinian question. A key issue, therefore, is whether this is actually true. The following is an attempt to distill from the analysis in this Report and from the various threads of Council decisions over the years, what it is that the Council has decided on the Palestinian question which may be relevant when considering whether the Council has added value and what it could add in the future.

The following is a compilation and summary of many of the decisions taken by the Council which may be relevant in light of current developments. (It is not an exhaustive list. Many resolutions overlap and some are essentially repetitive. The list is not organised chronologically—but rather it groups together like decisions which are logically related.)

Overall obligations on all parties

  •  The parties have a binding obligation under Article 25 of the Charter to negotiate a just and durable peace in the Middle East (resolution 338 of 1973)

Commitment of the Security Council

  •  The Security Council will support an active negotiating process (20 December 1990 presidential statement S/22027 and S/PV.2970)

Participation

  •  All relevant parties should participate 1990. (20 December 1990 presidential statement S/22027 and S/PV.2970)
  • The process should be comprehensive and take into account the security interests of all states in the region (20 December 1990 presidential statement S/22027 and S/PV.2970) and a comprehensive peace must involve the Israel/Syria and Israel/Lebanon tracks (resolution 1515 of 2003)

Outcome should involve two independent states

  •  The vision should include two states—Israel and Palestine (resolution 1397 of 2002 and resolution 1515 of 2003)
  • The Council called on the parties to achieve this vision (resolution 1515 of 2003)

Multilateral recognition of every state in the region

  • The sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the region should be acknowledged (resolution 242 of 1967)

Military security

  •  All belligerency should cease (resolution 242 of 1967)
  • The right of every state in the region to live in peace within secure and recognised borders and free from threats or acts of force should be recognised (resolution 242 of 1967 and resolution 1397 of 2002)
  • All terrorist acts against any civilians are condemned (resolution 1435 of 2002)
  • Infrastructure responsible for terrorism should be dismantled (resolution 1544 of 2004, this is also a feature of resolution 1515 in 2003)
  • Those responsible for terrorist acts should be brought to justice (resolution 1435 of 2002)

Normalisation of adjacent coastal areas

  •  Freedom of navigation in international waterways in the area should be recognised (resolution 242 of 1967)

Refugees and Displaced Persons

  •  The refugee situation should be addressed in a just settlement (resolution 242 of 1967)
  • Displaced persons return should be facilitated (resolution 237 of 1967)

Cessation of Occupation

  •  Unilateral incorporation of occupied territory is inadmissible (resolution 242 of 1967 and many subsequent resolutions)
  • Military forces should be withdrawn from occupied territories (resolution 242 of 1967, although as detailed below differences in the interpretation of this obligation have been a persistent issue)

Security Guarantees

  •  Guarantees should be resolution 242 put in place for the territorial inviolability and political independence of every state in the area (resolution 242 of 1967)

Settlements

  •  Settlements in occupied territories have no legal validity (resolution 446 of 1979 and many subsequent resolutions in the 1980s)

Status of Jerusalem

  •  The legal status, geography and demography of Jerusalem cannot unilaterally be validly altered (resolution 446 of 1979)

4) Key Issues Arising
The emergence after the Annapolis meeting of an active negotiating process gives added significance to the key issues which have been addressed by the Security Council in setting the above framework. Many difficult questions remained unresolved.

  • The “appropriate auspices” for a negotiating process has been a difficult issue since 1948. As described below, at various times the Security Council, the General Assembly, international conferences and various mediators have all played important roles. Appropriate auspices were never agreed in resolutions 242 and 338 or the 1990 presidential statement. However, the latter indicated that a “properly structured international conference” should facilitate efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement. Israel (and at times the US) has insisted on bilateral tracks. President Bush’s recent initiative and the multilateral character of the Annapolis meeting suggest that the US sees value in a wider framework. However, the difficulties with the draft US resolution in the Security Council on 30 November underline that Israel’s attachment to a bilateral model remains a major factor. It remains to be seen whether as confidence builds (or as problems emerge) there will be further multilateral events.
  • A key issue identified by the Council is participation. This raises the issue of how and when an Israel/Syria track relating to the Golan Heights can be opened and where this would fit into the sequence. Issues involving Lebanon also arise—including the Sheb’a Farms question and elements which go back to 1948 including the significant burden that Lebanon has borne for almost sixty years in providing sanctuary for about 410,000 Palestinian refugees.[2] It is important to note in this regard that in November 2003, in resolution 1515, the Council unanimously emphasised the need to include “… the Israeli–Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks” in any comprehensive just and lasting peace. The willingness of the US to invite Syria to participate in the Annapolis meeting and the positive Syrian response seems to underline the importance of this aspect.
  • Next there is the extremely sensitive question of what participation may mean in respect of non-state actors. In the past the PLO was the principal entity of this nature. More recently Hamas and Hezbollah have become factors in the security equation, but they are shunned by many of the key players. The international community has found in many parts of the world that threats to international peace and security cannot be resolved without finding ways to involve non-state actors in peace processes—at least indirectly. That is all the more so in cases where non-state actors have the military capacity and political will to effectively challenge outcomes agreed between states. All cases have their own unique features—especially in the Middle East. It remains to be seen how or if this aspect will be addressed. But, as described below, in the context of the 1973 peace conference in Geneva, exclusion from any form of participation of a non-state actor perceived to be hostile—then the PLO—was one of the rocks on which the conference foundered. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether the two situations then and now are fundamentally different or whether history will repeat itself.
  • A related issue is “comprehensiveness.” The 1990 presidential statement speaks of a comprehensive outcome. Comprehensiveness arises in two senses. The first is participation—as described above. It also relates to the comprehensive coverage of issues which are of key importance to the parties. This was the key issue dividing the parties in preparation for the Annapolis meeting. It seems that it has been resolved in the joint understanding—at least in the sense that all core issues will be addressed. A key question which seems to have bedeviled past efforts to negotiate is whether and how to sequence the negotiations —whether they are structured on the basis of a single package containing a sequence of deals or a sequence of possible separate packages. Both sides have different issues on which they want to make early progress. Behind this issue is the link (foreseen in the 1990 presidential statement) between what the Council called a “just and lasting” peace on one occasion and a “comprehensive” peace on the other. Virtually all complex negotiations require, for practical reasons, some kind of sequencing. Where there are many critical issues of different weight to the respective parties this is often resolved by putting all the issues on the table and agreeing to negotiate on all issues but working on sequential deals within the overall package and based on the principle that no part of the package is considered final until all critical elements packages are finalised. (The criticism that Egypt experienced in the region after the peace agreement with Israel in 1979 may be felt by many of the players to be a compelling reminder about the risks of deals without sufficient guarantees covering the other parts of the package.)
  • Borders, Refugees and the Status of Jerusalem—The Council has been very explicit about the necessity for recognised borders and the related issue of withdrawal behind those borders. But ambiguity and differences of interpretation as to what this actually means have dogged the parties for forty years since the adoption of resolution 242. This is one of the critical issues which will have to be resolved in the negotiations. There is no ambiguity, however about the inadmissibility of unilateral acquisition of occupied territory. The Council’s position and international law seem very clear on this. If Israel wishes to retain some of the territory it now occupies, this can only be achieved by consent as an outcome of the negotiating process. And it seems likely that that can only be achieved—if at all—by offering significant and generous compensatory provisions in the agreement. Similarly, the Council has been quite explicit about the status of Jerusalem. Again the challenge for Israel, if it seeks an outcome other than the status quo ante, is what to offer by way of compensation that would secure agreement. The Council’s position regarding refugees seems to have been more ambiguous. The stipulation in resolution 242 is for a “just settlement” which leaves some room for negotiation. Resolution 237, which deals with the rights of the 1967 displaced persons, is less flexible—it calls for their return to be facilitated. For the Palestinians it seems that what is “just” is a solution based on General Assembly resolution 194(III) of 1948. Again, in order to reach a compromise solution, it seems that something significant would need to be put on the table by the Israeli side.
  • Guarantees of Security—Closely related to the issue of borders is how to guarantee them and achieve the vision articulated in resolution 1397 of “…a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders.” And this issue also includes, as mentioned in resolution 242, not just the absence of war, but also securing “…the right to live in peace…free from threats or acts of force.” In an age of qassam and katyusha rockets, missile firing drones, tunnels under boundaries and radical non-state actors, even recognised boundaries or dividing walls seem unlikely of themselves to provide the kind of security guarantees envisaged in the Council resolutions. In other situations elsewhere in the world the international community has found that building and eventually guaranteeing security usually means significant investment in “winning hearts and minds” through peacebuilding, including economic development, creation of employment and infrastructure and the presence of international personnel as monitors, peacekeepers, advisers and peace builders. A key issue, therefore, will be the extent to which these aspects are factored into the negotiating process, including the role of the Security Council in encouraging, facilitating and eventually authorising or establishing such components. A related question is whether Israel will continue to argue that such components should follow the pattern of say the EU monitors at the Rafah crossing rather than a more conventional UN presence. Another related issue is whether some such components will be needed at an early stage as part of the sequencing of negotiated packages, especially as confidence building “milestones” and perhaps exploring ways in which peacebuilding can be progressively implemented.
  • Guarantees of Political Independence—Security is not the only guarantee that the Security Council has identified as being essential. The requirement to also guarantee territorial integrity and political independence seems likely also to be a major issue which will have to be addressed. In this regard control of its borders and coastline and territorial sea will be important issues for the Palestinian state as well as genuine political independence. With respect to the latter, political independence of a modern state often seems also to involve viable territorial units, as well as normal communications and transportation links and infrastructure.

5) Security Council Support for the Negotiating Process­
The Council’s decision in December 1990 to promise support for “an active negotiating process” raises the issue—as current developments now move into an active phase—of what such support might involve in practice.

It seems highly unlikely that any proposals for the Council to directly and formally supervise the process would gain traction. Nor is there likely to be any interest or capacity for micromanaging any aspect of the negotiations. However, notwithstanding the withdrawal of the draft US resolution on 30 November, it seems likely that interest in options for a future Council role in providing useful support will re-emerge. Options might include a sequence of supportive Council actions over a period. Possibilities may include:

  • a Council statement confirming ongoing support for the negotiating process and seeking to help to move the process forward, recalling or endorsing the role of the Quartet and building on resolution 1515;
  • a Council decision bringing together into one document the various threads of its key previous decisions (many of which are outlined above)—and to the extent possible—updating these elements; and
  • avoiding entering into decisions on substantive issues, but deciding instead on some procedural options to informally improve the framework for its regular discussions on the issue, better enabling it to give effect to its commitment to ongoing supportive Council role, perhaps by:
  1. establishing a special informal working group of the Council which would be regularly briefed by the Secretary-General or his Special Envoy based on the Secretariat participation in the Quartet and other meetings and mandated to advise the Council at appropriate points on suitable opportunities for the Council to exercise a supporting role; and
  2. bringing the mandate for the Office of the UN Special Coordinator (UNSCO) more directly in line with the Security Council so that the Special Coordinator could work closely with the working group and, as appropriate, the Council.

It probably goes without saying that at this very early stage of the new process any proposals for the Council to definitively resolve—either way—any of the issues of ambiguity arising from past resolutions or matters left undecided would be contentious. Even with modest objectives, difficult negotiations would be inevitable. However, with respect to other possible options such as those outlined above, as history has shown, it is possible for the Council to play a useful role through patient negotiation. The December 1990 Council statement took persistence and prudence but it produced an outcome that can be seen as an important contribution. It needs to be acknowledged that at that time—on the eve of the first Gulf War—there was a wider sense of regional crisis. It remains to be seen whether the current wider set of problems in the region may create an environment in which a positive input from the Council is welcomed. top

4. Procedural Aspects
With the benefit of historical perspective it is possible to see that the various phases of Council action—and inaction—regarding the Middle East are linked together as part of an overall situation.

This sense of linkage is reflected even in the procedural lore of the Security Council. Contrary to much popular belief, Council members have operated on the basis that most of the phases of the conflict are in fact parts of the same overall situation. An example is the now ritualised presidential statement (see for example S/PRST/2007/20) which is adopted every six months in conjunction with the extension of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) mandate. This statement records that the wider issues in the Middle East must also be resolved. Another example is resolution 1515, adopted in November 2003, which emphasised the interconnectedness of the various negotiating tracks.

The Council procedural framework further reflects the interconnectedness of the situation. Over the years, when issues in the Middle East have arisen, whether involving Lebanon, the Sinai or the Golan Heights, they have usually been taken up by the Council procedurally under the single agenda item—“the Situation in the Middle East.”

It is important to note, however, that from 2000 all agenda items relating to the Palestinian issues have been titled “the Situation in the Middle East including the Palestinian Question”. (Prior to that, it was “the Situation in the Occupied Arab Territories”.)
 

Despite this generally interconnected approach, in practice when an issue on the Middle East is taken up in the Security Council, it seems that the substantive focus of the Council, and often the parties as well, is limited to the immediate crisis at hand—a ceasefire, a peacekeeping presence, a disengagement plan. It has been rare that the Council has taken up and proactively pursued the wider issues that underlie the conflict. Nevertheless, as outlined in the previous section, the actual record—when all the threads are pulled together—is perhaps more substantial than is commonly believed.

In February 2002 an important procedural decision was taken by the members of the Council that the Council should receive a “periodic” briefing on the Middle East from the Secretariat. This decision was a compromise which followed an initiative by Syria seeking a more substantive Council role. The compromise was that the Council should receive briefings only and that these would be in private in informal consultations (S/PV.4474). The controversy which lay behind this decision was signalled by the very unusual reference to the difficulty in reaching agreement by the president of the Council, Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico, recording the outcome in the formal session:

Not without difficulty, the members of the Security Council reached agreement on holding periodic consultations as to the situation in the Middle East, based upon information and points of view afforded us by the Secretariat.”

By August 2002 this process had evolved even further. Although there was never any formal announcement, the Council began a practice of holding a regular monthly public meeting at which the Secretariat briefing would take place. It seems that this flowed from further discussion of the Syrian initiative but at this point there was wider support within the Council as a whole including a number of elected members (Mexico, Singapore, Ireland and Norway.) This was significant because the decision to hold such a briefing at a formal meeting was a procedural decision—over which there is no veto. It seems that in the face of this increasing support within the Council a new compromise was able to be crafted. It seems that agreement was reached on holding the briefings in regular public meetings but as a quid pro quo that each meeting would be approved in advance in informal consultations. In addition no speakers list would be opened at such meetings and they would not become an opportunity for members to express views or for action to be taken.

In the five years that followed (September 2002-September 2007) 64 such public briefings have been held. Interestingly exceptions to the understanding about no action began to emerge. In January and September 2005 the Council not only heard the briefing but also went on to adopt presidential statements (S/PRST/2005/2 and S/PRST/2005/44) at the same meeting. On 30 November 2005, action was taken on the same day as the briefing, but in a separate meeting. In a meeting that day on “the situation on the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” (S/PV.5312), Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari briefed the Council. Subsequently, in a separate meeting later on the same day (S/PV.5313) the Council issued a presidential statement on the Rafah Crossing (S/PRST/2005/57). And in 2006 a further modification occurred when, following an initiative by Qatar, it was agreed informally that every three months a speakers list would be opened on the occasion of the briefing allowing a debate. top

5. The Council’s Role in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973: The Arab-Israeli Wars
The 1948 Arab-Israeli War
The first step by the United Nations on the Middle East was taken by the General Assembly. In November 1947, the Assembly recommended to the mandatory state (the United Kingdom) the partition of Palestine into independent Arab and Jewish states (resolution 181 (II) of 1947). The resolution also requested that the Security Council “take the necessary measures” to implement the Plan of Partition with Economic Union and take steps under articles 39 and 41 of the Charter should it consider that developments in Palestine constituted a threat to the peace.

In December 1947, with tensions in the region mounting, the Council placed the Middle East on its agenda for the first time.

A succession of Council resolutions followed in early 1948. In resolution 40 of 17 April, the Council called on the parties to cease military activities and acts of violence, to refrain from encouraging the transfer of people and arms into Palestine and from any political activity which might prejudice the rights of either community, and to cooperate with the Mandatory authorities for the maintenance of law and order. It soon became clear that the Partition Plan could not be implemented peacefully given Arab objections to the two state formula. Accordingly, the Council, in resolution 44 of 1948, asked the Secretary-General to convene of a special session of the General Assembly “to consider further the question of the future government of Palestine.”

Three weeks later, in an innovative step, the Council in resolution 48 of 1948 established a Truce Commission (comprised of Belgium, France, and the United States) to help the Council supervise the implementation of resolution 46.

Despite the scale and intensity of the violence and the involvement of the armed forces of several member states, the Council was cautious about formally determining that the situation constituted a threat to international peace and security. It was only after the events of mid-May: the termination of the British mandate, the Israeli declaration of independence, and the declaration of war by Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria on Israel that this step was taken. The Council’s initial call for a ceasefire, a week after the outbreak of the declared war, had no apparent effect.

The following week, however, resolution 50 was adopted. It threatened further action against the parties and established the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), whose initial 35 observers were deployed in June 1948. At that point, neither side had achieved a decisive edge militarily but both apparently believed that they would benefit from a ceasefire as a respite in which to rearm and rejuvenate their forces. Responding to the persistent appeals of the UN Mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte of Sweden, the combatants agreed to observe a four-week ceasefire commencing on 11 June. Subsequently, the Arab side, mistakenly convinced that the military tide had begun to turn in its favour, rejected the Council’s call for an extension of the ceasefire. When the fighting resumed, the Israelis quickly gained the upper hand in several sectors.

By this point Council members found they had little leverage over the parties. Theycould not find common ground on the text of an enforceable Chapter VII resolution. And the differing positions of the permanent members played a role in this regard. For instance, at an early stage of the fighting, when the Israelis were on the defensive, the Soviet Union submitted a draft resolution demanding a quick ceasefire (S/794/Rev. 1 and Rev. 2). The United States (S/773) had taken a similar position. By contrast, the United Kingdom, more sympathetic to the position of the Arab states, opposed the ceasefire.

Eventually, on 15 July, the Council finally adopted resolution 54 declaring the situation to be a threat to international peace and security and threatening to take enforcement action. On 18 July, the parties complied and a second—and more sustainable—truce came into effect. Yet over the next few months, despite two sizable increments of UNTSO observers, whose ranks rose to 572 before year’s end, the transition from war was slow.

In September 1948, Count Bernadotte was assassinated by Jewish terrorists. The following month, fighting resumed in the Negev. In response, the Council used a new tool. It established a committee of seven of its members to advise “on further measures it would be appropriate to take under Chapter VII of the Charter” should either party fail to comply with a troop withdrawal and the demarcation of truce lines and of neutral or demilitarized zones as needed (resolution 61 of 1948).

In November, the Council called for an armistice (resolution 62 of 1948), while the acting mediator (Ralphe Bunche) helped to facilitate the negotiation of separate armistice agreements between Israel and its four neighbours: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. In March 1949, despite an abstention by the United Kingdom and a negative vote by Egypt, the Security Council took a historic step, recommending to the General Assembly that Israel be admitted as a member of the United Nations (resolution 69 of 1949).

On 3 April 1949, Israel, in separate agreements negotiated under the auspices of the acting mediator signed armistices with Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, under which it acquired about 50 percent more territory than originally allotted to it under the Partition Plan approved in 1947. But, the transition from war to real peace never eventuated.

Low-level violence continued to be directed against Israel Palestinian fighters who had taken refuge in Egypt and Jordan.

Analysis of the Council’s Initial Role in the Middle East Situation
These early experiences of the Security Council in seeking peace in the Middle East began to show a number of patterns and lessons that seem to have shaped its involvement in the region ever since.

  • One, the Council’s stance was largely responsive, not preventive. Its rather slow reaction to the initial violence, may have sapped its credibility in the eyes of the parties. But also, no doubt, the sheer complexity of the situation which had led the UK to hand back its mandate also played a role in deterring the Council as a whole from more robust action.
  • Two, the Council failed to employ many of the strategies that would now be considered part of its standard toolkit. It appeared markedly reluctant to move to Chapter VII, only moving to this option late in the game. The United Kingdom, having recently withdrawn its forces repeatedly cautioned against using Chapter VII. The Chapter VI tools the Council did employ—mediation, urging compliance with proposed steps toward peace, and monitoring their implementation—may well have facilitated the search for peace, but few carrots or sticks were employed to convince the parties to move in that direction.
  • Three, the scope of Council action was largely conditioned by the political dynamics between the permanent members of the Council and by the parties’ perceptions of their security interests at any point in time. Both of these factors proved highly dynamic, as well as interactive.
  • Four, the Council was rarely united on how to respond to events. Only six of the Council’s members in 1948—less than the seven required (at that time) to pass a resolution—had voted for General Assembly resolution 181 (II), recommending the partition of Palestine. Two permanent members, China and the United Kingdom, had abstained, along with Argentina and Colombia, while Syria had opposed the partition. The key resolution during the conflict (54 of 1948) passed the Council with the minimum margin of seven yes votes, with one no vote (Syria) and three abstentions (Argentina, Ukraine and the Soviet Union). Of the ten Chapter VI resolutions on the conflict in 1948, only one (43 of 1948), a mild call for a truce, passed unanimously. Moscow, then supportive of Israel, abstained on most of these votes.
  • Five, the Council was most deeply divided when it came to considering the use of those tools that might have prevented the escalation of violence, such as an arms embargo, sanctions against states fuelling the conflict, or the creation of an international military force to help establish order in Palestine. The Chairman of the Palestine Commission had proposed the creation of such a force, but the Council demurred. Some delegations even argued that such a military intervention would have exceeded the Council’s jurisdiction because the conflict lacked an international character. (It must be remembered, however, that at that time the concept of a “peacekeeping operation” as we now know it had not been invented.)
  • Finally, at each point in the crisis, as in so many subsequent ones, perceptions of the military situation on the ground tended to define the scope for Council involvement, as well as influencing the attitudes of Council members. For instance, as noted above, the first, brief, ceasefire came at a point when both sides were ready for a pause and an opportunity to regroup. Neither had been able to achieve a decisive breakthrough, while both expected to emerge from the four-week interlude in a stronger military position. The Council’s firm action in mid-July 1948, along with its call for an indefinite ceasefire, coincided with a surge in Israeli military success on the ground. Those Council members most sympathetic to the Arab side saw the ceasefire as a means of forestalling further Israeli conquest of additional Arab territory. For those Council members championing the Israeli cause, it appeared as if the survival of the young state had been at least temporarily secured. While some in Israel may have been eager to press their military advantage, others undoubtedly recognised that it rested on a precariously thin foundation and that maintaining as much international goodwill as possible would be essential to national security over the longer haul.

This was an early test of the Council and, in several ways; it exposed weaknesses that would cripple the Council so often during the cold war years to come.

The 1956 WarThe Suez Crisis
The next crisis came only eight years later. In July 1956, Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser announced the nationalisation of the Anglo/French Suez Canal Company. This came against the background of a much more complex situation in the Security Council. The Korean War had just ended and had caused a further intensification of the cold war. In the Middle East, Nasser had begun a tilt towards Moscow over the Aswan dam. Nasser was also seen as a problem by France as a result of his support for Algerian rebels. In Israel there was a growing sense of a need to respond forcefully to attacks by Palestinian groups operating out of Egypt.

In 1948 both France and the UK had been more sympathetic to the Arab states in their conflict with Israel. But in 1956, faced with these new realities, they decided in parallel with Israel, to intervene in the region in order to secure the Canal. They perceived Nasser’s action not only as a challenge to their economic interests, but also as a strategic risk to their global power, given the importance of the Canal as a sea lane to their colonial and other interests in the Far East and Asia.

On 13 October 1956, the British and French proposed a resolution in the Security Council seeking to guarantee the free use of the Suez Canal without discrimination. The draft was vetoed by the USSR. The military intervention began on 29 October, with an attack by Israel on the Sinai. This was followed swiftly by a full scale invasion by British and French troops on 5 November.

The US and other Council members were taken by surprise and strongly criticised the French and UK invasion. Two draft Council resolutions calling for ceasefire and withdrawal were vetoed by France and the UK. The action then shifted to the General Assembly, which was convened in emergency session from 1 to 10 November and the UK and France came under huge American pressure to withdraw. In the emergency session, the Assembly:

  • called for a ceasefire;
  • called for the withdrawal of all foreign forces; and
  • established the UN Emergency Force (UNEF I) to secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities.

British, French and eventually Israeli forces withdrew from Egyptian territory.

There were new lessons for the Security Council from its 1956 experience.

  • Overall the Council role had been a failure—the General Assembly had in the end responded to the challenge of restoring international peace and security.
  • The Council had also, while preoccupied with the Middle East, ignored another major crisis—the Soviet invasion of Hungary in early November.

The period following the Suez crisis was marked by the growth of radical non-state actors, including Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) amongst the Palestinian communities in Egypt and Jordan and the growth of public support in Arab countries generally for the liberation of Palestine.

The 1967 War—The Six Day War
Eleven years passed before the next major outbreak of violence. In June 1967, suspecting an imminent attack from its Arab neighbours—and stung by the demand by Egypt for the United Nations to withdraw UNEF from the boundary—Israeli forces attacked Egypt, Syria and Jordan and the so-called Six Day War commenced.

In the course of June, the Security Council managed to pass unanimously four resolutions (233, 234, 235, and 236) calling for a ceasefire. This demonstrated real Council concern and productivity. However, the Council was exposed yet again to the problem it encountered in 1948—the parties to the conflict largely ignored the Council’s edicts until their military situation made it advantageous for them to do so.

Prior to the outbreak of war, the Council had remained silent as the UNEF I peacekeeping forces began their withdrawal from the Sinai and Gaza in response to Egyptian demands. Bilateral diplomacy was extremely active during those days, as were informal consultations among the members of the Council. But the Council now deeply divided along cold war lines, and with the Soviet Union now supporting Egypt rather than Israel, did not act to try to prevent the looming conflict.

At the end of major hostilities, the Council—in a fifth unanimous resolution in nine days—stressed the need to respect “essential and inalienable human rights” … “even during the vicissitudes of war” and called on Israel to observe international humanitarian principles in its treatment of prisoners of war and of the civilian populations in areas it had occupied over the course of the fighting (237 of 14 June 1967).

In addition to this flurry of Council activity, the Soviet Union on 13 June asked Secretary-General U Thant to request an emergency special session of the General Assembly to address the Middle East crisis. Moscow did not employ the Uniting for Peace procedures of General Assembly resolution 377A (V). Instead, it cited article 11 of the Charter and indicated that it was seeking an Assembly decision that would lead to Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. After many weeks of debate, it became clear that there was no more likelihood of convergence in the Assembly than in the Council.

On 8 July the Council again took up the issue when Israel and Egypt both asked the Council to address problems with the ceasefire arrangements. Within two days, a consensus statement by the president of the Council called for bolstering the UNTSO deployment in the Suez Canal sector.

On 21 July, recognising that it would be unable to make a breakthrough on the underlying issue, the Assembly called on the Council “as a matter of urgency” to resume “its consideration of the tense situation in the Middle East” (A/RES/2256 (ES-V)).

In retrospect, it seems that this period of interaction between the General Assembly and the Council may have served a positive purpose. First, it appears that allowing a wider airing of member state views actually gave them a greater sense of ownership in the peace process. Secondly, and perhaps of more significance over the longer term, a number of the themes and principles that were eventually articulated in Council resolution 242 of 1967 were voiced and debated first in the Assembly’s emergency session.

The path to achieving resolution 242, however, did not prove to be a smooth or quick one. Initially the Council did not move expeditiously. In October, however, violations of the ceasefire, including the sinking of an Israeli destroyer, the Eilat, reminded the Council members of how tenuous and dangerous the situation remained. Another unanimous reaffirmation of the ceasefire soon followed (resolution 240 of 25 October 1967).

For much of November, the Council struggled to find common ground on principles to guide the search for a more durable peace in the troubled region. Draft resolutions introduced on 7 November by India, Mali, and Nigeria and by the United States had several common elements. Both sought “a just and lasting peace,” called for a guarantee of freedom of navigation and for a “just settlement” of the refugee problem, and requested the Secretary-General to designate a Special Representative to aid the peace process in the area (S/8227 and S/8229, respectively).

There were, however, important differences between the drafts. The India, Mali, Nigeria draft—the so-called three-power draft—affirmed that:

“occupation or acquisition of territory by military conquest is inadmissible under the Charter of the United Nations and consequently Israel’s armed forces should withdraw from all the territories occupied as a result of the recent conflict.”

The US draft, on the other hand, referred only to the “withdrawal of armed forces from occupied territories.” Both drafts asserted the right of all states in the region to sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, and security. The American draft also spoke of mutual recognition, security guarantees “through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones,” and arms limitations in the area. Last minute Latin American and Soviet drafts gained little traction, and the United Kingdom undertook to produce a new draft that sought to bridge the differences between the three-power and US drafts by employing elements from each of them.

The British compromise worked and resolution 242 was passed unanimously on 22 November 1967, albeit more than five months after the conclusion of the Six Day War. It affirms that a just and lasting peace in the Middle East should include the following principles:

(i) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.

And it also affirms the necessity:

(a) For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;

(b) For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;

(c) For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every state in the area; through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones.

Israel and the United States had argued that the terms of a peace settlement should be worked out through mutual agreement between the parties, rather than simply assuming that the basis for boundaries should be the armistice lines prior to the June 1967 war. Many Arab countries, however, had still not recognised Israel and refused direct negotiations with its representatives. The creative ambiguity of the words of the first operative paragraph in the English text allowed possible different interpretations as to whether it called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all or some of the conquered territories. The French version, however,

Affirme que l’accomplissement des principes de la Charte exige l’instauration d’une paix juste et durable au Moyen Orient qui devrait comprendre l’application des deux principes suivants :

a. Retrait des forces armées israéliennes des territoires occupés lors du récent conflit ;

b. Cessation de toutes assertions de belligérance ou de tous états de belligérance et respect et reconnaissance de la souveraineté, de l’intégrité territoriale et de l’indépendance politique de chaque Etat de la région et de leur droit de vivre en paix à l’intérieur de frontières sûres et reconnues à l’abri de menaces ou d’actes de force.

seems to allow much less scope for differing interpretation. Perhaps this inconsistency reflected an agreement in the Council to disagree. But this key issue of interpretation of resolution 242 has never been resolved and explains in part the ongoing debate about implementation.

Resolution 242 also clearly states that both principles in operative paragraph one (recognition and the right to live in peace as well as withdrawal) need to be fulfilled. While important progress was made by Israel, Egypt and Jordan, resolution 242 remained to be implemented in full. Israel and Syria made no further progress with respect to the Golan. Israeli withdrawal from Gaza may be seen as a modest step—but it is clearly not an end of the occupation and the West Bank issues remain. And various non-state actors such as Hezbollah and Hamas do not comply with respect to the obligations regarding recognition and the right to live in peace.

Resolution 242 nevertheless endures as the most widely cited and accepted statement of principles for long-term peace in the Middle East. It also established the role of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General with a mandate to establish and maintain contacts with the states concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles of resolution 242.

The 1973 War
Despite the historical achievement of resolution 242, it was only six years before the next major crisis. On 6 October 1973, on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel. Egypt retook the Suez Canal and a part of the Sinai. Syrian forces drove the Israeli forces back from much of the Golan Heights. However, supported by significant US assistance with re-supply, Israel succeeded in pushing back Syrian forces on the Golan Heights and recaptured the Sinai.

On 22 October 1973 Security Council resolution 338 called for a ceasefire in the positions the parties then occupied, the implementation of resolution 242 in all its parts and for immediate negotiations under appropriate auspices for a just and durable peace.

Also on 22 October Israel accepted the ceasefire. Syria followed on 23 October, but fighting continued in various sectors.

On 23 October the Council, in resolution 339, requested the Secretary-General to immediately dispatch observers to supervise the ceasefire.

On 25 October 1973 the Council upped the pressure by the adoption of resolution 340. The Council now demanded an immediate and complete ceasefire and that the parties return to their previous positions. And it enhanced the status of the observers by establishing the observer as a formal United Nations mission, UNEF, specifically under the authority of the Council to supervise the implementation of the resolution.

On 8 April 1974 the Council, in resolution 346, noted that the disengagement between Israel and Egypt was only a first step and it decided to extend the UNEF mandate not only to maintain “quiet” in the southern sector, but also to assist in further efforts for the establishment of a just and durable peace. UNEF was extended by the Council under further resolutions until 1979 at which point the Secretary-General observed in a letter dated 24 July that:

“I understand that members of the Council are agreed that there should be no extension of the mandate of the force, which, accordingly, will lapse at midnight on 24 July.”

With respect to the northern sector, on 31 May 1974 Syria and Israel signed a disengagement agreement in respect of the Golan Heights, which provided for an area of separation and for two equal zones of limited forces and armaments on both sides of the area. On the same day the Security Council, in resolution 350, established UNDOF to monitor implementation of the agreement. In the absence of agreement on the outstanding issues in resolution 242, UNDOF has continued to the present day.


A Peace Agreement
A very important feature of the Council’s first call for a ceasefire in resolution 338 in October 1973 was the third operative paragraph:

“Decides that, immediately and concurrently with the ceasefire, negotiations shall start between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East.”

In December 1973, with the disengagement negotiations under way the Council turned to the next stage of implementation of resolution 338 —negotiations for a just and durable peace. Many members were motivated in part because that section of the resolution, having used the word “decides” was seen as binding on the parties. The elected members of the Council proposed that the Council should support the convening of a peace conference, which had been scheduled in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations. In addition the draft resolution encouraged the Secretary-General to play a “full and effective role at the conference in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council”.

On 15 December 1973, a resolution to that effect was adopted as resolution 344. It is notable that it was adopted by ten votes to none. But clearly all of the permanent members of the Council had problems with this resolution. Perhaps they saw it as a challenge to their leadership on the Middle East issue. France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States all abstained and China did not participate in the voting.

The Geneva peace conference was convened on 21 December. The governments of Egypt, Israel and Jordan attended. Syria declined to participate. The PLO was not invited. Discussions focused on disengagement of forces in the south, which led to a military working group being established under the chairmanship of the UNEF II force commander. But there was little focus on the underlying issues of a comprehensive settlement which had been called for by the Council. The issue of Palestinian representation seems to have been the key obstacle in this regard, with both Israel and the US insisting that a prior condition for participation should be recognition of Israel.

Although no breakthrough emerged in 1973-74 at the end of hostilities, an important unilateral development occurred in 1978 when Egyptian president Anwar Sadat initiated direct peace talks with Israel and made a dramatic visit to Israel. This culminated in a peace process under US auspices and the Camp David peace accords of 17 September 1978. A formal peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was signed on 26 March 1979.

The 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel was open to the possibility of a UN peacekeeping force similar to UNDOF between their front lines, despite their unhappy experience in 1967. Indeed, it called for such a force, but stipulated that if it were established it should not be possible for it to be withdrawn without a decision by the Security Council. (This would mean that the continuation of the force would be protected by the veto.) In effect the parties recognised that a UN force would have value provided that:

  • the Security Council had full operational control; and
  • the use of the veto could only be used to block a decision to withdraw the force not as an instrument to procure its withdrawal.

The parties also agreed, as a fallback that should it prove impossible for the Council to agree on and establish such a force, the United States was to create “an acceptable alternative multinational force.”

Subsequent events in the Security Council confirmed that these apprehensions were well founded. The impact of cold war politics meant that the Security Council was never able to agree on a resolution establishing a United Nations presence in the Sinai. It seems that the prospect of a veto from the Soviet Union, combined with strong opposition to the peace agreement from many other Arab states, led the parties to consider other options.

Although Egypt and Israel’s intentions in the treaty were to have UNEF II perform the security tasks, these political difficulties led the Council to allow the UNEF II mandate to lapse in July 1979 without renewing it. A substitute was therefore needed and the existing US Sinai Field Mission undertook new tasks, such as verification functions specified in the treaty. More efforts were made during the following two years to secure the UN Force and Observers contemplated by the treaty, to no avail. A protocol to the peace treaty was signed by Israel and Egypt on 3 August 1981 establishing an independent non-UN Multinational Force and Observers, with the mission to supervise the implementation of the security provisions of the Peace treaty and prevent its violation. It is still operative today with eleven contingents from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Fiji, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Uruguay and the US.

The Problem of Settlements
It quickly became clear that peace with Egypt at the state to state level was not in itself a formula for resolving the underlying issue. Indeed concerns about the expanding Israeli settlement policies in the occupied territories were causing alarm and there was criticism of Sadat in many Arab countries for not extracting commitments from Israel on the Palestinian situation.

The Camp David accords had, of course, envisaged peace involving two elements: a peace treaty and a long-term solution to the Israel/Palestine situation. However, it became increasingly clear as settlement activity expanded that the second element was disappearing—especially after the Likud party victory in Israel in 1977 which led to a further acceleration of settlements.

In response the Council eventually acted. In March 1979, in resolution 446, the Council determined that Israeli settlements in the territories have:

“no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

It deplored Israel’s failure to comply with past resolutions, especially one relating to the status of Jerusalem and called on it:

“…to desist from taking any action which would result in changing the legal status and geographical nature” of the territories and “…not to transfer parts of its own civilian population into the occupied Arab territories.”

It also established a Security Council commission to examine the situation.

In July 1979 the Council reviewed the report submitted by the commission (S/13450). In resolution 452 it accepted the commission report and recommendations and reiterated the strong legal and political rejection of the settlement policy in resolution 446.

In 1980, in response to a series of incidents and the enactment of legal measures by the Israeli parliament to annex Jerusalem and parts of the Golan, the Council adopted a series of increasingly strong resolutions condemning Israel’s non-compliance—including several explicit reaffirmations of the inadmissibility of acquisition of occupied territory and the unacceptability of changes to the status of Jerusalem. These resolutions (468, 469, 476, 478 and 484) were followed by a very long gap in Council consideration of the situation.

It was really not until the emergence of the Intifada in 1987 that the Council again resumed consideration of the Palestinian situation. Resolutions 605, 607 and 608 followed. But in 1989 Council attention again seemed to flag. The latter months of 1990, however, were marked by a number of important developments. Resolution 672 encouraged the Secretary-General to send a mission to the occupied territories. However Israel rejected the Secretary-General’s role and declined permission for the mission to visit. This was strongly denounced by the Council in resolution 673. December 1990 saw two very significant steps as outlined above. Three elected members (Finland, Malaysia and Yemen) played key leadership roles and the Council adopted resolution 681, which focused on a specific deportation incident. However of much greater importance was the unanimous agreement to a presidential statement, which represented a major new step forward in terms of the Council addressing the underlying situation and is discussed in section 3 above. top

6. The Period of Conflict involving Non-State Actors: Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism
The disengagement agreement with Syria, the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt and Jordan essentially ended the era of state to state conflict. But after 1973, the situation took on a different dimension, largely characterised by conflict between Israel and non-state actors.

Although Palestinian fighters had been attacking Israel intermittently since the 1950s, they were not the principal drivers of conflict and at times acted as proxies for neighbouring states. However, the emergence of non-state actors as the principal combatants after 1973 gave added focus to the tactics which had been used by such groups for some time. The growth in terrorism and the responses by Israel to terrorism (sometimes characterised by others in the region as “state terrorism”) became important features of discussions on the Middle East.

The involvement of non-state actors and the resort to terrorist tactics had of course been a feature of events in the Middle East prior to the mid-1970s and the two phases overlapped significantly in time. In fact, debates about terrorism and counter-terrorism first appeared in the Security Council’s approach to peace in the Middle East as early as 1948 when, in resolution 57, it condemned the Jewish assassins of UN envoy Count Folke Bernadotte as “a criminal group of terrorists”.

During the cold war period, these matters deeply divided the members of the Council— and they were inevitably exploited as part of the East/West struggle. Another factor especially after 1973 (when war at the state to state level disappeared and was replaced by conflict between Israel and non-state actors) was the difficulty that the Council found in responding to this situation. At that time the United Nations had no tradition of engaging with non-state actors and this was graphically illustrated at the Geneva conference in 1973. (In hindsight it is perhaps possible to see that this had a disempowering effect on the Security Council. It was not of course until the 1990s that the Council and the United Nations evolved strategies for dealing with non-state actors because it was by then deeply engaged in managing responses to conflicts within states—situations in which non-state actors as combatants were major players.)

The difficulties the Council faced during this period are apparent when it is appreciated that it took 25 years after 1948 before the Council again agreed on language in a resolution responding to the use of terrorism in the region. It even took 22 years before the Council in 1970, in resolution 286 of 9 September—reacting to the hijacking of several flights by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP)—was able to make a brief generic appeal for non-interference with international travel and for the release of all hijacked passengers and crews without exception.

Indeed, for its first four decades, the Security Council was frequently split over the appropriate response to retaliatory actions taken by countries threatened by terrorism— in particular Israel. As a result the Council became deadlocked, unable to condemn either the terrorist acts or the counter-terrorism measures taken in response.

In the face of this situation, and in the absence of agreement in the Council, the action shifted, in practice, to the General Assembly which took up the issues in a thematic way. Three international anti-terrorism conventions, addressing the bombing or hijacking of aircraft, entered into force between 1969 and 1973. Ten more United Nations conventions proscribing specific categories of terrorist acts followed in the years since, along with seven regional conventions. But the General Assembly has been no more successful than the Security Council in resolving fundamental differences of definition, scope, and application—and these differences are inescapably related to the unresolved issues in the Middle East.

In 1972, the then US Permanent Representative George HW Bush cast Washington’s first sole veto in the Council, over a draft resolution that the US deemed to be too tepid a response to the murder by terrorists of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. In this context, China and the Soviet Union vetoed a Western European draft, while an American draft was not even put to a vote.

Though terrorist incidents were much in the headlines through the 1970s and 80s, the Council managed only a single unanimous resolution, without addressing any specific situation or act, condemning “unequivocally all acts of hostage-taking and abduction” and affirming the obligation of states to prevent, prosecute, and punish such acts “as manifestations of international terrorism” in resolution 579 of 1985.

With the end of the cold war, however, the Council found greater common ground on the unacceptability of terrorism as a tactic and increasingly came to the view that terrorism was actually a common threat and should be seen as a threat to international peace and security.

On three occasions in the 1990s, the Council went beyond condemnations of terrorist attacks and invoked Chapter VII sanctions against governments and regimes that aided and abetted them. It imposed a variety of diplomatic, arms, and economic sanctions on Libya, Sudan, and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for their alleged support of terrorist acts and groups. The permanent members, however, varied in their enthusiasm for invoking sanctions. China abstained on most of the sanctions votes, with the exception of supporting the financial and aircraft curbs on the Taliban contained in resolution 1267 of 1999, while Russia joined China in abstaining on the two sanctions votes on Sudan (1054 and 1070, both of 1996). When the Council voted to add an arms embargo to the existing sanctions on the Taliban in resolution 1333 of 2000, China abstained, resorting to its earlier pattern.

The Al-Qaida inspired attacks of 11 September 2001 on the United States accelerated the trend towards a Council consensus against terrorism. In the wake of the attacks, the Council passed two generic resolutions. Resolution 1368 of 2001 affirmed the right of self-defence against terrorism. Two weeks later, resolution 1373 imposed a long list of policy, legislative, and reporting requirements on member states to assist the global struggle against terrorism. This resolution was a major innovation for the Council. In legal terms it universalised obligations in various multilateral treaties, regardless of whether countries had ratified those treaties or not.

Four further unanimous resolutions followed, 1390 of 2002 imposing counter-terrorism measures against Al-Qaida and the Taliban, 1540 of 2004 on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, 1566 of 2004 on dealing with terrorist groups other than Al-Qaida, and 1624 of 2005 on incitement. Building its own counter-terrorism infrastructure, the Council established three committees, a working group, and a cadre of professionals and experts to help implement these wide-ranging resolutions.

However, it was clearly much easier for the Council (like the General Assembly) to address the generic problem of terrorism than specific incidents in or related to the Middle East. Nevertheless, after the 2001 attacks against the US the Council began to address more regularly specific terrorist actions by non-state actors. A series of resolutions and presidential statements followed. In March 2002, resolution 1397 demanded “immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement, and destruction.” Later that month, in a unanimous resolution, the Council coupled that latter phrase with an expression of “its grave concern at the further deterioration of the situation, including the recent suicide bombings in Israel and the military attacks against the headquarters of the President of the Palestine Authority” in resolution 1402.

Six months later, the Council condemned “all terrorist acts against any civilians, including the terrorist bombings in Israel on 18 and 19 September 2002 and in a Palestinian school in Hebron on 17 September 2002,” reiterated its earlier language on ceasing all acts of violence, and called “on the Palestinian Authority to meet its expressed commitment to ensure that those responsible for terrorist acts are brought to justice by it” (resolution 1435 of 2002). This time, the US abstained criticising of the lack of an explicit condemnation of the groups responsible for the bombings and of those who support them. Following attacks on Israeli civilians in Kenya later that year, the Council, in resolution 1450, employed its strongest language since resolutions 1368 and 1373, condemning “in the strongest terms the terrorist bomb attacks” in Kenya, and the attempted missile attack on Arkia Israeli Airlines flight 582. Moreover, it declared that the Council ”regards such acts, like any act of international terrorism, as a threat to international peace and security”.

This was the first time that the Security Council had adopted a resolution without any reservations condemning terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and Israeli targets.

Since 2002, the Council has acted unanimously a number of times in respect of terrorism in the Middle East. In November 2003, it repeated its call for ceasing all acts of violence (resolution 1515). Six months later, it condemned “all acts of violence, terror and destruction” (resolution 1544). A presidential statement in March 2005 (S/PRST/2005/12) called for “full respect” of the understandings reached at February’s Sharm el Sheikh summit “that all Palestinians will stop all acts of violence against Israelis everywhere and that Israel will cease all its military activities against all Palestinians everywhere.” It reiterated its “demand for immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction.” A presidential statement of February 2006 (S/PRST/2006/6), following the Palestinian elections, underlined “the need for the Palestinian Authority to prevent terrorist attacks and dismantle the infrastructure of terror.”

A statement was also issued following the terrorist bombing in Amman, Jordan (S/PRST/2005/55 of 10 November 2005). The Council has also been particularly outspoken in condemning terrorist assassinations in Lebanon. Acting by consensus, the Council established, in resolution 1595 of 2005, an independent international commission (UNIIIC) to assist the Lebanese authorities in their investigation of the Hariri assassination which it defined as a “terrorist act.”

In sum, the Council’s approach to terrorism and counter-terrorism has evolved through three phases. During the first phase—the cold war years—it was deadlocked. In phase two, during the 1990s, it began to treat terrorism as a common threat to international peace and security and imposed sanctions on states and regimes accused of sponsoring terrorism. In the third phase, the Council not only turned to elaborating norms, standards, and implementation mechanisms aimed at bolstering the legal and institutional capacities of individual member states to counter terrorism, it also began to address explicitly incidents of terrorism in the Middle East and the implications of terrorism for the prospects of a durable peace. top

7. A Vision for Two States: Israel and Palestine
For most commentators resolution 242 is a high-water mark in terms of Council action on the Middle East. There were other points of major significance which are described above, including resolution 338 in 1973 and the presidential statement in 1990. But a core issue for most of the forty years from the adoption of resolution 242 was the Palestinian demand that a key outcome of a negotiated peace process should be an independent Palestinian state. This goal was fiercely resisted by Israel and to a greater or lesser degree by the US as well.

In 2002, however, a major breakthrough occurred when resolution 1397 was adopted. It flowed from an important shift in US policy which had been signalled in a speech to the General Assembly in November 2001, by the United States President George W. Bush. He declared that:

“We are working toward a day when two states, Israel and Palestine, live peacefully together within secure and recognized borders as called for by the Security Council resolutions.” (A/56/PV.44)

This came at a time when Washington was seeking to build support for its action in Afghanistan and it seems to have recognised the value of building common ground on Middle East issues. The Council offered a platform for translating the notion of peaceful coexistence articulated by US President Bush in the Assembly into an international resolution.

An American draft resolution found ready acceptance by all Council members except Syria, which abstained, complaining that the draft resolution did “not address the root of the question: the Israeli occupation.” The operative paragraphs of resolution 1397 demanded a cessation of all acts of violence, called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to implement the 2001 Tenet work plan on security cooperation and the recommendations of the 2001 Mitchell Report for ending the violence, rebuilding confidence, and resuming negotiations, and commended the Secretary-General and other mediators. The political heart of the resolution was its preambular language. It took the language of resolution 242 a fundamental step forward by:

“affirming a vision of a region where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders.”

Israeli and Palestinian representatives welcomed the resolution. The Council’s first reference to a Palestinian state was recognised as a major development. The resolution also welcomed the contribution of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, and encouraged the diplomatic efforts of the US, the Russian Federation, the European Union, and the UN—the mediation group that soon became known as the Quartet.

Resolution 1397 initially seemed to have ushered in a new and more hopeful period. By the end of April 2003, the Quartet had produced a “road map” for fulfilling the two-state vision of 1397 and presented it to the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In November 2003 the Council, in resolution 1515, unanimously endorsed the Quartet’s road map. It also reaffirmed the two state vision and called on the parties to achieve this vision. Despite Israel’s objections about the UN getting too much involved, the US seems to have decided to support the resolution, ultimately finding it too awkward to veto a resolution endorsing a plan it had done so much to create.

In the years that followed, as the road map sputtered to a halt and the Quartet seemed at times like a spectator on the sidelines, the Council also stepped back from the profile achieved in resolutions 1397 and 1515. Its Middle East focus seemed to be on Lebanon rather than implementing the two-state vision. The question raised in section 3 of this report as to whether or when the Council will reengage remains.

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8. The Impact of Vetoes
The Council has often been accused by both sides (usually at different times) of being one-sided in its approach to achieving peace in the Middle East. Sometimes its resolutions or presidential statements have been called unbalanced, but even more frequently it has been accused of inaction in the face of mounting violence. Given the political sensitivities of these issues, any resolution on the Middle East is likely to reflect a series of compromises among the interested members of the Council. A balanced resolution under such circumstances is therefore likely to be one that all sides have some difficulty with.

Unanimity among the members of the Security Council on issues related to the Middle East is relatively rare. This is particularly evident when the Council seeks to go beyond surface appeals and general norms and principles. Comparing the frequency with which permanent members veto resolutions on the Middle East to their propensity to employ that tool on other issues produces some instructive findings.

As is well known, the use of the veto—at least in formal meetings of the Council—has declined over time, and particularly since the end of the cold war. During the Council’s first decade, from 1946 to 1955, 77 resolutions were vetoed, all but two by the Soviet Union. That is well more than one third of the total number of resolutions vetoed over the more than sixty years of the Council’s existence (77 of 210). However, only three of these early vetoes (less than 4 percent) related to the Middle East. As Figure 1 illustrates, the situation has changed markedly in recent times.

Over the past quarter century (1982–2006), more than half (34 of 62, or 55 percent) of the resolutions vetoed dealt with the Middle East. Over the past decade (1997–2006), that proportion rose to more than two-thirds (11 out of 16, or 69 percent). In that regard, the steep incline since 1995 of the thick broken line in Figure 1, relating the percentage of total vetoed resolutions that were on the Middle East, is particularly notable.

All of the Middle East-related vetoes since the end of the cold war have been cast by the United States. More often than not, American representatives have explained that, in their view, the drafts appeared to condemn Israeli actions without acknowledgment or criticism of the acts by others that may have triggered the reactions by Israel. Among the matters addressed in recently vetoed draft resolutions have been military operations in Gaza (S/2006/508) and (S/2004/783), the killing of a Hamas leader (S/2004/240), the construction of the security wall (S/2003/980), the treatment of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat (S/2003/891), the destruction of a World Food Programme warehouse (S/2002/1385), the withdrawal of Israeli forces (S/2001/1199), and the creation of a UN observer force (S/2001/270).

In December 2001, the US vetoed a draft Security Council resolution, sponsored by Egypt (Chairman of the Arab Group) and Tunisia (a Council member), that focused on Israel’s treatment of civilians in the occupied territories. The US complained that the draft sought “to isolate politically one of the parties to the conflict” and would not “make a meaningful contribution to improving the situation in the Middle East.”

At earlier points, of course, other permanent members objected to draft Middle East resolutions. Moscow has vetoed twelve such resolutions (compared to Washington’s 41), including ten before the US cast its first in 1972 plus one each in 1980 and 1984. France and the United Kingdom teamed in vetoing two draft resolutions on the Suez Canal crisis in 1956, though, as noted above, the matter was then sent to the General Assembly for action under the Uniting for Peace procedure. China, in its sole dissension on Middle East matters, added its veto to Moscow’s on a draft Western European resolution on the abduction and murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In some respects the analysis of vetoed resolutions is misleading. It does not take into account resolutions not put to the vote because of the clear threat of veto. Nor does it take into account the blockage of drafts of presidential statements (which by definition require consensus). “Blockage” in the Council on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has also again become more frequent over recent years. Resolution 1544 of 2004, condemning the killing of Palestinian civilians in the Rafah area, and calling on Israel “to respect its obligations under international humanitarian law,” in particular, “its obligation not to undertake demolition of homes contrary to that law” was the last resolution on Israel/Palestine. Despite the deterioration in the situation and the growing levels of violence Council action in 2006 and 2007 almost disappeared from the public record.

Numerous initiatives for presidential statements, including by Algeria in 2004-2006, Qatar in 2006-2007, and Indonesia in 2007, encountered blockage. But resistance has also come from the Palestinian side. Differences over words oftenreflect deeply conflicting visions. Both sides have, at times, perceived the Council to be one-sided, either because it has been unable to respond to Israeli violations of international standards or because it has failed to address threats to Israeli security. Several examples can be highlighted.

  • Following the Israeli attack on a prison in Jericho on 14 March 2006 and subsequent kidnapping of a number of Palestinian prisoners, violence erupted in the West Bank and Gaza. Qatar sponsored a draft presidential statement expressing concern over the violence in Jericho and calling upon Israel to withdraw its forces. After an initial agreement on the draft, it seems the Palestinians objected to the exclusion of the words “prison” and “military attack.”
  • On 25 June 2006, Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier. Israel responded by shelling and then invading Gaza and arresting elected Palestinian leaders. More than fifty Palestinians, including at least twenty civilians, were killed in the offensive. On 13 July, the Council debated a draft resolution (S/2006/508) sponsored by Qatar, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli soldier, for the release of all Palestinian officials detained by Israel, for a halt to a “disproportionate” military reaction by Israel and calling upon the Palestinian Authority to take “immediate and sustained” action to bring to an end the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. The US vetoed the draft and Denmark, Peru, Slovakia and the UK abstained. The US said that the text was “unbalanced” and did not reflect important new developments (the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah in Lebanon).
  • On 8 November 2006, the Israel Defence Forces shelled the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, claiming that there had been a Qassam rocket attack from there. Nineteen Palestinians were killed, including civilians. On 11 November, Qatar proposed an Arab-backed resolution (S/2006/878) urging an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and condemning the Israeli attack. Amendments to the resolution were proposed by many Council members in order to have a more balanced text, and were incorporated in the final draft with Qatari and Palestinian agreement. For instance, “indiscriminate” was changed to “disproportionate”; “military assault”, “aggression” and “massacre” to “military operations”; “demands” was replaced with”calls upon.” The calls for a ceasefire and for the dispatch of a UN observer force were replaced by calls for a halt of violence and for the establishment of a fact-finding mission by the UN Secretary-General. There were also some alterations to the paragraph on the role of the Quartet. Finally, the condemnation of the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel was shifted to the preamble and an operative clause only called for the firing to stop. The final draft, however, was vetoed by the US, which claimed that the draft was “biased against Israel,” “politically motivated,” and failed either to “display an evenhanded characterization of the recent events in Gaza,” or to“advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
  • Indonesia circulated a draft presidential statement on 9 January 2007 in an effort to re-engage the Security Council and address the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories. The draft welcomed recent agreements between Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Abbas and betweenOlmert and Egyptian President Mubarak, called on the parties to extend the November ceasefire in Gaza to other parts of the occupied territories and the West Bank, underlined the importance of exercising restraint and avoiding actions that endanger civilians, and referred to the importance of negotiations and the vital role of the Quartet. The US had difficulties with the use of the phrase“Occupied Palestinian Territories” (instead of “West Bank and Gaza”) and to the proposed call for extending the Gaza ceasefire to the rest of Palestinian territories. But it indicated it was willing to reach agreement. By contrast, it seems the Palestinian side insisted on a reference to Israeli incursions in Gaza, and seems to have indicated that in the absence of such wording the text was not worth having.

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9. United Nations Peace Operations in the Middle East
The Security Council learned quickly that UN Missions, mediators, military observers and peacekeepers could play an important role.

UN operations in the Middle East began in 1948. Starting with UNTSO they have taken a variety of sizes and shapes. Some have been far more successful than others. But, the Council’s willingness both to continue to be innovative as well as to sustain some very longstanding operations (despite pressure to reduce the overall cost of the UN’s global peacekeeping operations) confirms that over the years its members see ongoing value in such missions for helping to forestall the escalation of violence.

The longevity of the three ongoing operations—the 1948 UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), the 1974 UNDOF, and the 1978 UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), testifies both to the unfinished business before them and to their continued utility in the eyes of the Security Council and most of the actors in the region. UNIFIL’s mandate, size, and capacity were substantially expanded in resolution 1701 of 2006. If UNIFIL I and II are considered to be the same mission, then there have been five major UN peace operations in the Middle East, including the two UN Emergency Forces (UNEF I and II) deployed in the Sinai following the 1956 and 1973 conflicts, respectively, in addition to the three currently ongoing missions. [3] UNEF I received its mandate from the General Assembly, the other four from the Security Council.

The analysis that follows focuses on six observations about the nature and implications of these operations prior to the deployment of UNIFIL II in 2006, which in some respects represents a departure from previous practice.

1) Prior to 2006, none of the decisions to deploy a new peace operation in the Middle East had the united support of the five permanent members of the Security Council—all involved one or more abstentions.

2) None of the missions has had an explicit Chapter VII mandate.

3) The deployments have always followed, never preceded, the outbreak of large-scale hostilities.

4) On the whole, the deployment of inter-positional peacekeeping units has been more effective in discouraging a resumption of inter-state conflict than has the deployment of mobile military observers.

5) Peacekeeping in the area has been more successful at helping to prevent inter-state conflict than at curbing the use of violence by non-state actors.

6) The events of 1967 suggest that the premature withdrawal of a UN force can have serious consequences for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The abstentions by various permanent members on mandates for Middle East peacekeeping deserve some further analysis. As indicated above, none of the initial mandates for the five principal peacekeeping missions in the Middle East received the unanimous support of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Resolution 50 of 1948, which established UNTSO, was voted on by the Council in parts.[4] Operative paragraph 6, which authorised the provision of “a sufficient number of military observers,” received nine favourable votes, but the Soviet Union (and Ukraine) abstained. In 1956, France and the United Kingdom vetoed US and Soviet draft resolutions calling for a ceasefire and then voted against resolution 119 of 31 October, calling for an emergency session of the General Assembly under the Uniting for Peace procedure. The latter, however, was treated as a procedural matter that did not require unanimity among the permanent members. Subsequently, London and Paris cast two of the five votes in the General Assembly against the creation of UNEF I. China did not participate in the voting on resolution 340 of 1973, which established UNEF II, or on any of the other subsequent resolutions mandating or renewing Middle East peace operations, including UNDOF and UNIFIL, until shifting policy in December 1981. The Soviet Union abstained on resolutions 425 and 426, both of 1978 establishing UNIFIL I, on 427 of 1978, which called for strengthening the force, and on every renewal resolution for UNIFIL through 1985. In 1986, it started voting for the renewal, citing a request from the Lebanese government and UNIFIL’s role in restoring the territorial integrity of Lebanon. Moscow has favoured UNDOF consistently, as well as the periodic renewals of UNEF II until the final one, a month after the Camp David Accords (resolution 438 of 1978), on which it abstained.

The only permanent member to have voted for every peacekeeping mission or renewal in the Middle East has been the United States. However this record only tells part of the story. As recently as November 2006, the US vetoed a draft resolution (S/2006/878) in part because it envisaged a UN observer presence on the ground in Gaza. Moreover, the prospect of a US veto has been the factor which on several occasions has dissuaded Council members from putting language in resolutions or statements which might lead to UN monitoring or peacekeeping roles in the West Bank and Gaza. Examples include the shelving in May 2007 of an Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) request for an observer mission (S/2007/309) and a request from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) for a mission comprising Council members in March 2007 (S/2007/146).

The five peace operations have also lacked robust mandates. They were deployed on the basis of consent of the member states on whose territory they have operated. Though Chapter VII mandates have become more common in recent years, this was not the practice during the cold war era, when the five missions were first launched. Therefore, it should not be assumed that the Council carefully weighed its options in terms of choosing to act under Chapter VI rather than VII, since the latter was not thought in those days to be appropriate for the mandate of a traditional peacekeeping operation. The authorising resolutions, again in keeping with what was then normal practice (and reflecting emerging cold war realities), generally proceeded on the basis that peacekeeping units were not to be drawn from any of the five permanent members. (Individual military observers, however, were sometimes the exception to this rule.) In assessing the effectiveness of these operations in preventing or deterring conflict in the Middle East, it should be borne in mind that they had Chapter VI mandates, were largely populated with units from medium or small powers, and (until the reinforced UNIFIL in 2006) were deliberately given limited arms and cautious guidance regarding the exercise of rules of engagement.

The fact that the deployment of the UN’s blue helmets in the region has always followed the outbreak of conflict, rather than anticipating it, suggests that their potential as a preventive measure was never directly tested. Indeed, it was not until Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali’s Agenda for Peace report in 1992 that the concept of preventive deployments of peacekeeping forces was really articulated. UNTSO was established to help monitor steps towards a cessation of hostilities, but it was not designed, deployed, or equipped to form a barrier between potentially hostile forces. UNEF I followed the 1956 war but was withdrawn, following military and political pressure from Egypt, on the eve of the 1967 war. No replacement force was established in its wake, so none was on the ground in 1973. After that war, and in response to that lesson, UNEF II was deployed and it helped keep the peace until its mandate was allowed to lapse in July 1979 with the Camp David agreement and peace between Egypt and Israel.

UNIFIL I was deployed in southern Lebanon in 1978 to monitor and verify the withdrawal of Israeli forces, restore international peace and security, and assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area. However, its effectiveness was severely challenged by the fact that it also had to deal with non-state actors—both Palestinian and local. Though it was able to verify the pullback of Israeli forces, eliminating the security problems generated by the non-state actors that had prompted the Israeli invasion in the first place was never within its capability as a Chapter VI operation. Armed groups, some allied to Israel (the South Lebanese Army) but most hostile to it (Hezbollah and the secular Lebanese Resistance National Front), continued to operate from bases in southern Lebanon. Though a UN-brokered July 1981 ceasefire initially seemed to be taking hold, worsening tensions and escalating violence between Israel and the PLO preceded a second Israeli invasion in June 1982. This was the first occasion—despite the decades of regional insecurity and tension—on which the armed forces of one of the countries in the region overran a standing UN peacekeeping force. (As discussed below, a second such instance occurred on this same front in 2006.) Israel retained its presence over a “security zone” in south Lebanon until 2000. Tensions and fighting with Hezbollah, which claimed to be leading a liberation war against the Israeli occupier, peaked in 1993.

  • These experiences illustrate the fourth and fifth observations: that standing, inter-positional UN forces have had greater success in discouraging inter-state conflict than has the smaller, mobile UNTSO monitoring mission; and
  • that even the standing forces have found it difficult to curb non-state armed groups, especially in places, like southern Lebanon, where government authority has not always been well established.

Similar conclusions could be drawn from UN peace operations in other parts of the world. Challenges to security often stem from the relationships (or lack thereof) between states and non-state actors. And in the Middle East the difficulty in establishing an effective international framework for bridging political differences seems to have been an enduring reason for the continuation of the situation. For many Council members this has been evidence of the fact that there is only so much that peacekeepers can do.

Finally, the precipitate withdrawal of the UNEF I force from the Sinai and Gaza on the eve of the 1967 war provides a reminder of the potential vulnerability of peacekeeping. Secretary-General U Thant contended that he had little choice but to accede to this demand from President Nasser of Egypt, given that this was a consent-based Chapter VI operation and that Egyptian forces were moving forward in any case. His critics, and there were many, especially in the West and Israel, countered that he should have at least first employed his article 99 powers to bring this matter to the attention of the Security Council and/or the General Assembly, which had authorised the mission. Despite the legal justification for U Thant’s choice, there is little doubt that the reputation of the UN, its Secretary-General, and its peacekeeping efforts were damaged by this episode.

One of the reasons the Council has turned to more robust missions in other parts of the world since the end of the cold war, including Chapter VII mandates and contingents from some of the permanent members, has been to avoid the kind of dilemma faced by U Thant in 1967. That case also suggested that preventive deployments would be more credible if backed by a Chapter VII mandate that is not entirely consent dependent or if deployed on both sides of a disputed border, so that they could not be removed by a change of heart on just one side. In that regard, as explained in section 5 of this report—contrary to much conventional wisdom—the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel did not exclude the possibility of retaining a UN peacekeeping force between their front lines, despite their unhappy experience in 1967. Indeed, it actually envisaged such a force. The fact that it proved impossible for the Council to agree on and establish such a force was due to cold war politics. In the end the Multinational Force and Observers command was established instead.

The parties, as well as the UN, may have learned some lessons from the UNEF I and UNIFIL experiences. Both sides incurred heightened risks and costs from the premature removal of the UNEF forces in 1967. It would appear that a unilateral demand for the withdrawal of an international buffer force may actually increase the incentive for the other side to launch a pre-emptive attack, as happened in 1967. However, as events in Lebanon in 1978 proved, it can never be assumed that a peacekeeping force will always deter an attack. In that case the Israeli army simply rolled over UN positions.

The UNIFIL example also suggests, however, that states may sometimes be tempted to overrun peacekeepers where it is perceived (whether reasonably or not) that the peacekeepers have proved ineffective in constraining provocative actions by non-state actors on the other side of the line of demarcation. That case underlines the risks of deploying missions that lack the mandate and/or capacity or associated resources for political reconciliation to effectively influence the situation on the ground. Blue helmets in such circumstances can lose the perception that they are a neutral stabilising factor. In the face of continuing attacks and threats to civilian populations the willingness to respect a UN force may erode—putting peacekeepers at serious risk when subsequent military action occurs.

The Lebanon war in 2006 demonstrated some of these problems. The origins of this latest round of fighting were familiar. Though Israeli forces withdrew from South Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah continued to argue that resort to violence was justified in light of its claim that Israeli occupation continued because of the dispute over the Sheb’a Farms, a small piece of territory along the Syrian-Lebanese border. (The Security Council had previously recognised this land as Syrian—S/PRST/2000/21 of 18 June 2000—endorsing the Secretary-General’s conclusions that Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon in accordance with resolution 425.)

In 2006, the crisis was multifaceted. On 25 June, Hamas gunmen from Gaza attacked an Israeli military unit, killing two Israeli soldiers and kidnapping a third. On 12 July, mimicking the Hamas action, Hezbollah fighters crossed into northern Israel, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing twoothers. The Israeli response was massive. Sustained air attacks were launched on Hezbollah targets throughout Lebanon, including in densely populated urban areas. Beirut airport and other elements of Lebanese infrastructure were also attacked. Substantial civilian casualties were inflicted and a major ground campaign followed. A major humanitarian crisis ensued. Hezbollah fired rockets into population centres in northern Israel, also inflicting civilian casualties. Four UNIFIL military observers were killed during the fighting when Israeli aircraft struck their outpost, possibly when attacking nearby Hezbollah positions. The Council responded with a presidential statement (S/PRST/2006/34) initiated by China, as Chinese nationals were among the casualties. But there was no other Council action regarding the fighting until almost a month after the hostilities commenced.

Not only was UNFIL ill-equipped to deter or prevent the original incursion, it could do nothing about the air attacks and missile firings from both sides that followed, resulting in substantial civilian casualties. Ultimately Israel, chastened by international public opinion over the severity of the civilian losses, but probably also due to its inability to force a decisive military outcome, accepted that the Council should act and that reinforcing UNIFIL was the only viable formula for ending the conflict. Most members of the Council had favoured calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire at a much earlier stage, but the United States and United Kingdom contended that it would be better to wait.

In several respects, resolution 1701 on Lebanon was path breaking. As noted earlier, it was the first time that the Council achieved unanimity on the mandate for an essentially new peacekeeping mission in the Middle East. Though not explicitly invoking Chapter VII, the resolution articulates the most robust role to date in a Middle East operation. Operative paragraph 12 authorises UNIFIL II “to take all necessary action” to protect its mission, personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, and humanitarian workers, as well as “civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” It is to assist Lebanese government forces in establishing an area on the border free of “armed personnel, assets and weapons” other than those of the government. To accomplish these tasks, the UN troops were to be expanded six-fold, up to 15,000, the level of forces the Lebanese government also committed to deploying in the south to re-establish its authority there. And the 1701 regime was explicitly backed by various sanctions measures.

The perceived urgency of the deployments and the leading role played by Italy, France, and other European countries as initial troop contributors resulted in additional innovations including a major naval component. A new “strategic cell” was established within the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, comprising a score of personnel from the troop-contributing countries to reinforce the chain of command between the forces and New York headquarters.

Despite Lebanon now having the largest presence of peacekeepers per square mile in the world, Israel continues to express doubts about the effectiveness of the force. Its aircraft repeatedly cross the Blue Line in violation of resolution 1701 (justified by Israel as a necessary measure because of the continued arms smuggling and until the abducted Israeli soldiers are returned and until all militias in the south are disarmed), and there are even reports of a general re-arming of all militias in Lebanon (S/2007/262 of 7 May 2007).

In terms of its size and military capacity UNIFIL is an exceptional peacekeeping operation at the very robust end of the spectrum. It is also exceptional, in this day and age, in terms of the political delicacy and ambiguity in its mandate. Its presence seems to have been effective—at least in terms of the expectations of the Council members who drafted resolution 1701. The parties complain, but peace has been preserved and space preserved for political solutions. top

10. Conclusions
For all the parties in the Middle East, the issues discussed here are literally matters of life and death. It is never easy for the Council to decisively influence events on the ground when the protagonists consider that fundamental political and security issues are at stake. The history of the Council’s involvement over the past sixty years shows that nowhere is that more true than in the Middle East.

A second reality is that the Council’s reputation in the Middle East has been affected by the recurrent perception on both sides that it has often lacked balance in its approach to these issues.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the positions of the permanent members of the Security Council, while often divergent, have nevertheless permitted the Council to take some very important decisions. As we have seen in 1948, only one of the ten resolutions under Chapter VI concerning the war was approved unanimously and the single Chapter VII resolution passed with the bare minimum of seven assents of the eleven possible votes. Over the years, none of the five peacekeeping missions were initially authorised with the endorsement of all of the permanent members. [5]

History seems to show that consensus, while always desirable, is not a necessary condition for useful Council action. Indeed, if unanimity in the Council had been a prerequisite its engagement on the Middle East would have been essentially non-existent rather than episodic. Instead, the foregoing history suggests that at certain key turning points the permanent members of the Council have found opportunities, despite their distinctive approaches to the region, to move forward resolution of longstanding conflicts in the region. Conditions on the ground, though often unfavourable, are seldom static. Likewise, the politics within the Council also tend to be dynamic and case specific. And it seems that external crises can also play a role. It hardly seems a coincidence that the breakthrough in 1990 with the unanimous presidential statement came at a time of crisis nearby—Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait and the Gulf War loomed. Resolution 1397 in 2002 came at a time of crisis in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

On the other hand, the Council has not managed to play a productive role in the region at any point without the willingness of all the P5 to at least acquiesce. (The sad tale of resolution 344 in 1973 and the decision, adopted by the ten elected members in the face of collective P5 abstentions is an important lesson.)

History also shows the critical importance of the US role. The US has shown, because of its close ties with Israel, that it is willing to block decisions and is the only permanent member to have vetoed a draft resolution on the Middle East since the end of the cold war, something it has done thirteen times since 1990. On the other hand it has also demonstrated, both on the merits and at times when its own wider interests were engaged, that it is clearly willing to support outcomes in the Security Council.

While the pursuit of common ground among the five permanent members of the Council remains a difficult, though not impossible, quest, the non-permanent members are also sometimes divided. And any one of them can block the adoption of a presidential statement—while the consent of at least four of them is required to achieve the nine positive votes needed to adopt a resolution even if it is favoured by all five permanent members.

The role of UN military forces in the region was historically very significant—especially in the period of state to state conflict. However, especially during the phase in which non-state actors have played key roles in the violence, both Israel and the US have been reluctant to agree to any new UN role. Accordingly, until the expansion of UNIFIL in 2006, it had been almost three decades since the Council last authorised a peace operation in the Middle East. But in the last decade the UN has learned a lot about peace operations and especially about conducting operations in environments involving non-state actors. Indeed, that has become the norm as have operations involving much more robust, assertive, mobile, flexible, and intrusive capability than tended to be the case during the cold war. In some respects, therefore, resolution 1701 of 2006 and the expanded UNIFIL while they reflect a major departure from past practice in the Middle East, are actually in line with developments in the wider UN peacekeeping doctrine. The unanimity of the authorisation vote, the size of the force, and its relatively robust mandate are unprecedented for this part of the world. All the local parties, moreover, welcomed its deployment. Though its success is far from assured, its advent may offer some room for forward thinking.

Past peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East have lacked a second component now seen as essential in more modern forms of peace operations: a parallel integrated and dedicated component for peacebuilding. Such programmes seek to facilitate the development of political, economic, and social conditions conducive to the peaceful resolution, over time, of underlying differences and disputes. The combination of robust peace enforcement and broad-based peacebuilding has proven helpful in some challenging environments, from Africa to the Balkans. It may be therefore that with the advent and the availability of a growing lessons-learned and best practices capacity a wider range of possible models for peace operations in the region may be available than had previously been appreciated.

Council doctrine and practice are evolving in another way that could be helpful in finding the way toward peace in the Middle East. Its relatively recent interest in contributing to multilateral strategies for countering terrorism and the Council’s numerous counter-terrorism resolutions may go some way to diminishing concerns about even handedness. As chronicled above, the Council has managed to approve, by large margins, a string of resolutions and presidential statements condemning violence and terrorism in the region and, in some cases, acknowledging the victims on both sides of the conflict. During the 1990s, it mandated a series of sanctions regimes against states or regimes alleged to have aided and abetted terrorist groups. State support for terrorism, in part as a result, seems to have ebbed somewhat, though it remains a serious, if less visible, problem. Since 2001, the Council has made significant contributions to the development of counter-terrorism norms, has established a series of committees, working groups, and layers of experts and professional staff to address different aspects of this struggle, and employed a range of new tools, such as capacity-building, reporting, monitoring, and lessons-learned exercises. In 2007, therefore, it is no longer so easy to criticise the Council’s track record in this area.

The history of the Council’s involvement in the Middle East described in this report seems to suggest that its failure to help in the Middle East at certain junctures has not precluded its potential for constructive engagement at other points, sometimes when least expected. The appearance of randomness in its ability to take action seems to reflect its tendency to react well when the political constellations happen to be aligned. This was true in resolutions 242 and 338, in the presidential statement in December 1990 and again in 2002 in resolution 1397. And resolution 1701 on Lebanon in 2006, while it came only after agonisingly long delays, came at a point when both Israel and the US could see that a UN role—both a Council resolution and a presence on the ground—would help to extricate them from an even more dangerous alternative.


  • [1] The Arab League summit that took place in Riyadh in March of 2007 reaffirmed the Arab Peace Initiative first adopted in 2002; see below the chronology and http://www.al-bab.com/arab/docs/league/peace02.htm

    [2] The number of Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA in Lebanon is currently 409,714, or an estimated 10 percent of the population of Lebanon.

    [3] Since this analysis focuses on the UN peace operations most directly related to the Middle East peace process, the observer missions in Lebanon (UNOGIL in 1958) and in Yemen (UNYOM in 1963-64) are not included.

    [4] Voting on each operative paragraph was a relatively common practice in the Council’s early years, particularly when dealing with controversial and nuanced issues. Unlike current practice, Council members would often debate alternative wordings for key paragraphs in open session.

    [5] As noted above, the only unanimous vote was for the expansion of the UNIFIL force in Lebanon in 1701 (2006).

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