Over strong Israeli and U.S. objections, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution Thursday affirming the Palestinians’ right to sovereignty over the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
The decision came during intense negotiations that brought European Union countries on board for a final vote of 140-6, with 11 abstentions.
The Palestinians pressed for the resolution after President Bush’s assurances to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last month that Israel could retain some Jewish settlements on the West Bank and limit Palestinian refugee returns in a final peace deal.
Israel insisted that borders and refugees are so-called “final status” issues to be determined in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians — and that the letters exchanged by Bush and Sharon did not abandon these negotiations.
The vote came two days after the architects of the “road map” peace plan — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — reiterated that final status issues must be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.
Calling the resolution “inappropriate and ill-timed,” U.S. deputy ambassador James Cunningham said it “will detract from and not enhance efforts for peace.” He stressed that at Tuesday’s meeting, the so-called Quartet stated that “no party should seek to take unilateral actions.”
But Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, said the Sharon-Bush letters violated international law and represented “an attempt to confer legitimacy on some of Israel’s illegal settlements” and negate the rights of Palestinian refugees.
“The issue is the land and the military occupation of that land for nearly 37 years,” he said. “It is about Israel’s refusal to end this occupation and refusal to adhere to international law.”
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman countered that the resolution “presumes to have the assembly, a political body, ‘determine’ the disputed legal status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the legitimacy of conflicting claims, to the benefit of one party to the conflict, and outside the agreed negotiating process.”
Noting that the many General Assembly resolutions have done nothing to advance peace, Gillerman said the world body should look for constructive ways to encourage the parties to move toward implementation of the road map.
“It is time to tell the Palestinians — enough is enough! Stop the killings. Stop the terror. Do what you have to do to clean house, and stop abusing our time and the U.N.’s limited resources that ignore the genuine suffering on both sides and instead promote initiatives of trivial pursuit.”
The resolution — a reflection of international opinion but not legally binding — affirms in accordance with U.N. resolutions and principles of international law “that the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination and to sovereignty over their territory.”
It put the General Assembly on record as affirming “that the status of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, remains one of military occupation.”
In the final text, language that Israel “has no sovereignty over any part of this territory” was dropped and replaced with “has only the duties and obligations of an occupying power.”
The resolution also expressed the assembly’s “determination to contribute to the achievement of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and the attainment of a just and comprehensive negotiated peace settlement in the Middle East resulting in two viable, sovereign and independent states, Israel and Palestine, based on its pre-1967 borders.”
The Palestinians wanted the General Assembly to reaffirm past Security Council resolutions and their right to all occupied territory, diplomats had said.