[Published 30 August 2011]
The horrendous news of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Nigeria’s capital - Abuja - reportedly by a radical Islamist group - killing at least 19 people and wounding more than 60 other persons - has been rightly described by the United Nations Security Council as a “heinous crime”.
This is not the first time the UN has been deliberately targeted in the past decade by those who contemptuously dismiss the rule of law as the basic source governing relationships between people and states.
Seventeen U.N. civilian staff members were killed along with dozens of others in two terrorist car bombings that targeted U.N. and other premises in Algiers on December 11, 2007. The Abuja bombing came just days after the U.N. marked the eighth anniversary of the August 19, 2003 bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad that killed 15 U.N. staff including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello and seven others.
The UN faces another particularly testing time in September as member states are forced to publicly declare their stance on a resolution calling for the recognition of Palestine as an independent and sovereign State.
If such a resolution seeks to determine the sovereignty of the West Bank and Gaza - then this would amount to a total abrogation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 adopted unanimously on November 22, 1967.
Resolution 242 has underpinned all Arab-Israeli diplomacy for more than 30 years. Every major Arab-Israeli agreement refers to Resolution 242 starting from the 1979 Egyptian - Israeli Treaty of Peace.
The aim of the negotiations to be conducted by Israel with the Palestinian Authority under the 1993 Declaration Of Principles were intended to lead:
“to a permanent settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). It is understood that the interim arrangements are an integral part of the whole peace process and that the negotiations on the permanent status will lead to the implementation of Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973)".The Bush Roadmap - endorsed by America, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations itself also called for a settlement to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the following terms:
“A settlement, negotiated between the parties, will result in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours.
The settlement will resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and end the occupation that began in 1967, based on the foundations of the Madrid Conference, the principle of land for peace,UNSCRs 242, 338 and 1397, agreements previously reached by the parties, and the initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah - endorsed by the Beirut Arab League Summit - calling for acceptance of Israel as a neighbour living in peace and security,in the context of a comprehensive settlement.“
Israel, however, did not accept this provision and conditioned its acceptance of the Roadmap on:
“The removal of references other than 242 and 338 (1397, the Saudi Initiative and the Arab Initiative adopted in Beirut). A settlement based upon the road map will be an autonomous settlement that derives its validity therefrom. The only possible reference should be to Resolutions 242 and 338, and then only as an outline for the conduct of future negotiations on a permanent settlement.“
In a statement to the General Assembly on 15 October 1968, the PLO rejected Resolution 242, saying:
“the implementation of said resolution will lead to the loss of every hope for the establishment of peace and security in Palestine and the Middle East region”
In September 1993, the PLO agreed that Resolution 242 should be the basis for negotiations with Israel when it signed the Declaration of Principles.
Resolution 242 is therefore the lynch pin that legally binds, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and all members of the United Nations in the quest to resolve the Arab- Israeli conflict.
The Security Council,
Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East,
Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,
Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter,
Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:
Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;
Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement 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;
Affirms further the necessity
For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;
For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;
For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;
Requests the Secretary General to designate a Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East 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 in this resolution;
Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on the progress of the efforts of the Special Representative as soon as possible.
Adopted unanimously at the 1382nd meeting.
The main points to note concerning Resolution 242 were detailed by Dr Meir Rosenne - former legal advisor to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Member of the Israeli delegation to Camp David and a former Ambassador to France and the United States - in the following terms:
1. The USSR proposed on November 20, 1967, to include a clause requiring Israel to withdraw to the pre-war lines of June 5, 1967, but this language was rejected.
2. After Resolution 242 was adopted, the Soviet deputy foreign minister admitted:
“There is certainly much leeway for different interpretations that retain for Israel the right to establish new boundaries and to withdraw its troops only so far as the lines it judges convenient.”
3. Resolution 242 is not self-enforcing; Israel is not expected to unilaterally withdraw from territories to fulfill its terms. It requires direct negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
4. According to Resolution 242, there is no Israeli obligation to withdraw prior to the achievement of a comprehensive peace. Nor is there any requirement of Israel to withdraw fully from the territories it captured in 1967.
5. There is no reference to a Palestinian “right of return” in Resolution 242.
Additionally Article XXX1 (7) of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip signed in Washington, D.C. on September 28, 1995 provides:
“Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations”
Should any UN Resolution by either the General Assembly or the Security Council attempt to circumvent direct negotiations as called for in Resolution 242 (and reinforced by the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap) - then the United Nations could find its authority and integrity irreparably and irretrievably damaged.
The UN would in such case be entering uncharted waters. It would be solely responsible for the consequences of its decision and open the floodgates for member States to ignore any other UN Security Council resolutions with impunity in the future.
Any such decision will be eagerly seized on as precedent by those who seek to undermine the rule of law and pursue the path of lawlessness.
The 193 members of the UN are soon to face the music in being asked to decide whether to throw Resolution 242 to the wind or stick to the written score.
Hopefully they make the right choice.