On Thursday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Russia's resolution on the Road Map plan for the Middle East settlement.
The resolution now gives the Road Map international legal status, which is crucial.
The Road Map was made public in spring 2003 by the Middle East quartet of international mediators, i.e. Russia, the US, EU and the UN, and was subsequently accepted by the Palestinians and Israelis, although with some reservations. The main problem was that the latter did not assume any official obligations to implement the plan. Only after the UN Security Council adopted the Road Map resolution did it acquire the status of an official and binding document, says Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov. So now the sides' failure to meet their obligations can theoretically be followed by appropriate sanctions.
The Palestinians hailed the UN resolution, but the Israelis remained unhappy, as they are essentially opposed to international mediation, believing that the matter should be solved by the conflicting sides alone. At the same time, this does not stop Israel from turning to the US and Russia when it wants to influence or exert pressure on the Palestinians. Therefore, international mediation is not that pointless, though undoubtedly no resolutions can help until the Israelis and Palestinians find a compromise themselves.
However, the new status of the Road Map does not yet mean that the conflicting sides will comply with it unconditionally. The UN Security Council's resolutions have been repeatedly violated or defied, including by the Palestinians and Israelis alike. Having said that, time has shown that diplomats were right and the conflicting sides eventually realised they had to stick to international documents. This was the case with Resolution 242 adopted in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and Resolution 425 on Lebanon, as well as other UN Security Council resolutions related to the Middle East. Certainly, far from all of them have been fully implemented, but they have definitely played their role in moderating the conflicting sides' positions. Once, an Israel at peace with Egypt and Jordan looked unrealistic, as did the formation of the Palestinian National Authority. Nor did the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon seem a likely prospect. Today all this is reality. Accordingly, diplomats are ready to wait, although a long delay will only increase the death toll.
The latest UN Security Council session agreed that both sides should fulfil their commitments. US President George W. Bush insisted on this in London yesterday. He was tough when it came to expressing the international community's position: Israel should freeze its settlement policy, put an end to daily humiliation of the Palestinian people and stop building walls and fences leading to biased opinions about the final negotiations. The US leader called on the Palestinians to use peaceful means when dealing with Israel.
So far there is an impression that Mr Bush's demands added to UN pressure have had little effect on the conflicting sides. Israel's deputy ambassador to the UN, Arye Mekel, has pointed to the need for backing up words with action and expressed his hope that the Palestinians would eventually eliminate the terrorist infrastructure on their territory. Palestinian Minister Saib Uraiqat has remarked that the security fence built by Israel is stalling peace negotiations. In other words, both sides once again prefer referring to each other's faults rather than their own.
On the other hand, bilateral talks might be more effective than these public statements. For example, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is due to meet his Palestinian counterpart Ahmed Qurei next week. The sides would hardly be meeting if they were going to engage in mutual muckraking. And this is the paradox of Middle East policy: leaders condemn each other in public and meet each other halfway behind the scenes, thereby completely misleading the public.
Marianna Belenkaya, RIAN