UN Ambassador Richardson - Speech on Israeli Settlements; April 25, 1997

Mr. President, twice in the Security Council and once in this Assembly, I have made clear my Government's view of Israel's decision to begin construction at Har Homa/Jebel Abu Ghneim: it is unhelpful to the peace process. On those occasions, I voted against the resolutions tabled because the United States did not believe that they would have advanced the peace process. Today, as a co-sponsor of that process, the United States urges members of this Assembly to vote against the resolution before us, which we believe will actually make harder the difficult task before us: rebuilding confidence between the parties and reactivating a productive negotiation process.

Let me repeat at the outset that my government shares the concerns expressed here and in the Security Council about the decision of the Israeli Government to begin construction at this site. As President Clinton said last month, we would have preferred that this decision had not been made. It undermines the trust and confidence so badly needed in creating the appropriate environment for successful negotiations, especially on the difficult issues involved in the permanent status talks.

The achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East requires an honest negotiating process. The parties must take special care to avoid preemptive actions that can be seen to prejudge the outcome of negotiations, while working hard to nurture an atmosphere of trust and confidence that will make productive negotiations possible.

The decision on Har Homa/Jebel Abu Ghneim did just the opposite. We regret that it was taken.

However, our responsibility as a co-sponsor of the peace process requires us to tell our friends in the United Nations frankly: the Security Council and the General Assembly should not insert themselves into issues that the negotiating partners have decided will be addressed in their permanent status talks. This can only harden the positions of both sides, and make their work even more difficult. It will add to existing tensions in the region, complicate the efforts of all parties to get the negotiations back on a productive track, and distract attention from the main objective: making progress toward a peaceful, prosperous Middle East. Such progress is the shared goal of most of us in this chamber. However, the resolution now before the General Assembly will fail to help achieve that goal. It is harmful to the prospects for revitalizing the Middle East peace process. The call made by some speakers yesterday for collective action against a member state is inconsistent with the responsibilities of this Assembly and dangerous for the credibility of the United Nations.

In addition, the resolution contains language that tends to prejudge certain permanent status issues, such as Jerusalem. We believe such phrases are inappropriate, argumentative, and unhelpful to the peace process. We will continue to oppose inclusion of such language in resolutions of the General Assembly and the Security Council.

Finally, we believe this resolution presents a problem that goes beyond the threat it poses to the Middle East peace process, and that is the threat it poses to the orderly conduct of the business of the United Nations. We believe that this resolution clearly infringes on the authority of the Security Council. By moving in the direction of endorsement of collective action directed against one of its member states, it sets a dangerous precedent, which could in the future be turned against any member state.

Mr. President, the United Nations can and has played an important part in supporting the Middle East peace process. This is the right and proper role for the U.N. to play. It requires creative thinking about what we can all do to move the process forward, especially at times of crisis. Certainly, it requires at the very least that we do nothing to place new obstacles in the path to peace; this means, in particular, that we must make every effort to avoid falling back on the punitive, accusatory, backward-looking formulations of resolutions past. Regrettably, the resolution now before us fails to do this, at great cost not only to the parties involved in the talks, but to the credibility of the United Nations itself as a supporter of peace in the Middle East.

It is clear to us that this resolution would have the opposite effect of its advertised intent. Threats of economic boycott, condemnation and harsh rhetoric will only serve to erode the vital trust, confidence and quiet diplomatic efforts that are needed if the peace process is to begin moving forward again. That is why the United States will vote against this resolution. Each vote in favor of this resolution adds to the difficulty of reaching a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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