The Hammer and Tongs behind the Hugs of Annapolis
No one at UN headquarters in New York remembers a case of a draft resolution being abruptly withdrawn hours before a UN Security Council session was scheduled to approve it. This is what happened to a US draft that would have endorsed President Bush’s announcement three days earlier at the Annapolis Middle East conference of Israeli and Palestinian consent to work toward a settlement of their conflict before the end of 2008.
The Council had been called into closed session Thursday night, Nov. 30 to endorse the Annapolis declaration. The text was buried hastily in an undignified scramble by the Bush administration after two days of sharp words between the White House and prime minister Ehud Olmert and his threat not to turn up for talks with the Palestinians.
This incident led also to the first real falling-out between President George W. Bush and his secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. He blamed her for seeking to bolster the Annapolis declaration by Security Council endorsement, thereby exposing the hyped-up event to the world as a charade and his own declaration as too flimsy to stand up.
The head of the Israeli mission, Danny Gillerman, denied being fully briefed on the American text – a diplomatic figure of speech which applies equally to the situation of the Israeli delegation at the Middle East conference in Annapolis and since. But as soon as the Israeli ambassador heard that Khalilzad had obtained the consent of the five permanent members of the Security Council to a closed session for approving the US draft, he urgently alerted Olmert and Livni in Jerusalem.
Gillerman warned them that a closed session means that neither Israel nor the Palestinians would be present or given a hearing. And that was not the only undesirable aspect:
1. The Arab side, which is represented by Qatar, would use the opportunity to augment the Annapolis declaration with additional clauses detrimental to Israel, and possibly win US assent.
2. Security Council endorsement would obligate Israel and the Palestinians to bring negotiations to a conclusion by the end of 2008, less than a year hence, as demanded by Saudi Arabia. Either side could face being found in violation of a UN resolution.
3. The Security Council would become the overseer of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process with authority to reconvene and weigh up progress. In other words, the bilateral Israel-Palestinian conflict would be relegated to international authority. Israel has always resisted this since the odds in the world body are traditionally weighted against the Jewish state.
Ambassador Gillerman alerted the Israeli prime minister and foreign minister to the short distance from UN sponsorship of the process to the dispatch of international troops to the region as a buffer between Israel’s counter-terror forces and the Palestinian terrorists ruling the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
In the Israeli ambassador’s opinion, the US initiative to bring the world body in as a party to the Annapolis declaration originated with Secretary Rice. She sought to punish Israel for not following her lead at the conference. He pointed out that the application to the UN directly contravened Rice’s own accords with the Israeli foreign minister.
Gillerman’s heads-up to Jerusalem sparked an urgent series of phone calls between the prime minister’s office and the White House. Olmert made no bones about threatening to pull out of the entire diplomatic track charted at Annapolis if the Security Council were to be brought in over its head.
After 36 hours of hammer and tongs, US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, was instructed to call off the Council session and withdraw the text.
But recriminations on the American side for an unprecedented loss of face were just as bitter.
The White House accused state department officials of egging Rice on to circumvent the agreements Bush and Olmert had concluded and running off half-cocked to the world body in a manner which left the administration red-faced.
Khalilzad was urgently recalled to Washington. When State Department officials pushed the blame for the shambles on him, accusing him of drafting the Security Council resolution without consulting the secretary of state, the US ambassador’s aides shot back with a strong denial.
This incident also brought to the surface the frustrations experienced by Israel’s delegation to the Annapolis conference, debkafile‘s political sources report.
US officials consistently neglected to inform Olmert or foreign and defense ministers Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak of steps pre-coordinated with the Palestinians and Arab ministers, presenting them as accomplished facts. When Israeli leaders flew out of Washington Wednesday night, Nov. 28, none had yet been informed that the White House had named Ret. Gen. James Jones to chair the “US-Israel-Palestinian mechanism” accompanying the Palestinian-Israel talks. When they read about it in the media, Olmert protested the general’s role, and it was downgraded to liaison officer.
Neither did the Americans bother to inform Israel about consultations with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for a follow-up conference in Moscow at the beginning of 2008. There, Israel will be required to agree to the return of the Golan to Syria.