The U.N. Security Council is preparing to vote on a resolution Tuesday that would put the world body on record as supporting the U.S.-backed Annapolis peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Major powers of the international Quartet on the Middle East discussed the pending resolution Monday at the United Nations in New York.
The parties have not met the goal set at last year's Annapolis conference for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord by the end of this year. But supporters of the talks including Quartet members are claiming significant progress, which they hope to sustain with the Security Council resolution that is expected to receive overwhelming support on Tuesday.
The Quartet, which includes the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, held a ministerial level meeting at U.N. headquarters on the eve of the special Security Council session on the Middle East.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - who has made nine trips to the region this year to advance negotiations spawned by the Annapolis meeting - said the process is by no means a failure, despite the lack of an agreement.
"They won't achieve agreement by the end of the year," she said. "But they have achieved a good deal of progress in their negotiations, a good deal of progress in the work that is being done on the ground. And I would just remind you that this is the first time in almost a decade that Palestinians and Israelis are addressing all of the core issues in a comprehensive way to try to get to a solution. And if that process takes a little bit longer, so be it."
The Security Council resolution is the product of close cooperation between the United States and Russia - despite their recent disputes over Georgia, European missile defense and other issues.
Appearing with Rice at the Quartet press event, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the resolution is not an attempt to paper over unresolved problems in the peace process such as Israeli settlement policy or the blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
"The main thing is that we have this draft resolution that - together with our U.S. colleagues - we have tabled in the Security Council," he said. "And this lays out the continuance of the process. If you see the text, you would see that in no way does this have to do with superseding the primary goal, which is the coexistence of two states - Palestine and Israel - in peace, stability and security. This resolution does not change anything here. On the contrary it is aimed at continuing our joint efforts and implementing them."
If approved, the resolution would be the first by the Security Council on the Middle East conflict since 2003, when it endorsed the Quartet's "Road Map" to a two-state settlement.
The measure is assured of approval, but possibly not by the unanimous 15 to nothing vote sought by its sponsors. Libya, the only current Arab member of the Council, has indicated it might vote against the measure, arguing that Israeli settlement-building and other policies of concern to Arabs should be specifically mentioned.
Instead, the draft urges both sides to refrain from steps that could undermine confidence or prejudice the outcome of negotiations.
To try to assuage Arab concerns, Rice, Lavrov and other Quartet officials met late Monday with Arab League ambassadors. They stressed their support for an eventual comprehensive peace between Israel and Arab states based on the Arab League's 2002 peace initiative.
In a written statement, the Quartet called the negotiating process launched at Annapolis, Maryland "irreversible" and said it should be intensified. It reiterated support for Egyptian efforts to calm the situation in Gaza and urged an end to "indiscriminate" rocket attacks from Gaza while calling on Israel to allow a continuous flow of supplies into the besieged area.
It reiterated past calls on Israel to freeze settlement activity and said Israel should address the "growing threat" of settler extremism.