U.N., U.S. Endorse Palestinian State

The Palestinians should have a state of their own, the U.N. Security Council announced Tuesday night, approving a U.S. measure that also calls for an immediate cease-fire in the bloody and escalating Israeli-Palestinian battles.

The resolution, the first the United States has introduced since the latest bloodshed began in September 2000, came hours after Syria tabled a Palestinian-backed resolution. The U.S. measure won support from 14 of the 15 council members, with Syria abstaining.

The Security Council has adopted a number of resolutions over the years calling for Mideast peace, but none had referred to the contentious issue of a Palestinian state. But President Bush and other administration leaders recently called for a Palestinian state as have other nations.

The measure calls for an immediate cessation of violence and a resumption of negotiations. It also encourages a Saudi Arabian peace initiative and diplomatic efforts by U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni and others.

In last minute negotiations, U.S. officials added a sentence "affirming a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side-by-side within secure and recognized borders."

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte described the document as "a strong resolution on the Middle East," capturing a broad consensus on the goals and next steps in the peace process and speaking out strongly against terrorism.

"Our intent in doing this was to give an impulse to peace efforts and to decry violence and terror," he said after the vote.

Speaking on behalf of Arab nations, Syria's U.N. Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe labeled it "very weak," saying it doesn't deal with the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "the question of the Israeli occupation."

Syria abstained, rather that voting against the resolution, "to send a message" and not break the unity of the council, Wehbe said.

Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Palestinian U.N. observer, called the resolution important and welcomed the council's first reference to two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side. Even though the Palestinians didn't support everything in the U.S. text, he indicated if he had a vote he would have approved it.

For once, Israel's U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry said he could welcome a "balanced" Security Council resolution on the Mideast, which he called "a rare and remarkable" occurrence.

The Syrian draft, also calling for talks and and end to the violence, referred to Israel as "the occupying power" and called for it to abide by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the protection of civilians during occupation. Israel claims the land is disputed, not occupied, and maintains the convention does not apply.

Since renewed Mideast violence erupted in September 2000, the United States has thwarted every effort by the Palestinians to get the Security Council to adopt a resolution that would condemn Israeli actions.

The United States abstained in the only council resolution that was approved. In October 2000, council members condemned the "excessive use of force" against Palestinians and backed an objective investigation into the violence.

The Security Council early Tuesday listened to Secretary-General Kofi Annan deliver his toughest statement on the Middle East.

He urged Palestinians to halt "morally repugnant" acts of terror and suicide bombings and Israelis to end their "illegal occupation" of Palestinian territory and stop using excessive force.

Calling the current fighting the worst in a decade, Annan welcomed the U.S. decision to send Zinni back to the region and urged Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to back his efforts to renew the peace process.

"You can still lead your people away from disaster," Annan said, noting that in the last 10 days, over 150 Palestinians and about 50 Israelis have died.

He also called on the Security Council "to lend its full authority and influence to the vital cause of peace."

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said he believed it was the first time that Annan had called Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory "illegal."

Lancry said it was "not a new development," noting that Sharon has envisioned a Palestinian state and Israel entered a process in 1993 to end its occupation. But he stressed "we have to negotiate it."

Al-Kidwa didn't think Annan was striking a harder stance. But he said it was "indicative that the whole world is getting ... increasingly nervous about the situation and ... wants to see an end to this occupation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.