NEW YORK CITY: After two intense days of negotiations, and several amendments to a draft resolution, the UN Security Council on Thursday voted to extend the mandate for the UN peacekeeping force in South Lebanon until Aug. 31, 2024.
The draft was prepared by France, which is the penholder on Lebanon. A penholder is the member of the council that leads the negotiation and drafting of resolutions on a particular agenda item. It was eventually adopted with 13 votes in favor. Russia and China abstained.
A previously scheduled vote was postponed at the last minute on Wednesday as a result of disagreements between council members France, the US and the UAE over how the UN Interim Force in Lebanon should be allowed to exercise its freedom of movement, and how to address restrictions and challenges the peacekeepers face in accessing key locations.
A number of Security Council sources told Arab News the negotiations had proved to be “difficult.”
UNIFIL was established in 1978 with a mandate to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon and maintain stability along the border between the two countries.
The main point of contention in the renewal of its mandate this week related to a paragraph that was added to the text of the renewal resolution last year, Resolution 2650, which stipulated that “UNIFIL does not require prior authorization or permission to undertake its mandated tasks” and that it “is authorized to conduct its operations independently.”
This language was not well received by Hezbollah or the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which issued a statement shortly after the resolution was adopted last year protesting that the “wording (does) not conform to the framework agreement Lebanon has signed with the UN.”
In the resolution adopted on Thursday, the contentious paragraph was retained but, in consideration of the Lebanese demands, France added text that called for peacekeepers to engage in “continuing coordination with the Lebanese government.”
As part of a compromise with the US and the UAE, France also reintroduced language it had deleted from last year’s resolution that demands all parties allow “announced and unannounced patrols” by UN troops.
In August, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent a letter to the Security Council in which he said UNIFIL’s “ability to conduct patrols and activities independently must be maintained,” but also stressed that cooperation and coordination between the peacekeepers and the Lebanese Armed Forces “remain crucial for the successful implementation of Resolution 1701.”
In the aftermath of a month-long conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, Resolution 1701 expanded UNIFIL’s mission to enable peacekeepers to assist the Lebanese military in efforts to prevent the presence of weapons or armed fighters in the south, other than those representing the Lebanese government.
This caused tensions with Hezbollah, which maintains de facto control over southern Lebanon despite the official presence of the Lebanese army.
“We’ve had long-standing concerns regarding the actions by some actors to obstruct the mission’s freedom of movement,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council on Thursday.
“The resolution adopted today includes language strongly reaffirming UNIFIL’s full freedom of movement.”
According to diplomatic sources within the council, the UAE had objected to the addition of the language calling for UN troops to coordinate their activities with the Lebanese government, and reiterated the view that UNIFIL does not need prior authorization to carry out tasks.
On Wednesday, the UAE submitted an amendment, seen by Arab News, to the contentious paragraph. The amendment retained the wording of the paragraph as it was adopted last year, therefore reinforcing the view that UNIFIL does not need prior authorization to carry out patrols or other activities.
Shortly before Thursday’s vote, however, the UAE withdrew its amendment and so council members only voted on the latest draft of the resolution as a whole.
“Security Council negotiations are increasingly complicated by heightened global tensions and this sometimes results in neglecting regional interests and concerns,” an Emirati diplomat involved in the negotiations told Arab News.
“Our priority was to prevent this from happening with regards to the UNIFIL mandate. We believe today’s outcome went a long way toward serving the interests of the Lebanese people and the region.”
The Emirati envoy to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh, welcomed the “clear language” added by France to the text confirming the independence of the UN peacekeepers, and urged the Lebanese government to “meet its responsibilities with regards to UNIFIL’s freedom of movement, which it has been failing to do on several occasions.”
She told council members: “The fact is, tensions on the Blue Line are at a level unseen since the 2006 war. Over the past year, on a daily basis, Hezbollah has been making a mockery of Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 1559.
“(Hezbollah) has erected concrete military outposts and observation towers, conducted military drills with live fire, and prevented UNIFIL’s freedom of movement while brazenly attacking peacekeeping forces.
“It has also actively perpetuated Lebanon’s myriad crises, obstructed the investigation into the devastating Beirut Port explosion, and paralyzed key institutions of the State.”
Nusseibeh continued: “These extremely inflammatory actions threaten a dangerous escalation in our region. That is why the UAE worked hard with the penholder and council members in extensive negotiations to ensure that UNIFIL’s mandate addresses developments on the ground that strike at the core of UNIFIL’s ability to fulfill that mandate.
“And UNIFIL continues to face challenges to its freedom of movement and the lack of access to locations of interest, as reported by the secretary-general of the UN. As such, we sought to improve the text to better address these challenges and to support UNIFIL’s efforts to maintain calm and stability in South Lebanon and the entire region.”
However, she expressed disappointment with what she described as “the needless compromise to remove the unqualified reference to the Israeli occupation of (the town of) Al-Ghajar, which was in previous drafts and, we think, enjoyed widespread support in this council.”
She added: “We would also have preferred clear references to the increasing obstacles hampering UNIFIL’s freedom of movement and its ability to reach all important sites, including areas where containers are placed by the Hezbollah-affiliated Green Without Borders.
“The UAE also fails to understand the hesitation to name Hezbollah and its group, who are actively undermining UNIFIL’s ability to conduct its mandate within its areas of operation.
“No amount of accommodation will change the fact that the pursuit of progress in Lebanon through partnership with Hezbollah has only yielded disappointment and misery, not least of all for the people of Lebanon.”