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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 14:19 GMT
Q&A: UN's Palestinian state resolution
The UN Security Council has passed a new resolution calling for a Palestinian state side by side with Israel. BBC News Online looks at what the resolution could mean for the Middle East.

What's in the new resolution?

Through the resolution, the UN Security Council resolution affirms "a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognised borders".

This is the first time a UN resolution has actually referred to a Palestinian and Israeli state.

The resolution also calls for an "immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including all forms of terror, provocation, incitement and destruction" and expresses support for all diplomatic activity aimed at ending the violence, including the recently floated Saudi peace proposal.

Resolution 1397 was adopted by a vote of 14 in favour and none against. Syria abstained.

How significant might the resolution be?

It is given extra weight by the fact that it was drafted by the United States.

Washington has been reluctant to sponsor UN resolutions on the Middle East since at least the mid-1980s.

The fact that it has done so now - and chosen to use words that explicitly endorse the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is a significant departure.

The US position itself has not changed - it has long-backed Palestinian statehood as an essential component of any peace-deal; President George Bush said much the same thing in November 2001 to the UN General Assembly.

But the context in which these words are expressed also matters.

How does the resolution fit in with diplomatic efforts?

The main significance of the resolution is its timing.

US Vice-President Dick Cheney is touring the Middle East trying to drum up support for an effort to topple Saddam Hussein.

US envoy General Anthony Zinni is due in the region on Thursday, and faces a huge challenge in mediating a ceasefire, in the face of the worst violence of the 17-month intifida.

The resolution also comes weeks after a Saudi peace proposal was floated. This plan is very short on detail but it offers Israel the possibility of recognition and peace with the entire Arab world should it reach an agreement with the Palestinians and withdraw from land occupied in 1967.

The resolution has been welcomed by both sides. Israeli officials said it was balanced and Palestinians said that it represented progress.

BBC Jerusalem correspondent James Reynolds says Palestinians will be happy that they have at last got a written commitment to a Palestinian state.

The resolution actually talks of a "vision" of a Palestinian state. It does not actually outline new or concrete steps to get there.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan addressed the Security Council just before they voted on the new resolution.

He called on Palestinians to halt the "morally repugnant" acts of terror, and Israelis to end their "illegal occupation" of Palestinian territory.

It was the first time, UN officials said, that Mr Annan had referred to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory as illegal.

What about the violence on the ground?

It is possible to argue that the resolution is meaningless because, on the ground, Palestinians and Israelis are at war.

The last 10 days have seen the most intensive period of violence in the occupied territories and Israel since the start of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000.

The death toll is climbing fast and Israel has launched massive troop deployments, including the invasion of Ramallah, the most important West Bank city.

Any diplomatic developments may well fall hostage to the violence on the ground, and there is no talk of actually starting negotiations before the violence ends, or calms down to a large degree.

Is there a chance of peace in the Middle East any time soon?

All the international peace initiatives - the UN resolution, US diplomacy and Saudi proposals - can't really do much more than get Palestinians and Israelis talking again.

The issues that have floored previous attempts to reach peace - Jerusalem, the right of return for refugees and the hundreds of Israelis settlements - still remain.

Even if there is a ceasefire and a return to talks, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is still fundamentally opposed to the principle of land for peace and to dismantling the settlements.

Yasser Arafat will also have great difficulty carrying with him the militant groups, much strengthened now after 18 months of uprising, unless he can deliver a Palestinian state on all of the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

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