May 2009 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 April 2009
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action
Russia (which has the Council presidency in May) was agreed in 2008 as the venue for the next high-level meeting on the situation in the Middle East to follow up on the 2007 Annapolis summit. It is therefore taking advantage of the monthly Council consultations on the Middle East currently scheduled for 11 May to focus on the Israel/Palestine issue in more depth and at a more senior level than usual. At press time the format was still being discussed but could be a briefing by the Secretary-General followed by a Council debate at the level of foreign ministers. Russia also proposed to convene the Middle East Quartet (the US, Russia, the EU and the UN Secretary-General) at the level of principals on the margins of the meeting. It was also unclear whether Arab foreign ministers would be invited. A presidential statement reaffirming the principles of the peace process is also currently being considered, but no draft had been circulated to the rest of the Council at press time.

The issue of the UN Board of Inquiry into the damage to UN facilities and loss of life during the December-January conflict in Gaza is also likely to come up in May. It is still uncertain whether and when the Secretary-General, or the Secretariat, will brief the Council and whether the report of the inquiry will be circulated.

Key Recent Developments
On 22 April Israel released the results of internal investigations into its role in Gaza. Some mistakes were acknowledged but the investigations found that the Israeli army acted according to international law during its operation in Gaza. These conclusions were rejected by a number of human rights groups saying their own investigation showed otherwise.

On 20 April the Council heard a briefing by B. Lynn Pascoe, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs, on the situation in the Middle East. He said the Secretary-General strongly supported a reinvigorated role for the Quartet. There had been little progress on the key elements of resolution 1860 of January 2009 which called for a ceasefire in Gaza, the commitment of the parties to a durable and sustainable ceasefire, the opening of Gaza’s crossings for humanitarian access and materials for recovery and intra-Palestinian reconciliation. In particular, Palestinian talks were adjourned for the third time on 2 April without agreement on the composition of a transitional government. Also, the situation in Gaza remained fragile with many security incidents. Finally, he highlighted the problem of the ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

On 30 March the Arab League summit in Doha reaffirmed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry met with Arab leaders in April to discuss efforts to move the process forward.

On 8 April the Secretary-General was briefed by members of the UN Board of Inquiry, who shared their conclusions and recommendations and said they were still finalising the report. The report was submitted to the Secretary-General on 22 April, and at press time he had not yet decided on the next steps.

A new Israeli government led by Benyamin Netanyahu was sworn in on 31 March.

On 25 March, Hamas and Israel resumed talks aimed at exchanging the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for Hamas prisoners in Palestine. These Egyptian mediated negotiations had broken down in early March after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected Hamas’s demand that Israel free 1,400 prisoners.

Developments in the Human Rights Council
On 3 April the Human Rights Council announced the appointment of Richard Goldstone, former prosecutor of UN ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, an ex-justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and a member of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the UN Oil-for-Food Program, to lead the fact-finding mission to investigate human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the recent conflict in Gaza. Upon his appointment, Goldstone said that it was in the interest of all Palestinians and Israelis that the allegations of war crimes and serious human rights violations related to all sides be investigated. This is despite the one-sided mandate for the investigation. The mission will also include Professor Christine Chinkin, Hina Jilani and Colonel Desmond Travers. The team is expected to convene in Geneva the first week of May to start its work.

Also at its tenth session from 2 to 27 March, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution 10/18 deploring the continuing Israeli settlement and related activities, resolution 10/19 demanding the end of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and condemning Israeli military operations and the targeting of civilians, resolution 10/20 reaffirming the right of Palestinian people to self-determination and resolution 10/21 demanding that Israel cooperate with the fact-finding mission.

Options

The Council may consider the following options for its meeting in May.

  • Reaffirm the elements of resolution 1850 which in December 2008 declared Council support for the 2007 Annapolis Joint Understanding, stressed its commitment to the irreversibility of bilateral negotiations on a two-state solution, and restated its call on all states to support a Palestinian government that is committed to the Quartet principles (all members of a future Palestinian government must be committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map) and the Arab Peace Initiative (asking Israel to fully withdrawal from all the territories occupied since 1967, achieve a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem and accept a Palestinian State in exchange for commitment from Arab states to enter into peace agreements with Israel, provide security and normalise their relations with Israel).
  • Call on both the Israeli government and the Palestinian side to remain committed to the Annapolis peace principles.
  • Underline the importance of the Israeli-Syrian peace track.
  • Call for the end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, perhaps in phased steps.
  • Call for greater progress on intra-Palestinian reconciliation and the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance.
  • Address Israel’s settlement activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem and call upon Israel to suspend it because of its negative impact on the situation.

The Council could also discuss a possible visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories at an appropriate point in 2009 to discuss implementing resolutions 1850 and 1860 and the Annapolis peace process.

For more details on the UN Board of Inquiry and broader Gaza war crimes issues, please see our April 2009 Forecast on Israel/Palestine: Gaza.

Key Issues
The main issue is how best to reinforce the irreversibility of previous commitments to the peace process, in particular the two-state solution. This appears important because of uncertainty over the new Israeli government’s foreign policy. (Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on 1 April that Israel was not bound by the Annapolis Joint Understanding on the creation of a Palestinian state.) Israel is expected to make its official position known when Prime Minister Netanyahu travels to Washington to meet with US President Barack Obama on or around 18 May. Therefore at the time of the high-level meeting Israel’s position on the peace process will not yet be known.

A related issue is the US position and whether it will prefer to work quietly with the new Israeli government or be willing to publicly back the Annapolis commitments in company with the international community.

A related issue is whether the Council can any longer ignore Israel’s settlement activities. This has been a pressing issue for the Arab group. US reluctance has so far prevented any new Council pronouncement on the issue (the Council last addressed this issue in a presidential statement in 2006).

Another key issue is whether the Israeli-Syrian track should be mentioned. A window of opportunity may exist and some are arguing that the moment should be seized to reinforce the issue.

Regarding the UN Board of Inquiry, a major issue is whether the report will be made public. (Many, especially Arab states, have been pushing for its release. Concerns about witness protection however may prevent full release.) The format of the Secretary-General’s presentation (Council consultations or a public briefing followed by a debate, or an informal setting such as the monthly Secretary-General’s luncheon, are all possibilities) had not been decided at press time. It is also unclear whether he will make recommendations (the UN Relief and Works Agency, for instance, has called for compensation).

Council and Wider Dynamics
There seems to be clear agreement within the Council on the irreversibility of the principles of resolution 1850. The US has spoken strongly in favour of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. It seems that the US may be willing to hold a Council high-level meeting in May although at press time there was no confirmation of this, and it was unclear whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or United States Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell would participate. Israel seems reluctant for any Council involvement in the Israel/Palestine issue, preferring that the issue be dealt with by the parties on the ground. A number of Council members have already expressed their interest in such a high-level meeting.

But it is unclear whether US agreement on a meeting also extends to adoption of a presidential statement that would reaffirm resolution 1850. It may be that the US prefers to send whatever messages by virtue of an individual statement rather than a collective one.

In December, Libya, in accordance with the Arab group position, had abstained on resolution 1850 because it did not mention the situation in Gaza or the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories and also because it did not link mutual recognition between Israel and Arab states to the reaching of an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. It remains to be seen whether the draft presidential statement being prepared by Russia will address those issues.

There has been strong support for Council engagement and leadership in securing the resumption of the Middle East peace process. Russia in particular has been strongly engaged and, given the difficulties being encountered for an international meeting in Moscow to follow-up on Annapolis (due to the absence of progress on Palestinian reconciliation and current uncertainties regarding Israeli policy), it is putting weight on some progress in the Council.

Council dynamics on the UN Board of Inquiry issue have not changed since our April Forecast. Many Council members, in addition to the Arab group and members of the Non-Aligned Movement have expressed their strong desire to see the report made public.

UN Documents

Selected Resolutions

  • S/RES/1860 (8 January 2009) called for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.
  • S/RES/1850 (16 December 2008) declared Council support for the Annapolis peace process and its commitment to the irreversibility of bilateral negotiations.
  • S/RES/1515 (19 November 2003) stated the necessity for a two-state solution and unanimously endorsed the Quartet’s Road Map.
  • S/RES/904 (18 March 1994) called upon Israel to implement measures, including confiscation of arms, with the aim of preventing illegal acts of violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories.

Latest Presidential Statements

  • S/PRST/2006/51 (12 December 2006) expressed deep concern over the situation in the Middle East, with its ramifications for peace and security, and underlined the need to intensify efforts to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region.
  • S/PRST/2006/6 (3 February 2006) reiterated the view that Israeli settlement expansion must stop.

Latest Security Council Briefing on the Situation in the Middle East

Human Rights Council Resolution

  • A/HRC/S-9/L.1 (12 January 2009) established an independent fact-finding mission to investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by Israel during the Gaza conflict.

Other Relevant Facts

UN Gaza Board of Inquiry

Head: Ian Martin (UK)

Members: Larry Johnson (US), Sinha Basnayake (Sri Lanka), Colonel Patrick Eichenberger (Switzerland)

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process

Robert Serry (Netherlands)

Useful Additional Sources

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