June 2009 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 May 2009
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MIDDLE EAST

Golan Heights

Expected Council Action
The mandate of the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights (UNDOF) expires on 30 June. It was established in May 1974 to maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria and supervise areas of separation and limitation. A report of the Secretary-General on UNDOF is also due in June.

The Council is expected to extend the mandate for six months, and following its usual practice, call upon Israel and Syria to implement resolution 338 of 1973 (which called on the parties to start negotiations on a just and durable peace) and to implement resolution 242 of 1967 (on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories).

A presidential statement is also expected, as has been the practice since 1976, drawing attention in this context to the wider issues in the region and noting that the Middle East will remain tense until a comprehensive settlement is reached.

Key Recent Developments
In the November report on UNDOF the Secretary-General noted that the ceasefire in the Israel-Syria sector had been maintained and the UNDOF area of operation had remained generally quiet. The situation currently appears unchanged.

The Secretary-General has been encouraging Syria and Israel to resume the indirect peace talks that were launched in early 2008 with Turkish mediation. These were suspended in early September following the resignation of Ehud Olmert as Israeli prime minister and were further delayed after Israel’s incursions into Gaza last December.

Before taking office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said that he would not give up the Golan Heights to achieve peace with Syria because of its strategic value. However, on 20 May he said he was prepared to resume talks with Syria without preconditions. For its part, Syria continues to insist that complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights remains the key to any agreement.

The new US administration seems already more active than the Bush administration in promoting contacts with Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has indicated on several occasions that a US role in Syria/Israel negotiations would be helpful, and has hinted that Syria would enter into direct negotiations with Israel if the US acted as a mediator. Obama administration officials twice visited Syria for meetings in early March and early May.

Key Issues
The key issue for the Council is whether to continue the 35 year ritual of renewing UNDOF’s mandate and the associated statements or whether to be more proactive in encouraging Syria and Israel to resume peace talks.

A possible related technical issue (see our June 2008 Forecast report on Golan Heights) is how any settlement of the issue of the Sheb’a Farms, which is part of the Golan Heights, might affect UNDOF’s mandate.

Council Dynamics
There is consensus that UNDOF remains useful in the absence of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria, but there is also a wide sense of caution about the issues.

UN Documents

Selected Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1848 (12 December 2008) renewed UNDOF until 30 June 2009.
  • S/RES/1701 (11 August 2006) requested the Secretary-General to develop, in liaison with relevant international actors and the concerned parties, proposals for delineation of the Lebanese borders, especially in the Sheb’a Farms area.
  • S/RES/350 (31 May 1974) established UNDOF.
  • S/RES/338 (22 October 1973) called for a ceasefire and comprehensive peace.
  • S/RES/242 (22 November 1967) called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the occupied territories.

Latest Presidential Statement

  • S/PRST/2008/46 (12 December 2008) was the last statement following the renewal of UNDOF.

Latest Secretary-General’s Reports

  • S/2008/737 (26 November 2008) was the last report on UNDOF

Latest Letter

  • S/2008/676 (28 October 2008) was a letter from Syria condemning a US raid on its territory on 26 October which killed civilians, and demanding that Iraq carry out an investigation. In the letter, Syria also said it expects the Council to hold the US accountable for this and to prevent any repetition of this act, with a view to maintaining security and stability in the Middle East.

Other Relevant Facts

UNDOF Force Commander

Major-General Wolfgang Jilke (Austria)

Size and Composition of Mission (31 March 2009)

  • Size: 1,046 troops, assisted by some 76 military observers of UN Truce Supervision Organisation’s Observer Group Golan.
  • Troop contributors: Austria, Canada, Croatia, India, Japan and Poland

Approved Budget

1 July 2008 to 30 June 2009: $47.86 million (A/C.5/62/30)

Full forecast