February 2010 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 January 2010
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action
A briefing on the Middle East is expected. No outcome is expected. However, members will be mindful that the Secretary-General is due to submit a report to the General Assembly on Israeli and Palestinian investigations into violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Gaza, following the Goldstone Report

Key Recent Developments
In January 2009 the Human Rights Council (HRC) approved an investigation into the Gaza conflict between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009. In April 2009 Richard Goldstone was appointed as the head of the investigative team, accepting the role only after revision of the original mandate was amended to include all violations.

The report, released on 15 September 2009, made recommendations to the UN, Israel, Palestinians and the ICC. It recommended that the Security Council monitor investigations by both Israel and Gaza authorities and consider referring the situation to the ICC if there was a lack of credible investigations. (For further details please see our Update Report of 12 October 2009.)

On 14 October 2009, during the Security Council’s open debate on the Middle East, most Council members said it would be premature to consider the report while it was in the hands of the HRC.

On 16 October 2009 the HRC endorsed the Goldstone Report’s recommendations and is expected to take it up again at its next session in March.

On 5 November 2009 the General Assembly endorsed the Goldstone Report in resolution 64/10 and requested the Secretary-General to report on implementation of the resolution “with a view to considering further action…including [by] the Security Council.”

In November 2009, the Secretary-General transmitted the Goldstone Report to the Security Council. Both parties were given a late January 2010 deadline to advise the Secretary-General of progress with their investigations.

In December 2009, an Israeli delegation visited New York to brief the Secretariat. The delegation included Brigidier General Avichai Mendelblit, the Chief Military Advocate General for the Israel Defense Forces. The delegation reportedly advised that broad investigations were underway and that information was being drawn from a wide range of sources, including from reports by human rights organisations, including some cited in the Goldstone Report. It seems no details regarding which incidents were being investigated were shared at that time (though media reports indicate it might include an Israeli rebuttal regarding the destruction of the only flour mill in Gaza and a wastewater plant). The delegation also reportedly underscored that the investigations were an Israeli initiative and were not in response to the Goldstone Report’s recommendations.

On 25 January Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced a committee had been formed to investigate violations. The committee will be led by the Chief Justice of the Palestinian High Court, located in the West Bank. Reportedly, the committee will also include a judge from Gaza. It is possible this initiative is related to the Arab League proposal to appoint an international committee to assist investigations. It is unclear if Hamas has been approached with the Arab League proposal or whether it will cooperate with the committee seated in the West Bank. (In October 2009 Hamas had indicated it would investigate violations. On 27 January, Hamas announced it had established its own committee and would submit its findings to the Gaza office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.)

On 20 January the US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell, travelled to the region to meet Israelis and Palestinians in a continued effort to get the parties back to the negotiating table. Peace talks were suspended in December 2008 and the issue of settlements has been a key factor in the stalemate. Prior to the 22 September 2009 trilateral meeting between US President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, held in New York on the sidelines of the General Assembly, Abbas had reiterated that a complete Israeli settlement freeze would be essential prior to his participation in any renewed talks.

On 25 November 2009 Israel announced a ten-month slow-down in settlement activity. However, it excluded East Jerusalem and also permitted natural growth in existing settlements.

On 21 January the Secretary-General stressed the importance of a settlement freeze.

On 22 January Israel reimbursed for damage to UN facilities during the conflict, resolving the financial aspects arising from a UN Board of Inquiry investigation. (However, Israel did not accept legal responsibility for the incidents.) The Board of Inquiry had recommended that the UN seek formal acknowledgement by Israel, accountability and reparations, and obtain guarantees from Israel against the repetition of such incidents.

On 27 January the Council was briefed by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández-Taranco followed by an open debate on the Middle East. (The format of the January meeting became controversial because of Libya’s last minute decision to make a presentation to the Council in December 2009, contrary to the previous understanding that any discussion would be in informal consultations.)

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 23 December 2009 the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, drew attention to the situation in Gaza. Speaking one year after the start of the Israeli military campaign against Gaza, Falk said that “two urgent types of action should be encouraged on this dismal anniversary”. Western nations should insist that Israel immediately end its blockade of Gaza, backed up by a credible threat of economic sanctions. In addition, Falk asserted that the Goldstone Report’s recommendations, having confirmed the commission of war crimes by Israel and Hamas, should be fully and swiftly implemented.

Key Issues
A key issue for the Council is how to handle the Goldstone Report. Discussion of the report in the Council could hamper Israel’s current willingness to resume talks. On the other hand, it could be an important factor in persuading Israel that airing such issues may be strategically useful, especially if it becomes part of a carrot to get Abbas to reenter negotiations.

A related issue is the Secretary-General’s expected report and whether it will be delayed.

Other issues for the Council include implementation of resolutions 1850 and 1860. 1850 declared Council support for the Annapolis process and called on both parties to fulfill their obligations under the Road Map (which includes a settlement freeze). 1860 called for access to deliver humanitarian aid in Gaza, encouraged intra-Palestinian reconciliation and called for renewed efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace as envisaged in resolution 1850.

Another issue is the Secretary-General’s Board of Inquiry report and the recent agreement between Israel and the UN. A summary of the report was submitted to the Council in May 2009.

Underlying Problems
In Gaza, Israel’s blockade and the resulting humanitarian situation continue. No significant reconstruction has taken place.

The issue of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in Gaza since 2006, is still unresolved.

There has been no progress with Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, which will be crucial if elections are to be held in 2010.

Options
The option of taking up the Goldstone Report in February seems remote, if only because of uncertainty about the Secretary-General’s report.

If Mitchell were to secure some breakthrough towards resuming talks an important option would be a Council press release or presidential statement supporting the process.

If the situation continues to deteriorate, with no progress made on renewing talks, Council concern could be signaled by

  • adopting a presidential statement emphasising the need to implement resolutions 1850 and 1860 (as was done in a May 2009 presidential statement) and touching on the importance for both sides of accountability; and
  • a debate on the desirable parameters of peace negotiations with a view to a final status agreement.

Council and Wider Dynamics
Most Council members seem to be in a “wait and see” mode.

Some members think the Secretary-General’s report should include an initial assessment of whether the actions taken by the parties meet international standards. Others prefer a simply descriptive report.

Some members believe the HRC is the proper body to take up the Goldstone Report since it mandated the fact-finding mission. They prefer the nexus of the Goldstone Report to shift back to Geneva.

Other members want to keep open the possibility of considering the Goldstone Report but feel it is premature for the Security Council to consider it at this stage (i.e., before the conclusion of investigations) and see value in delay, pending a resumption of peace talks.

Lebanon, which joined the Council in January, is likely to be open to the views of the Arab Group regarding follow-up to the Goldstone Report. It seems the Arab Group, following the Palestinian lead, currently prefers to wait for the outcome of the Secretary-General’s report.

UN Documents

Security Council 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 process and its commitment to the irreversibility of bilateral negotiations.

Security Council Presidential Statement

  • S/PRST/2009/14 (11 May 2009) reiterated the Council’s commitment to the irreversibility of bilateral negotiations built upon previous agreements and encouraged steps toward intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

Security Council Letters

  • S/2010/39 (22 January 2010) was the Secretary-General’s letter to Council noting the satisfactory resolution of the financial issues related to the incidents investigated by the Board of Inquiry.
  • S/2009/586 (10 November 2009) was the Secretary-General’s transmission of the Goldstone Report to the Security Council.
  • S/2009/538 (7 October 2009) was Libya’s transmission of the Goldstone Report to the Security Council.
  • S/2009/510 (6 October 2009) was a letter from Libya requesting a meeting of the Security Council to discuss the Goldstone Report.
  • S/2009/250 (4 May 2009) was the summary of the Secretary-General’s Board of Inquiry report regarding the Gaza conflict.

Security Council Meeting Records

  • S/PV.6265 (27 January 2010) was the most recent open debate on the Middle East.
  • S/PV.6248 (17 December 2009) was a briefing by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry.
  • S/PV.6201 and resumption 1 (14 October 2009) was an open debate on the Middle East.

General Assembly

  • A/RES/64/10 (5 November 2009) endorsed the Goldstone Report and requested a report from the Secretary-General with a view to consider further action, including by the Security Council.

Human Rights Council

Useful Additional Sources

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