July 2010 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 July 2010
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action

An open debate on the Middle East is expected in July. No outcome is expected. However, recent developments related to the Council’s 1 June presidential statement on the Gaza flotilla incident—including Israeli policy towards Gaza and the Secretary-General’s possible investigation—may add new elements to the discussion. Members are mindful of the impact for the ongoing proximity talks and the Secretary-General’s expected July report to the General Assembly following up the Goldstone Report.

Key Recent Developments
Early in the morning of 31 May Israeli naval forces boarded a six-ship flotilla in international waters. The flotilla’s intent was to break the Israeli naval blockade and deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. Prior to intercepting the convoy, Israel signalled publicly and through diplomatic channels that it would not allow the ships to proceed to a Gazan port. Israeli forces took control of all six ships. There was a confrontation on the Turkish-registered ship Mavi Marmara resulting in civilian deaths and injuries to both civilians and Israeli forces. The civilians killed were all Turkish nationals, including one dual US-Turkish national.

Turkey requested an emergency meeting of the Council on 31 May. After more than 12 hours of negotiations primarily between Turkey and the US, the Council agreed to a presidential statement which:

  • condemned the loss of ten civilians and many wounded;
  • noted the Secretary-General’s statement on the need for an investigation;
  • called for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards;
  • stressed that the situation in Gaza was unsustainable and reemphasised the need to fully implement resolutions 1850 and 1860 (including the flow of goods and people into Gaza and unimpeded humanitarian assistance); and
  • reemphasised the two-state solution and support for the proximity talks.

On 2 June the Secretary-General met with representatives from Turkey, Israel, the Arab Group and the P5 to exchange views on various options for an investigation, following up his comments on 31 May that “it is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place.” One such proposal was a possible panel that could be led by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer including Israeli, Turkish and US representatives. Turkey signalled support and called on Israel to accept an international investigation. On 21 June Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with the Secretary-General in New York and asked that the plan be shelved for the time being.

In early June, Turkey’s relevant public prosecutor opened an inquiry into the deaths of its nine nationals (in-line with Turkish law and judicial procedures in the case of any overseas death). At press time, the inquiry was ongoing and when complete, the results will be presented to the Turkish Ministry of Justice which has the option of asking for judicial cooperation from the relevant country, in this case Israel.

On 14 June the Israeli cabinet approved a domestic commission of inquiry headed by former Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel that would include two foreign observers: William David Trimble of Northern Ireland and Ken Watkin of Canada. On the same day, a major Israeli peace organisation, Gush Shalom, announced its plans to petition the Israeli Supreme Court and challenge the validity of the Turkel Commission’s independence from the government. The Israeli Supreme Court was expected to consider the petition on 11 July, (postponed from 30 June).

The Israeli Commission’s current terms of reference allow it access to summaries of the military’s operational investigation and for testimony by the IDF Chief of Staff but excludes other military personnel. On 29 June Netanyahu temporarily suspended the activities of the Commission pending consideration of Judge Turkel’s request to broaden the powers of the Commission. (On 11 June, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Philip Alston said that for a domestic commission of inquiry to meet international standards it must be independent of the government, the results should be made public and it should have direct access to all relevant evidence.)

On 20 June Israel announced an adjustment to the Gaza blockade after growing international pressure from the US, EU, and the UN in the weeks following the Gaza flotilla incident. (On 15 June UN Special Coordinator Robert Serry, in his briefing to the Security Council, urged a fundamentally different approach to Gaza. A 14 June ICRC news release said that Israel’s blockade of Gaza “constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”)

The Israeli announcement outlined a shift from the current positive list (goods that are allowed) to a negative list (goods that are banned). According to a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, the new list of banned goods is expected to include weapons and dual-use materials, including many building supplies. Any dual-use materials allowed will be for projects approved by the Palestinian Authority under international supervision. The new policy also seems to be applicable only to the land border; the maritime blockade remains in effect. It does not mention any change in the ban on exports from Gaza.

On 20 June, EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton welcomed Israel’s easing of the Gaza blockade, echoing conclusions from a 17 June meeting of the EU Council, which also called for a full and impartial inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident.

The Quartet (EU, UN, US and Russia) welcomed the shift in a 21 June statement, which also flagged that the Quartet would monitor the implementation of this new policy closely. It urged that all goods to be delivered through land crossings and emphasised that there is no need for unnecessary confrontations.

On 18 June Israel transmitted a letter to the Security Council with information that it appeared a small number of ships were ready to depart Lebanon bound for the Gaza Strip. On 28 June Iran’s Red Crescent Society cancelled its aid shipment when denied passage through the Suez Canal by Egypt.

A 22 June joint letter from the Non-Aligned Movement (chaired by Egypt), the Arab Group (chaired by Libya) and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference Group (chaired by Syria) requested:

  • a complete and unconditional lifting of the Gaza blockade; and
  • an international investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident under the auspices of the Secretary-General.

Barak and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Washington DC on 23 June to discuss the possibility of progressing from proximity to direct talks, as well as Israel’s revised Gaza policy and establishment of a domestic commission of inquiry. On 9 June US President Barack Obama met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Obama characterised the situation in Gaza as unsustainable. At press time, Obama and Netanyahu were expected to meet during the week of 5 July in Washington DC. (The visit was previously cancelled after the Gaza flotilla incident.)

In mid-June Fatah announced that local elections scheduled for 17 July in the West Bank had been cancelled. No new date has been set.

Human Rights-Related Developments
On 31 May the Human Rights Council held a debate on Israel’s military action against an aid flotilla in international waters and adopted a resolution on 2 June condemning “in the strongest terms possible the outrageous attack by the Israeli forces against the humanitarian flotilla of ships which resulted in the killing and injuring of many innocent civilians from different countries.” The vote was 32 in favour (including Security Council members Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, China, Gabon, Mexico, Nigeria and Russia) and three against (including the US), with nine abstentions (including France, Japan and the UK). The resolution also called for an independent international fact-finding mission to investigate the incident, which is expected to report back to the Human Rights Council at its fifteenth session in September 2010.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, addressed the Human Rights Council on 14 June on follow-up to the Goldstone Report. Pillay said that she was seeking guidance from the UN Controller about possible modalities for the establishment of an escrow fund for the provision of reparations to Palestinians who had suffered loss and damage as a result of unlawful acts attributable to Israel during the Gaza conflict. She also announced that she had appointed a committee of three independent experts, who would monitor and assess domestic, legal or other proceedings undertaken by both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian authorities.

Key Issues
A key issue for the Council is how to handle the various responses to its call for an impartial investigation conforming to international standards and the role for the Secretary-General in this regard. This is of particular importance given Turkey’s position on the issue and taking into consideration Turkey’s role as regional actor, former friend of Israel and mediator in aspects of the Middle East peace process.

A related issue is how to react to a situation where there may be two domestic inquiries (Israeli and Turkish) with probably different conclusions.

Another key issue is achieving real progress on full implementation of resolution 1860 (access to deliver humanitarian aid in Gaza and intra-Palestinian reconciliation). In this regard there is a practical issue related to Israel’s recent easing of its blockade: its policy requires a Palestinian Authority partner, which may be problematic in the continued absence of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

Another issue is that the Secretary-General’s next report following up the Goldstone Report will be on the table shortly.

Underlying Problems
The issue of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in Gaza since June 2006, is still unresolved. There has been no progress with Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. Gaza is functioning with a black-market economy and even with increased humanitarian aid may continue to lack the environment required for real economic recovery.

Options
Council options in July seem likely to be influenced by the fact that there are likely to be two competing domestic inquiries underway (Israeli and Turkish) and also the fact that it may be too soon to make a clear judgement as to whether the changes in the Israeli blockade policy are going to be positive or in practice a continuation of the status quo.

On top of that, the sense of a larger watershed point possibly emerging in September may also encourage deferral of major initiatives. Egypt’s actions blocking the Iranian ship bound for Gaza from the Suez Canal also suggests a desire to avoid any new incidents in the coming weeks.

The option of taking up the Goldstone Report in July seems remote.

Council Dynamics
There is significant concern among many Council members that the strained bilateral relationship between Israel and Turkey could reach a breaking point as a result of the Gaza flotilla incident.

Some Council members have expressed cautious optimism at Israel’s policy change toward the blockade. However, other members are concerned that this development will in the end come to nothing in practice and is only designed to head off the push for an international investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident.

Most Council members support the Secretary-General’s call for an investigation and anticipate that if there is not progress in this regard, Turkey will bring the issue back to the Council.

Many Council members seem to sense that September, during the next General Assembly, could be a potential watershed month. The Arab League’s four-month endorsement of proximity talks will end, as will the ten-month Israeli policy on settlement restraint.

Most members continue to adopt a “wait and see” approach to the Goldstone Report and would prefer that it not distract from peace talks.

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 Statements

  • S/PRST/2010/9 (1 June 2010) called for an impartial investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident and stressed that the situation in Gaza was not sustainable.
  • 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/2010/331 (22 June 2010) was a joint letter from NAM, OIC and the Arab Group requesting an international investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident and a complete and unconditional lifting of the Gaza blockade.
  • S/2010/321 (18 June 2010) was a letter from Israel regarding ships from Lebanon reportedly planning to depart for Gaza.
  • S/2010/266 and S/2010/267 (31 May 2010) was an exchange of letters between Turkey and the Council president regarding an emergency meeting of the Council to discuss the Gaza flotilla incident.
  • S/2009/586 (10 November 2009) was the Secretary-General’s transmission of the Goldstone Report to the Security Council.

Security Council Meeting Records

  • S/PV.6340 (15 June 2010) was the briefing by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry.
  • S/PV.6325 (31 May 2010) and S/PV.6326 (1 June 2010) was the Security Council meeting on the Gaza flotilla incident.

General Assembly

  • A/RES/64/254 (26 February 2010) requested the Secretary-General to submit a further follow-up report to the Goldstone Report, within five months, with a view to consider further action, including by the Security Council.
  • A/64/651 (4 February 2010) was the Secretary-General’s follow-up report to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict (the Goldstone Report).
  • 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

  • A/HRC/RES/14/1 (2 June 2010) condemned the Gaza flotilla incident and called for a fact-finding mission.
  • A/HRC/RES/13/9 (25 March 2010) contained the decision to establish a committee to monitor and assess Israeli and Palestinian investigations into violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in follow-up to the Goldstone Report.
  • A/HRC/13/54 (15 March 2010) was the High Commissioner for Human Right’s report on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including implementation of the recommendations of the Goldstone Report.
  • A/HRC/RES/S-12/1 (16 October 2009) endorsed the Goldstone Report.
  • A/HRC/12/48 (15 September 2009) was the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, or the Goldstone Report.

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