August 2010 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 July 2010
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xpected Council Action
Regular monthly consultations on the Middle East are expected in August. Council members are mindful that developments in August have the potential to shape the approach to the Middle East quite significantly—in particular, whether or not there will be a shift from proximity to direct talks. Council members are carefully monitoring follow-up activity to the 31 May Gaza flotilla incident, the effects of the modified Israeli policy towards Gaza and the Secretary-General’s follow-up to the Goldstone Report.

There had earlier been indications that a formal Council meeting on the Middle East might be convened in August. It now seems that this option is less likely.

Key Recent Developments
On 21 July Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Council in an open session on the Middle East. He said the Middle East Quartet’s goal was to achieve direct talks, facilitated by the US. In regards to the changes in Israel’s blockade policy toward Gaza, he said there had been an increase in imports but further improvements were necessary to allow for exports, the movement of people and a streamlined process for approving reconstruction projects. Regarding the 31 May Gaza flotilla incident, Pascoe said the Secretary-General continued to seek agreement for his proposed international panel of inquiry, based on domestic inquires.

On 6 July Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama. Netanyahu’s position is to move as quickly as possible from proximity talks (ongoing since May) to direct talks without preconditions. (Previous direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority were terminated after Israeli incursions into Gaza in December 2008.) Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met on 9 June. During the US-mediated proximity talks Abbas had indicated that direct talks were possible within a framework that comprised an extended Israeli moratorium on settlements (which expires in late September) and some understanding on 1967 borders (including Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea).

On 18 July Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met separately with Netanyahu, Abbas and US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell. After the meetings the Egyptian foreign minister said no breakthrough had been achieved and Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, said that Palestinians needed some Israeli guarantees before moving to direct talks (the Arab League’s four-month approval of proximity talks ends in mid-September). At its 29 July meeting the Arab League agreed that if Abbas were to choose to re-enter direct talks that—in principle—the League could offer its endorsement conditioned on a clear time frame, specific terms of reference and a monitoring mechanism.

On 21 July US State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley said that final-status issues will only be decided in direct negotiations. Abbas may announce a decision on direct talks as early as August.

On 12 July the Israeli Defense Force, while reaffirming that its 31 May operation against the Gaza flotilla was necessary, including the use of live fire, admitted mistakes in planning, in particular the navy’s coordination with Israeli intelligence services. There was no call for disciplinary action against any officer. The Israeli domestic inquiry has recently had its powers and membership widened. (The Turkel Committee was appointed on 14 June by the Israeli cabinet to investigate the Gaza flotilla incident and includes two international observers.) On 29 June Netanyahu’s office said it would allow the Committee to subpoena witnesses (but not soldiers involved in the raid). Netanyahu is due to testify before the Committee on 9 August, Defense Minister Ehud Barak on 10 August and the IDF Chief of Staff on 11 August.

On 5 July Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu indicated that any improvement in Israeli-Turkish relations required an Israeli apology for the Gaza flotilla incident or an Israeli acceptance of an international inquiry (on 30 June Davutoglu had met with Israeli Trade Minster Benjamin Ben-Eliezer—the first high-level meeting since the flotilla incident). At press time there had been no developments in this regard.

On 19 July the Turkish foreign minister met with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Syria, reportedly to discuss the Gaza blockade and Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, in particular in relation to any peace deal.

In mid-July, EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton visited Gaza and called for Israel to allow exports and freedom of movement for Gaza’s population.

On 26 July, a truncated version of the Secretary-General’s second follow-up report to the Goldstone Report was released (more time was needed to translate the parties’ submissions). The fully translated report is expected to be released in mid to late August.

A July IDF report apparently confirmed some of the Goldstone Report’s key findings in relation to the Israeli incursions into Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009—including the use of white phosphorus, the shelling of a mosque, the shooting of a civilian walking with a group waving a white flag, an incident where a Palestinian was used as a human shield and an airstrike on a home resulting in thirty deaths and the subsequent refusal of medical access for several days afterwards. The findings were published in Gaza Operation Investigations: Second Update which was also submitted to the Secretary-General. (Israel continues to underscore that these investigations were an Israeli initiative and were not in response to the Goldstone Report.)

The Palestinian submission to the Secretary-General is reportedly quite substantive though its investigatory body was unable to enter Gaza.

The Swiss submission is expected to follow-up on the call in General Assembly resolution 64/10 to reconvene a conference of the high-contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention (in particular in its application in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem). It is expected that the Swiss will report that consultations on the matter continue to yield mixed views. It seems unlikely such a conference can be held in 2010.

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 23 July the Human Rights Council (HRC) announced the appointment of three experts to an international fact-finding mission to investigate the 31 May Gaza flotilla incident: Judge Karl T. Hudson Phillips (Trinidad and Tobago), Sir Desmond de Silva (UK) and Mary Shanthi Dairiam (Malaysia). The head of the panel has yet to be determined though they are expected to report their findings in September 2010.

During the Security Council’s debate on protection of civilians in armed conflict on 7 July, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, welcomed the decision of Israel to moderate its blockade of Gaza. Pillay urged the Council to take appropriate action to ensure the lifting in full of the blockade. She expressed concern that in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, settler violence, forced evictions, home demolitions, revocation of residency permits, arbitrary detention and torture were taking place with impunity. Pillay also urged the Council to support the recommendations of the Goldstone Report, especially those that called for accountability for all human rights violators.

The Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, submitted his report covering the period from July to December 2009 (Israel did not allow him entry into the territory). Falk called for the full implementation of the Goldstone Report and for consideration to be given to promoting human rights through the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” campaign. The report drew considerable support in the subsequent debate by the HRC. The US, however, regretted that Falk’s mandate extended only to a report on Israel. The US asked that the human rights situation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza be examined in the same way as the human rights situations in other countries and said it regarded the call for further boycotts and divestments from Israel as likely to heighten tension in the region.

Key Issues
A key issue for Council members is which track to take as the likelihood of direct talks waxes and wanes in the coming weeks. One scenario is that the parties might enter direct negotiations prior to the end of the Israeli settlement moratorium and the Arab-League approval for proximity talks—allowing both parties a window of opportunity to build confidence, reassure their own constituencies and extend the measures in question. At the other end of the spectrum, the collapse of proximity talks is possible. Expectations for a possible Council role under either scenario may reemerge. The issue of a Council role seems likely to be much more complex if the current uncertainty prevails. A potential meeting of the Quartet on the sidelines of the General Assembly in September will be keenly followed.

A second key issue for the Council is how to follow its call for an impartial investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident conforming to international standards and the Secretary-General’s role in this regard. This is of particular importance given that it is expected the Israeli and Turkish domestic inquiries are likely to reach different conclusions.

Another key issue is how to achieve continued 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 how the Secretary-General’s report following up the Goldstone Report will be received.

Underlying Problems
The issue of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in Gaza since June 2006, is still unresolved and remains an underlying problem.

There has been no progress with Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

In regards to the peace process, if there is progress toward direct talks, one option is for the Council to give active encouragement as it has done in the past in resolutions 1850 and 1860.

Another option for the Council is to clarify its support for an impartial investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident, perhaps by providing the Secretary-General with a mandate to play a complementary role to the Turkish and Israeli national investigations.

If the situation in Gaza sees no significant improvement despite Israel’s policy shift, an option is to revisit resolution 1860, perhaps specifying the EU’s readiness to support mechanisms based on the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.

The option of taking up the Goldstone Report anytime in the near future seems remote, especially in absence of the substantive portion of the report.

Council Dynamics
Council members seem to be looking to September as a potential watershed month for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In the 21 July open debate most Council members urged progress towards direct talks with many members urging sustained international involvement via the Quartet, adherence to Roadmap obligations and continued US mediation. Related to the peace talks, some Council members are cognizant that Gaza needs to be reintegrated into the process and are signalling the need to make progress on Fatah-Hamas reconciliation.

A strong majority of Council members are supportive of seeing substantive follow-up to their 1 June presidential statement calling for an impartial investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident. However, Russia and the UK seem to prefer to wait for the results of national investigations prior to deciding next steps. The US has indicated its view that Israel is capable of conducting a credible and transparent investigation.

Related to Gaza, most Council members have welcomed Israel’s easing of its blockade policy. However, many view this as only a positive first step with the desired result being the complete lifting of the blockade and full implementation of resolution 1860.

Most members continue to adopt a “wait and see” approach to the Goldstone Report and would prefer that it not distract from peace talks. Lebanon was the only Council member during the 21 July open debate urging for any Council follow-up in this regard.

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 Letter

  • 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.6363 and resumption 1 (21 July 2010) was the most recent open debate on the Middle East.
  • S/PV.6354 and resumption 1 (7 July 2010) was an open debate on protection of civilians where the situation in Gaza was touched on by many member states.

General Assembly

  • A/64/867 (26 July 2010) was the Secretary-General’s second follow-up report to the Goldstone Report in truncated form pending translation of all the parties’ submissions.
  • 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/13/53/Rev.1 (7 June 2010) was the report of the Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories covering the period July-December 2009.
  • 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/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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