September 2010 Monthly Forecast

Posted 25 August 2010
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action
Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, is likely to brief the Council in September. The substantive progress made in August on restarting direct Israeli-Palestinian talks and establishing the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry into the 31 May Gaza flotilla incident are likely to be the focus.

It is possible that the Council could issue a press statement welcoming the resumption of direct talks, but Council action on wider issues is unlikely.

Key Recent Developments
On 20 August the Quartet (the UN, EU, US and Russia) issued a statement indicating that direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were expected to begin on 2 September in Washington DC with a one-year time limit. Additionally, a summit on 1 September will convene with US President Barack Obama, King Abdullah of Jordan, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Quartet Representative Tony Blair expected to be in attendance. (Previous direct talks were terminated after Israeli incursions into Gaza in December 2008.)

The Quartet reiterated that negotiations should resolve all final status issues and lead to a settlement that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state. On 19 March a Quartet statement had also urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity, reaffirmed that unilateral action would not be recognised by the international community and underscored that Jerusalem is a permanent status issue.

On 17 August, Assistant-Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco briefed the Security Council underscoring the importance of renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks and the UN’s role as a member of the Quartet in that regard.

On 12 August, US Envoy George Mitchell presented to Israel the position of Palestinan President Mahmoud Abbas on direct talks based on a Quartet statement confirming its position on settlements and borders. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his position for direct talks without preconditions.

On 2 August the Secretary-General announced his Panel of Inquiry into the 31 May Gaza flotilla incident which the Council welcomed on 3 August. The Panel is chaired by former Prime Minister of New Zealand Geoffrey Palmer and includes three other members: the former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as vice-chair; Turkish Panel member Ozdem Sanberk; and the Israeli Panel member Joseph Ciechanover. The Panel’s first interim report is due on 15 September and is expected to be largely procedural in nature. A final report is due in six months time.

On 10 August the Panel met for the first time. It has been tasked with:

  • reviewing both the Turkish and Israeli domestic investigations (it seems the Panel will receive reports from both governments prior to 15 September and it will be able to request clarification and information as needed);
  • independent of the two national investigations, undertake its own work to identify the facts, circumstances and context of the 31 May Gaza flotilla incident; and
  • produce conclusions and forward-looking recommendations to prevent such incidents reoccurring.

While the Panel is not a court set-up to determine individual criminal responsibility it seems it does have the ability to gather additional evidence through established points of contact in Israel and Turkey and the ability to request information via diplomatic channels.

(For background information on the 31 May Gaza flotilla incident and subsequent developments please see Security Council Report’s July and August Monthly Forecasts.)

The Secretary-General issued his second follow-up report to the Goldstone Report on 11 August.

Human Rights-Related Developments
In September the Human Rights Council is expected to hear a report from its committee of three independent experts tasked with monitoring and assessing domestic, legal or other proceedings undertaken by both the Government of Israel and the Palestinian authorities following-up the Goldstone Report.

The Human Rights Council’s independent international fact-finding mission to investigate the Gaza flotilla incident is also expected to report back in September. At press time, the mission was visiting Turkey and Jordan to interview witnesses and government officials.

Key Issues
A key issue for Council members will be whether or not the planned resumption of direct talks in early September will generate sufficient confidence by Israel and the Palestinian Authority (bearing in mind that the Israeli settlement moratorium ends on 26 September) to allow both parties a window of opportunity reassure their own constituencies. Renewed settlement activity is likely to increase pressure on Abbas to back out of talks and instead move to declaring independence in 2011.

Options
Council options in September seem likely to be influenced by the outcome of the 2 September trilateral meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Netanyahu and Abbas. If it produces a generally positive atmosphere one option is for the Council to welcome the relaunch of negotiations with a statement.

On the other hand, if the atmosphere is contentious another option may be for the Council, in conjunction with the Quartet, to play more of a leading role in setting out its own expectations regarding the parameters of talks in a statement.

Regarding the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry into the 31 May Gaza flotilla incident, the most likely option is that the Council be informed of the Panel’s interim report during its regular monthly briefing.

The option of taking up the Goldstone Report seems remote; especially given that the General Assembly is unlikely to consider next steps on this issue until October—after the Geneva-based Human Rights Council hears the report of its own follow-up committee on this issue in late September.

Council Dynamics
Council members are pleased at the prospect of the resumption of direct talks. They had been sensing that September would be a potential watershed month and there is relief that the month seems poised to begin on a positive note.

Most members seem to welcome that the 20 August Quartet statement made specific mention of the 19 March statement (there had been some concern that the August statement not fall behind the March one).

Some Council members remain cautious about the potential for the talk’s success on final status issues in light of the inherent difficulty of the issue, the ongoing uncertainty regarding Israel’s post-September settlement policy, the continuing difficult situation in Gaza, the lack of a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and the Palestinian deadline of 2011 to achieve statehood.

All Council members welcome the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry and its potential to bridge the gap between Israel and Turkey and restore that important relationship. A significant majority of Council members expect to be kept informed of the Panel’s progress, including on the September interim report and would like to see a comfortable format in which the Council can consider this issue, setting the stage for February 2011—when the final and more substantive report is due. Turkey is the president of the Council in September.

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 Letter

  • S/2010/414 (2 August 2010) was on the establishment of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident.

Security Council Meeting Record

  • S/PV.6372 (17 August 2010) was the briefing by Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco.

Security Council Press Statement

  • SC/10001 (4 August 2010) welcomed the establishment by the Secretary-General of his Panel of Inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident.

General Assembly

  • A/64/890 (11 August 2010) was the Secretary-General’s second follow-up report to the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict (the Goldstone Report); the first was A/64/651 of 4 February 2010.
  • 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.

Human Rights Council

  • 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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