Expected Council Action
UNDOF was established in May 1974 to monitor the ceasefire between Israel and Syria. The mandate expires on 31 December. Following its usual practice, the Council is expected to extend the mandate for six months and call upon Israel and Syria to implement resolution 338.
A presidential statement is also expected, as has been the practice since 1976, drawing attention to the wider issues in the region and noting that the situation in the Middle East will remain tense until a comprehensive settlement is reached.
The Secretary-General’s report is due in early December and may be followed by a briefing in consultations. A meeting with troop-contributing countries is also likely.
Key Recent Developments
The upcoming December report is not expected to reveal any significant changes since the last reporting period. The June 2010 Secretary-General’s report on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) noted that the ceasefire had been maintained and that the area of operation had remained generally quiet. The Secretary-General encouraged Israel and Syria to resume peace negotiations. (This was the first UNDOF report since June 2008 that didn’t explicitly encourage Israeli-Syrian talks under the auspices of Turkey. These were suspended after Israeli incursions into Gaza in December 2008. Turkish-Israeli relations have been strained since the Gaza flotilla incident in May. Previously, the last attempt at peace talks was in 2000.)
On 22 November the Israeli Knesset passed a bill requiring a two-thirds majority in parliament before withdrawal from the Golan or East Jerusalem. If a parliamentary majority isn’t achieved the bill calls for a national referendum. (The bill was tabled in December 2009. At that time, Syria called it a serious threat to any Israel-Syria peace track.)
On 15 November both Israel and Syria participated in an open debate in the Council on general issues relating to terrorism. Syria accused Israel of “state terrorism.” Israel said Syria is a “sanctuary for terrorists.”
On 8 November, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met with US Senator John Kerry during his tour of the region (Kerry is the chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee). Previously, Assad had met with the American (George Mitchell) and French (Jean Claude Cousseran) Middle East envoys on 16 and 13 September, respectively.
On 28 October, after Council consultations on the implementation of resolution 1559 regarding Lebanon, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice expressed concern about Hezbollah’s destabilising influence in the region and Syrian support for the group.
On 25 October, Syria sent a letter to the General Assembly regarding Israeli violations involving water resources in the occupied Syrian Golan that were negatively impacting the Syrian agricultural sector.
On 28 September, Walid Muallem, the Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, said in an address to the General Assembly that Syria was willing to resume peace negotiations on the return of the Golan with Israel via Turkish mediation. Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Liberman’s address to the General Assembly made no reference to the Israel-Syria track. (Syrian support for Hezbollah seems to be an important Israeli calculation in considering the resumption of talks.)
On 27 September, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Muallem on the sidelines of the General Assembly. Prior to the meeting, a US official said “a comprehensive peace has to include the Israel-Syria track.”
Human Rights-Related Developments
Another issue is whether to adjust the timing of the mandate renewal from six to 12 months.
A further issue is whether more robust reporting from the Secretariat would be useful (bearing in mind the limitations of the UNDOF mandate and sensitivities in the region).
A second, more proactive option, is for the Council to test the waters with a balanced approach involving on the one hand a longer period of commitment, i.e. a 12-month renewal, but also a stronger presidential statement that could include formally encouraging the renewal of a
Syria-Israel peace track and requesting the Secretary-General to provide more regular and in-depth reporting and six-monthly reviews.
In the past there has been no commonly agreed lead country in the Council on this issue. However, it seems that there is a growing appetite in the Council to end the procedural anomaly of the Secretariat drafting the UNDOF resolution and presidential statement.
Some Council members seem interested in a one-year mandate period. Others are sensitive, however, to a Syrian desire to keep the mandate under review every six months so as not to deemphasise the Israel-Syria track.
Security Council Resolutions
Security Council Presidential Statement
Security Council Meeting Record
General Assembly Document
UNDOF Force Commander
Major-General Natalio C. Ecarma (Philippines)
Size and Composition of Mission (30 August 2010)
1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011: $47.8 million (A/C.5/64/19)