Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, will likely brief the Council in February.
At press time, a draft resolution S/2011/24 on Israeli settlements and the peace negotiations remained on the table. (For background, please see our Update Report on Israel/Palestine of 12 January 2011.) A vote prior to the 5 February Quartet meeting in Munich seemed unlikely. Consultations between the Arab Group and the Quartet seemed possible after the Munich meeting.
The final report of the Panel of Inquiry into the 31 May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, originally expected in February, now seems unlikely to be completed before the spring.
Background on the Panel of Inquiry
On 31 May 2010 Israeli naval forces boarded in international waters a six-ship flotilla bound for Gaza. There was a confrontation on the Turkish-registered ship Mavi Marmara that resulted in nine civilian deaths, all of whom were Turkish nationals. On 1 June the Council issued a presidential statement calling for an impartial investigation into the incident and stressing that the situation in Gaza was not sustainable.
On 2 August 2010 the Secretary-General announced a Panel of Inquiry which the Council welcomed on 3 August in a press statement. The Panel was tasked with identifying the facts, circumstances and context of Gaza flotilla incident (not to determine criminal responsibility).
The Panel’s interim report was submitted to the Secretary-General in September 2010. At that time, only Turkey had submitted the results of its National Investigation and Examination Commission to the Panel. The Israeli input to the Panel was not received until 23 January. At press time, Turkey was drafting an addendum to its original report which is expected to be submitted to the Panel in February.
Separately, the Israeli military undertook its own investigation. On 12 July conclusions were released that the operation was necessary and included the use of live fire. Mistakes in planning were admitted. It seems unlikely that the full Israeli military investigation will be shared with the Panel.
Due to the delay in receiving Israel’s submission, the Panel seems unlikely to conclude its work before the spring.
Key Recent Developments
On 23 January the Israeli government-appointed Turkel Commission released its first report, which concluded that Israel did not contravene international law and Israeli soldiers acted in self-defence. The report also says that Israel’s blockade is lawful.
A 23 January press release from the Turkish government characterised the Israeli actions on 31 May 2010 and its blockade of Gaza as devoid of legal basis. It also recalled that the facts of the incident were confirmed by the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission (Israel did not cooperate with this mission).
On 19 January Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Council before its regular open debate. On Gaza, he noted growing tensions evidenced by a significant increase in rockets and mortars being fired from Gaza into Israel and Israeli incursions and airstrikes into Gaza. He said that an outbreak of hostilities would be devastating and urged all parties to cease violence. He also reported that Hamas had publically committed to maintaining calm. On Israel’s Gaza closure policy, Pascoe noted that import and export levels are still significantly below pre-2007 levels.
A January 2011 Wikileak of a March 2008 US diplomatic cable indicated that Israeli policy had been to keep the Gaza economy on the “brink of collapse.” The blockade was slightly relaxed in June 2010 under international pressure after the flotilla incident. However, in November 2010, the then head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, John Ging, said, “there’s been no material change for the people on the ground” as a result of this shift.
On 13 January, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the conditions to restore relations with Israel were an apology and compensation for the families of the nine people killed in the flotilla incident. He separately emphasised the importance of lifting the blockade of Gaza.
In early December, media reports indicated that Turkish and Israeli officials had been meeting in Geneva in an effort to repair relations and had made significant progress on compromises. However, the process seems to have collapsed after the Israeli foreign minister intervened and rejected compromise on the issue.
There is no immediate issue for the Council in February since the final report of the Panel of Inquiry seems likely to be delayed. (Given the content of the two national investigations a final consensus document seems a highly unlikely outcome given that both Israel and Turkey sit on the Panel. Independent Panel members may therefore have to exercise the role envisaged for them in the Panel’s terms of reference.)
With respect to Gaza, the issue of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in Gaza since June 2006, is still unresolved and movement on this issue seems essential if the blockade is to be modified.
With respect to resumptions of negotiations, continued Israeli settlement activity remains the key blockage. At one point it had seemed that a Security Council resolution (using essentially uncontentious language) might be a key to unlocking the blockage. At press time, it seemed very unclear what alternatives could emerge that would loosen the deadlock.
Regarding the flotilla incident, there was concern among many of the 2010 elected Council members that the Panel’s interim report was not shared with the Council. It seems that there is currently an expectation by many members that the spirit of the June 2010 presidential statement requires the final report to be promptly transmitted to the Council.
Most members are conscious that as the anniversary of the incident approaches in May there will be many pressures, especially if Israeli-Turkish relations remain strained.
On the settlements resolution it seems that the cosponsors certainly have the nine votes for it to pass and probably have 14 votes in the Council. The US position seemed more related to timing and process rather than substance. Almost everything in the resolution has been accepted by the US in past resolutions.
Security Council Resolution
Security Council Presidential Statement
Security Council Press Statement
Security Council Letters
Security Council Meeting Records
Human Rights Council
Turkel Commission website: http://www.turkel-committee.gov.il/index-eng.html
Press Release from Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, No. 29, 23 January 2011