October 2011 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2011
Download Complete Forecast: PDF


Expected Council Action
In October the Security Council is due to hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East after a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe. The focus of discussion will likely be whether there has been tangible progress to break the stalemate in the Israel/Palestine peace process against the backdrop of the Palestinian bid for UN membership. 

Key Recent Developments
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally submitted the membership application to the Secretary-General on Friday, 23 September. It was transmitted to Council members the same day. Council members met on this issue for the first time on Monday, 26 September in informal consultations. On 28 September the Security Council, in a closed formal meeting, decided to refer Palestine’s application for admission to the UN to its standing Committee on the Admission of New Members. At press time, the Committee was expected to meet on 30 September to begin its consideration of the application.

On 23 September, the Middle East Quartet (the EU, Russia, the UN and US) issued a statement noting Palestine’s application, setting out a timeframe for Israelis and Palestinians to resume direct negotiations and reach an agreement by the end of 2012 and reiterating both parties’ obligations under the Roadmap. However, it seems the Quartet was unable to reach agreement on parameters for negotiations beyond reaffirming support for US President Barack Obama’s vision for peace as laid out in his 19 May speech.

On 27 September the Council was briefed by Pascoe, who highlighted recent developments, in particular, Palestine’s bid for UN membership and diplomatic activity by the Middle East Quartet.

On 2 September, the Secretary-General received and made public the report of the Panel of Inquiry into the 31 May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident. It is not expected that the Secretary-General will transmit the report formally to the Security Council.

Human Rights-Related Developments
On 13 September, five independent human rights Special Rapporteurs appointed by the Human Rights Council issued a statement criticising a conclusion of the report of the Panel of Inquiry on the flotilla incident of 31 May 2010 that Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal. The experts believed that the report had failed to see that the naval blockade was “an integral part of Israel’s closure policy towards Gaza, which has a disproportionate impact on the human rights of civilians”, subjecting Palestinians to “collective punishment, in flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law”

Key Issues
The key issue is how the Council treats the application by Palestine for admission to the UN. (For more detail, see our 23 September Update Report on Palestine’s Application for Admission to the UN.)

A related issue is the application’s possible impact on the peace process and the signals subsequent Council action might send to the region given the current political upheavals. 

A remaining issue is whether the Council can play any role in addressing the Israel/Palestine conflict, including the establishment of parameters for direct negotiations. 

Underlying Problem
Continued Israeli settlement activity remains the key blockage to the resumption of direct negotiations. 

The main option for the Council in October, vis-à-vis Palestine’s UN membership application, seems to be continued consideration at the Committee level.

Options also seem similarly limited for any Council role in the peace process in order to give the Quartet initiative time to yield results on the political track. 

Council and Wider Dynamics
On the application, it seems that some Council members, at the Committee level, may suggest that before making any substantive decision time should be given to the most recent Quartet initiative, which set out a specific time frame for the resumption of negotiations. (If there is disagreement in the Committee on whether or not to recommend Palestine for UN membership, it is possible that its application could remain in the Committee.)

It is widely thought among Council members that the US would veto any Palestinian application for full UN membership. President Obama’s 21 September address to the General Assembly underscored that position.  However, the US may not be the only Council member that might find the application premature. 

Palestine is currently recognised by 129 states, nine of which are Security Council members (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, China, Gabon, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa). Among the nine that have recognised Palestine, there are those who consider positive consideration of the membership application as complementary to the peace process. However, it is unclear if bilateral recognition would automatically translate into a positive vote on this issue in the Council. 

On the peace process, the US seems to be continuing to argue that the Council is not the appropriate body for establishing parameters regarding the Israel/Palestine issue. Few, if any, Council members would disagree that the fundamentals of any agreement must be reached through direct talks. However, most consider that this does not necessarily rule out a Council role in the peace process.

The Palestinians have said that they do not view their bid for UN membership as contradictory to either the peace process or the parallel track of going to the General Assembly to seek non-member state observer status (which can be granted by a simple majority of the General Assembly).  

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions

  • S/RES/1850 (16 December 2008) supported the Annapolis peace process and its commitment to the irreversibility of bilateral negotiations.
  • S/RES/1515 (19 November 2003) stated the necessity for a two-state solution and unanimously endorsed the Quartet’s Road Map.

Security Council Presidential Statement

  • S/PRST/2010/9 (1 June 2010) called for an impartial and transparent investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident and stressed that the situation in Gaza was not sustainable.

Security Council Meeting Record

  • S/PV.6623 (27 September 2011) was the most recent briefing on the Middle East.

Security Council Letter

  • S/2011/592 (23 September 2011) contained Palestine’s application for admission to the UN.

Full forecast

Subscribe to receive SCR publications