April 2012 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 March 2012
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Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action
In late April the Security Council is due to hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East. The focus of discussion will likely be whether the Quartet has been able to achieve sufficient impetus to break the stalemate in the Israel/Palestine peace process.

The Quartet—comprising the EU, Russia, the UN and the US—will next meet on 11 April in Washington, DC.   

Key Recent Developments
The Quartet last met on 12 March on the sidelines of the Security Council high-level debate on challenges and opportunities in the Middle East. The Quartet called on the parties to remain engaged with the process and avoid provocative actions. It also expressed concern over the significant exchange of fire from 9-13 March between Gaza and Israel which resulted in the death of 24 Palestinians and the injury of 75 Palestinians and 11 Israelis.

Despite exploratory talks hosted by Jordan in January and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the region in early February, there has been little progress towards meeting the timeline set out by the Quartet on 23 September 2011 for an agreement by the end of 2012. In particular, the deadline for parties to be in direct negotiations and to exchange proposals for border and security arrangements by 26 January was missed; reports indicate that only the Palestinian Authority submitted the requested proposals. (The most recent round of direct talks started and quickly ended in September 2010 over the issue of settlements. Previous direct talks were terminated in late 2008 after the outbreak of the Gaza war.)

US President Barack Obama phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 19 March, reaffirming American commitment to the peace process and Quartet objectives. On 23 March, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the Quartet to adopt a clear position on the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, as one of the parameters for direct negotiations. (Last September, the Quartet was unable to reach agreement on parameters beyond reaffirming support for Obama’s vision for peace as laid out in his 19 May 2011 speech.)

On 27 March, Special Coordinator Robert Serry briefed the Council reporting that prospects for direct negotiations remain slim and that without a political horizon the state-building efforts of the Palestinian Authority are at risk.

On 18 January, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos briefed Council members in informal consultations on the humanitarian impact of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The Security Council’s Admissions Committee reported on 11 November 2011 that it was unable to reach a unanimous recommendation on Palestine’s bid for UN membership.

Human Rights-Related Developments
On 22 March, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution establishing an independent international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of Israeli settlements on the rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem. The resolution asked the Secretary-General to report back in June on the resolution’s implementation. It passed with 36 votes, ten abstentions and one no vote from the US. Media reports indicate that Israel has instructed its envoy in Geneva not to cooperate with the Human Rights Council or the High Commissioner for Human Rights and that Israel would not grant access to the fact-finding mission.

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

Underlying Problems
For the Palestinian Authority, continued Israeli settlement activity remains the key blockage to the resumption of direct negotiations.  

Israel has said it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas. (On 6 February, Hamas and Fatah agreed on an interim government led by Abbas that would prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections. However, progress on implementing the agreement has stalled.)

Options
If the Quartet is able to agree on a statement establishing parameters for direct negotiations, an option for the Council could be to endorse such a Quartet statement in a press or presidential statement.

Alternatively, if the Quartet diplomatic initiative is unable to yield results, the Council could decide to issue a presidential statement or adopt a resolution, using language already agreed in past Council decisions, as a firm pronouncement of the international consensus on the core issues:

  • negotiations based on 1967 borders with equivalent and agreed land swaps;
  • security arrangements that respect Palestinian sovereignty and Israeli security concerns;
  • a just solution to the refugee question; and
  • fulfilment of both Israeli and Palestinian aspirations for Jerusalem.

Another option is to act upon the February invitation from the Palestinian Observer Mission to the UN for the Council to undertake a visiting mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem.

Options regarding Palestine’s application for UN membership seem limited. The application was in effect “put on the shelf” after the Admission’s Committee reported that it was unable to reach a unanimous recommendation and is unlikely to be revived without a clear signal from Ramallah.

Council Dynamics
The US has a clear position that the Council is not the appropriate body for establishing parameters regarding the Israel/Palestine peace process—this position is likely to remain particularly rigid in the near term due to domestic political concerns in the run up the November US presidential election.

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—especially if it were to provide Abbas the political leverage to return to talks.

This point of view was articulated during the 12 March high-level debate when several Council members expressed concern at the failed peace process, especially in the context of the Arab Spring, and suggested the Council could have a role to play.

Many Council members, while supportive of the Quartet’s diplomatic role, have been concerned about remaining on the sidelines of the peace process. This was exhibited following the 20 December 2011 monthly Middle East briefing and consultations when EU Council members (France, Germany, Portugal and the UK) in remarks to the press criticised increased Israeli settlement construction and settler violence and reiterated EU principles on borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem. The IBSA members of the Council (India, Brazil, and South Africa), Lebanon on behalf of the Arab Group and South Africa on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, also delivered statements critical of settlements.

Brazil and Lebanon have since rotated off the Council but elected members new to the Council in 2012—Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Morocco, Pakistan and Togo—have seemed to indicate there should be political space for a more robust Council role on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, especially as there seems to be a gap between the Quartet approach and the realities on the ground.

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 Meeting Records

  • S/PV.6742 (27 March 2012) was the most recent briefing on the Middle East.
  • S/PV.6734 (12 March 2012) was the debate on challenges and opportunities in the Middle East.

Security Council Report

  • S/2011/705 (11 November 2011) was the Security Council’s Admissions Committee report on its activities related to Palestine’s 23 September 2011 application for UN membership (S/2011/592).

Human Rights Council

  • A/HRC/19/L.35 (19 March 2012) was the draft resolution establishing a fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of Israeli settlements on Palestinian rights.

Full Forecast

 

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