Expected Council Action
In late July the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East with a likely focus on the fragile situation on the ground, which could be exacerbated by regional developments and the failure to revive in any meaningful way the Israel/Palestine peace process.
At press time, it was unclear whether newly appointed Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman or Special Coordinator Robert Serry would brief the Council prior to the open debate.
Key Recent Developments
When Serry last briefed the Council on 29 May, he said that a continuously stalled peace process and continued Israeli settlement activity would move the situation towards a one-state reality. (On 14 May, the EU criticised Israeli settlement policy, saying that it posed a threat to the two-state solution.)
On 19 June, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández Taranco briefed the Council. He reported on several developments that posed a challenge to creating any positive environment for peace talks including: announcements of new Israeli settlement construction, increased clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians, hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and significant exchanges of fire between Israel and Gaza in late June along with serious security incidents on the Egyptian-Israeli border.
Fernández Taranco also noted that the closure of Gaza was entering its sixth year. On 13 June, OCHA head Valerie Amos said the blockade of Gaza affects 1.6 million Palestinians, with 80 percent of families there dependent on humanitarian aid. Restrictions on the movement of goods and people amount to collective punishment in contravention of international law. (On 14 June, a similar statement was jointly released by fifty UN agencies and NGOs.)
Regarding the peace process, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 15 April, outlining the Palestinian Authority’s position on renewing direct talks based on 1967 borders and ceasing all settlement activity and warning that the two-state solution might not be possible if the status-quo continues. Netanyahu responded on 12 May, calling for a return to talks without preconditions.
Envoys of the Quartet—comprising the EU, Russia, the UN and the US—met on 15 June in Brussels, following up the 11 April meeting in Washington, D.C. The Quartet’s 11 April statement noted increasing fragility on the ground and welcomed plans for dialogue between the parties.
On 20 June, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held separate meetings with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Vice-Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz in Washington, D.C. Erekat asked the US to exert pressure on Israel to stop settlement expansion and release Palestinian prisoners in order to resume negotiations. Mofaz said Israel would resume negotiations without preconditions and suggested the need for an interim agreement on security and borders. (On 30 May, Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak indicated Israel might find it necessary to unilaterally impose an interim agreement.)
Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Israel on 25 June and the Occupied Palestinian Territories on 26 June where he said that unilateral actions (in reference to settlements and the stalled peace process) are not constructive. Abbas asked Putin to consider convening an international conference in Moscow on the peace process—an idea originally proposed by Russia in December 2008 in resolution 1850.
At press time, it seemed possible that Abbas might meet with Mofaz on 1 July in Ramallah.
Despite the recent activity around the peace process and several high-level meetings, 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. (Jordan hosted a series of exploratory talks in January. The most recent direct talks started in September 2010 and quickly ended that same month over the issue of settlements. Previous direct talks were terminated in late 2008 after the outbreak of the Gaza war.)
Analysts are of the opinion that both parties have focused on strengthening their domestic constituencies and there is unlikely to be any substantive progress on direct talks before the US presidential election in November. On 8 May, Netanyahu formed a new coalition government with Mofaz’s Kadima party, giving him 94 out of 120 votes in parliament. On 16 May, Abbas formed a new cabinet followed by an agreement on 20 May between Fatah and Hamas to prepare for elections and a unity government.
On 3 April the ICC prosecutor’s office said that it was unable to proceed with an investigation of the 2008-2009 Gaza war as it did not have the authority to determine if Palestine was a “state” for the purposes of the Rome Statute. This decision was in response to the January 2009 declaration by the Palestinian Authority recognising the ICC’s jurisdiction in its territory.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The key issue is whether the Council can play any constructive role in the Israel/Palestine peace process.
Another issue is the serious humanitarian and security situation in Gaza.
For the Palestinian Authority, continued Israeli settlement activity remains the key impediment to the resumption of direct negotiations. Meanwhile, Israel urges talks without preconditions. It has also said it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.
Israel’s position on the closure of Gaza is unlikely to shift as it views Gaza, under the de facto authority of Hamas, as a significant security threat.
Since it seems unlikely that the Council will be able to take any action on the larger political issue, an option might be to focus on the situation in Gaza, which has now entered its sixth year under closure and where there are significant humanitarian and security concerns. Perhaps the Council could request a briefing from Amos keeping in mind the January 2009 resolution 1860, which urged sustained reopening of crossing points in Gaza. Following such a briefing, the Council might wish to issue a statement expressing concern and reiterating the importance of fully implementing resolution 1860.
Options regarding the February invitation from the Palestinian Observer Mission for the Council to undertake a visiting mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, seem limited. It seems that both an official visiting mission by the Security Council and the back-up option for permanent representatives to visit in their national capacity seem highly unlikely.
The US has an established 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 to the November 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. Nevertheless, the Council is unlikely to take any action to breathe life into the peace process despite reports from the Secretariat that the situation on the ground is unsustainable and undermines the possibility of a two-state solution.
Council members are aware of the fragile situation but have found it difficult to forge a role for the Security Council that might positively impact the peace process. Currently, the Council is at a standstill on Israel/Palestine because an overwhelming amount of political energy is being consumed by the Syrian crisis, with little left over to confront the particularly rigid US position on this issue.
Security Council Resolutions
Security Council Meeting Records