Expected Council Action
In October, the Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East after a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. The discussion will likely focus on the economic crisis facing the Palestinian Authority, the security situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in the region and obstacles to reviving the stalled Israel/Palestine peace process.
Key Recent Developments
During the general debate of the General Assembly several states addressed the continuing conflict between Israel and Palestine. On 25 September, US President Barack Obama only made a general reference to a just peace between the parties. On 27 September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focused his comments on Iran with few specific references to the peace process. On the same day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas indicated that Palestine intended to seek upgraded status at the UN—from “permanent observer” to “non-member observer state”—via a resolution in the General Assembly. On 5 September, the Arab League endorsed this effort as an alternative approach to last year’s bid by Palestine to achieve full UN membership. That application remains “on the shelf” in the Security Council following the Admissions Committee’s report last November that it was unable to reach a unanimous recommendation.
These speeches indicate there is very little momentum this year to break the impasse as compared to September 2011 when the Quartet (comprising the UN, the EU, Russia and the US) issued a new timeline for the Middle East peace process that called for each side to submit a comprehensive proposal on borders and security within three months followed by direct negotiations leading to a solution by the end of 2012. Though the Palestinian Authority submitted its proposals soon after, the Israeli government did not meet the initial three month deadline, and no direct negotiations have taken place.
Briefing the Council on 17 September, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, said that the parties have not yet engaged in meaningful dialogue and the viability of the two-state solution was at risk. Otherwise, Serry’s comments largely reiterated similar points made by Feltman during the August monthly briefing. At that briefing, Feltman said the two-state solution was the best and most realistic option.
Since 4 September, thousands of Palestinians have joined demonstrations in cities throughout the West Bank, expressing discontent over high prices and economic hardship more generally. Related clashes left dozens injured. On 10 September, the Palestinian Authority announced an emergency economic package, including a reduction of the value added tax, a key issue for the protestors.
On 9 September, the Palestinian Authority submitted a request to Israel to consider revising the Paris Protocol on Economic Relations of 1994, the economic appendix to the Oslo Peace Accords which established a customs union between Israel and Palestine regulating their economic relationship. According to news reports, Abbas raised the possibility of unilaterally withdrawing from the Oslo Accords at a meeting of Palestinian leaders on 15-16 September.
On 22 August, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman transmitted a letter to the Middle East Quartet calling for new elections in the Palestinian Authority to replace Abbas. The same day, Netanyahu disavowed the letter, saying that it did not reflect his own position or that of the government. Abbas responded on 26 August, saying that the letter was part of a broader effort on the part of Lieberman and the Israeli government to “destroy any chance for peace”.
On 24 September, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak proposed a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, leaving intact major settlement blocs, if the peace process fails. An aide to Abbas said any such withdrawal would make the establishment of a Palestinian state impossible.
At the end of August, the Security Council responded to an invitation from the Palestinian Observer Mission, saying that the Council would not be able to undertake a visiting mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In his address to the Human Rights Council on 10 September, the Secretary-General said that he remained concerned about the unfulfilled human rights of the Palestinian people, in particular the right to self-determination. The objective of a negotiated agreement ending the 1967 occupation and bringing about an independent, sovereign, democratic and viable Palestinian state living in peace and security with Israel must be supported by developments on the ground, he said, including respect for human rights and international law, together with concerted efforts to build the foundations of a future Palestinian state. The Secretary-General also observed that the situation in Gaza remained tense and troubling, with indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes and incursions. Serious human rights, humanitarian and socioeconomic problems only added to the immense human suffering. He urged Israel to lift its harsh restrictions in order to ease the plight of civilians and bring an end to the blockade of Gaza. On 21 September, the Secretary-General submitted his fourth report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict that was critical of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (A/HRC/21/33).
The key issue remains the lack of progress in the Israel/Palestine peace process and whether or not the Security Council can positively impact that process.
The humanitarian and security situation in Gaza also remains an issue of concern to Council members.
In July, the World Bank reported that economic growth in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was unsustainable given its heavy reliance on foreign aid. As recent demonstrations have shown, it has also brought to the surface Palestinian resentment that the Paris Protocol has been implemented selectively in favour of Israel, insofar as provisions that would have allowed the Palestinian Authority to enter into free trade agreements with other states and that mandated access to Israeli markets have not come about.
Other obstacles to the peace process remain unchanged: the Palestinian Authority wants to see an end to settlement activity as a precondition for direct talks, while Israel wants talks without pre-conditions. Israel also considers Hamas a terrorist organisation, and as rocket attacks directed at Israeli communities continue, Israel is unlikely to lift its blockade of Gaza in the near term.
Council options in October appear extremely limited given the lack of progress on the political track. It is most likely that the open debate will be a forum for reiterating already known positions on the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Negotiations regarding the Council’s response to the invitation from the Palestinian Observer Mission to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories were protracted over several months and indicate that major divisions remain within the Council with regard to the Israel/Palestine peace process. While Council members associated with the Non-Aligned Movement had been in favour of a response that went into detail on the dynamics of the issue, other states stridently opposed such a response.
The upcoming US presidential election has had a paralysing effect as most actors are unwilling to take any action on the Israel/Palestine issue until the outcome of the election is known.
UN Documents on Israel/Palestine
|Security Council Resolutions|
|8 January 2009 S/RES/1860||This resolution called for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.|
|16 December 2008 S/RES/1850||This resolution declared Council support for the Annapolis peace process and its commitment to the irreversibility of bilateral negotiations.|
|19 November 2003 S/RES/1515||This resolution stated the necessity for a two state solution and unanimously endorsed the Quartet’s Road Map.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|17 September 2012 S/PV.6835||This was the regular monthly briefing on the Middle East by Robert Serry.|
|22 August 2012 S/PV.6824||This was a regular monthly briefing on the Middle East by Jeffrey Feltman.|
|Human Rights Council Document|
|21 September 2012 A/HRC/21/33||This was the fourth report on the implementation of the recommendations of Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.|
|11 November 2011 S/2011/705||This was the Security Council’s Admissions Committee report on its activities related to Palestine’s 23 September 2011 application for UN membership.|