Expected Council Action
In January, the Council is expected to hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East following a briefing from Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry. The discussion will likely focus on the stalled peace process, the consequences of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and the General Assembly resolution upgrading the status of Palestine at the UN from permanent observer to non-member observer state.
Key Recent Developments
In the most serious escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas since December 2008, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence in the Gaza Strip on 14 November in response to intensified rocket attacks from Hamas that began on 9 November. That evening, the Council held emergency consultations and a private meeting on Gaza during which Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed the Council, followed by statements from all Council members, Israel and Palestine. In accordance with rule 55 of its rules of procedure, a communiqué was issued through the Secretary-General following the meeting (S/PV.6863). (In current Council practice, this format is almost exclusively used for meetings with troop contributors.)
Council members met in consultations on Gaza on 19-20 November. On 21 November, following an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreement, Council members issued a press statement (SC/10829) welcoming the ceasefire, calling on the international community to contribute to improving the living conditions in the Gaza Strip, deploring the loss of civilian life and reiterating the importance of achieving a comprehensive peace.
On 27 November, the Council received its regular monthly briefing on the Middle East from Serry (S/PV.6871). Noting both the hostilities in Gaza and the upcoming vote in the General Assembly, Serry asserted that “the status quo is unsustainable and…it is all the more vital to identify a way ahead to urgently put the peace process back on track.”
On 29 November the General Assembly adopted a resolution (A/RES/67/19) conferring on Palestine non-member observer state status in the UN. Nine Council members voted in favour of the resolution (Azerbaijan, China, France, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal, Russia and South Africa), five abstained (Colombia, Germany, Guatemala, Togo and the UK) and one voted in opposition (the US).
In response, Israel announced on 30 November that it had accelerated planning for the construction of more than 3,000 new housing units in an area east of Jerusalem known as E-1, potentially bisecting the West Bank and rendering a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. On 3 December, several European nations expressed their displeasure over the announcement, while the US urged Israel to reconsider these unilateral decisions, exercise restraint, and viewed the actions as counterproductive to resuming direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution.
On 2 December, Israel announced that it would withhold up to 350 million shekels (more than $100 million) in tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority, ostensibly to repay part of the debt owed to a utility company for power supplied to the West Bank. On 9 December, Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Doha pledged to make up the $100 million shortfall.
On 3 December, in a letter to the President of the Council (S/2012/899), Palestine reiterated that the announced settlement activity would be a breach of both the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute of the ICC, asserting that Israel “must be held accountable for all of the war crimes it is committing against the Palestinian people.”
On 19 December, the Council received its regular monthly briefing on the Middle East from Feltman, who noted that recent events “should remind us…how much the momentum for the two state solution has slipped.” Several states made remarks to the press following subsequent consultations. The UK read a statement on behalf of the EU members on the Council (France, Germany, Portugal and the UK) expressing strong opposition to the planned expansion of the settlements, in particular in the E-1 area, and reiterating that “responsibility lies…with the Security Council…to provide urgently for a credible framework for the resumption of direct talks.” The Non-Aligned Movement, in a statement read by India, also called “for the Council to uphold its Charter responsibility…with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Russia likewise expressed concern over the settlement activity, and argued that it was necessary “to convene without further delay a ministerial meeting of the Quartet to discuss seriously the situation.” (The Quartet comprises the UN, the EU, Russia and the US.) South Africa, speaking on behalf of the IBSA countries (India, Brazil and South Africa), remarked that “the Security Council has an essential irreplaceable role to play” in the Middle East peace process, including calling for a complete halt to settlement activities, calling for the implementation of its own resolutions, and receiving regular reports from the Quartet on its progress.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In November, the International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory—established by the 22 March resolution of the Human Rights Council (HRC) visited Amman—to collect information from a wide range of stakeholders. The mission, which has not been granted access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, will be reporting to the HRC in March.
In response to the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza in which more than 100 civilians died, the Coordination Committee of UN human rights special procedures condemned on 23 November all attacks against civilians and called for prompt, impartial and thorough investigations into allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Israel will be examined on 29 January under the Universal Periodic Review process of the HRC.
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 situations in Gaza also remain a concern in light of the renewed hostilities.
Recent events have largely hardened the positions on both sides of the conflict; Israel considers the upgraded status attained by Palestine at the UN through the General Assembly to be a unilateral action that is counter-productive to the return to direct negotiations, while the Palestinian Authority would like to see an end to settlement activity as a precondition for direct negotiations.
The lack of any progress on reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas further impedes the possibility of reaching a solution even if negotiations were to resume. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organisation and so will not negotiate with any Palestinian government that includes it.
The renewed hostilities refocused attention on the lack of substantial progress in easing the Israeli blockade of Gaza. At the end of November, Hamas and Israel began indirect talks in Cairo on the subject of the blockade, under the terms of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire of 21 November; however, those talks have no timetable.
Council options in January appear extremely limited given the lack of progress on the political track. It is most likely that the open debate will again feature member states reiterating their known positions on the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Should the Council want to take a more active role in the Middle East peace process in 2013, one option may be to adopt a resolution that would do one or more of the following:
- reaffirm past Council decisions that Israeli settlements in the occupied territory are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to peace;
- call on both parties to create the conditions necessary to promote the peace process;
- outline parameters for renewed negotiations between the parties; or
- call on the Quartet to report back to the Council (an unlikely option).
The Council’s last substantive outcome specifically addressing the Middle East peace process was resolution 1850 adopted on 16 December 2008.
The most recent effort to adopt a resolution on Israel/Palestine took place on 18 February 2011, when a draft resolution (S/2011/24) condemning Israeli settlement activity was vetoed by the US. Major divisions in the Council regarding the Middle East peace process remain and were evident in the voting record on the General Assembly resolution upgrading the status of Palestine at the UN. With the composition of the Council changing on 1 January, the dynamic is expected to shift slightly in favour of the US position. (Of the five exiting members two abstained on the resolution and three voted in favour, while three of the five incoming countries abstained and two voted in favour.)
Most Council members are of the view that any progress towards negotiations is unlikely prior to the 22 January parliamentary elections in Israel.
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 Letters|
|3 December 2012 S/2012/899||This letter from Palestine reiterated that settlement activity would be a breach of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute.|
|14 November 2012 S/2012/840||This letter from Egypt requested a meeting of the Security Council on the violence in Gaza.|
|14 November 2012 S/2012/839||This letter from Palestine informed the Council of Israeli military action in Gaza.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|19 December 2012 S/PV.6894||This was the regular monthly briefing on the Middle East by Under-Secretary-General Feltman.|
|27 November 2012 S/PV.6871||The regular monthly briefing on the Middle East by Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry.|
|14 November 2012 S/PV.6863||This was the communiqué following the private meeting of the Security Council on hostilities in Gaza.|
|15 October 2012 S/PV.6847||This was a quarterly debate on the Middle East.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|21 November 2012 SC/10829||Following a week of hostilities between Gaza and Israel, Council members welcomed the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, called on the international community to contribute to improving the living conditions of those in the Gaza Strip, deplored the loss of civilian life, and reiterated the importance of achieving a comprehensive peace.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|29 November 2012 A/RES/67/19||This resolution conferred non-member observer state status in the UN on Palestine.|
|18 February 2011 S/2011/24||This was the draft resolution on settlements vetoed by the US. The other 14 Council members voted in favour.|