July 2013 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 June 2013
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action

In July the Council is expected to hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East following a briefing by the Department of Political Affairs. Discussions will likely focus on the stalled Middle East peace process. The briefing will also likely cover recent events in Syria and Lebanon.

Key Recent Developments

The Security Council’s last quarterly open debate on the Middle East was held on 24 April. In the briefing before the debate, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman stated that there was now an opening to achieve the two-state solution in reference to the initiative of newly appointed US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Since then, the Council has received two additional briefings on Israel/Palestine. In his briefing on 22 May, Special Coordinator Robert Serry reported on US efforts to reengage Israel and Palestine in direct talks and on the 29 April visit of Arab leaders to Washington, D.C. to reaffirm the importance of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. On 15 May, representatives of Palestine, Jordan and the Arab League met with Togo, the president of the Council that month, requesting that the Council pronounce itself as actively engaged in efforts to revive the peace process. The request was brought to Council members’ attention under “any other business” during 16 May consultations. However, there was no outcome following the 22 May briefing.

On 25 June, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández-Taranco briefed the Council. He reported that safeguarding the two-state solution was imperative to regional stability, but that a rush to negotiations without buy-in from both Israel and Palestine would be counter-productive. He also said that the Palestinian economic crisis cannot be resolved without progress on the political track.

Since US President Barack Obama’s March trip to the region, Kerry has undertaken four visits attempting to reengage Israelis and Palestinians in negotiations. At press time, it seems a fifth trip was being planned for late June. However, analysts see resumption of negotiations as unlikely, especially with the region (particularly Syria) in flux, the peace process no longer tops Israeli foreign policy concerns. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas requested clear terms of reference for negotiations from Kerry by 20 June to break the impasse, including talks on the basis of the 1967 borders, a freeze on settlement construction and the release of Palestinian prisoners. In the absence of any clear plan from Kerry, Abbas has indicated he might resume diplomatic activities afforded by the non-member state observer status granted by the General Assembly in November 2012—a reference to possibly becoming a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad resigned on 11 April and his successor, Rami Hamdallah, was sworn in on 6 June. On 20 June, Hamdallah offered his resignation to Abbas, reportedly due to a conflict over authority. Hamdallah was a political independent in a Fatah-dominated cabinet.

On 15 May, Fatah and Hamas set a three-month deadline to form a unity government following a meeting of the two factions in Cairo. (Reconciliation was originally agreed in April 2011 and again in February 2012, to date with no results and no elections.)

On 14 May, the ICC announced it would examine the referral by the Union of the Comoros of the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident to establish whether criteria for opening an investigation are met. An Istanbul-based law firm prepared the referral on behalf of the Comoros, a party to the Rome Statute. (On 31 May 2010, Israeli naval forces boarded a flotilla in international waters. The flotilla’s intent was to break the Israeli naval blockade and deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. A confrontation on the vessel Mavi Marmara resulted in nine civilian deaths, all Turkish nationals.)

Human Rights-Related Developments

In January, Israel failed to appear before the working group of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for its second review. (This was the first time that a state was absent from its own review, reportedly in protest over a report of the international fact-finding mission on the implications of Israeli settlements on the human rights of Palestinians.) On 5 June, the Human Rights Council received a report related to Israel’s non-cooperation with the UPR that noted on several occasions Israel had been urged to resume its cooperation. On 3 June, Israel expressed its intention to cooperate and resolve all outstanding issues. The president of the Human Rights Council strongly encouraged Israel to participate in its own UPR, now scheduled for 29 October 2013. 

Key Issue

The key issue remains the lack of progress in the Israel/Palestine peace process and whether the Security Council can have any impact on that process.

Underlying Problems

The major obstacles facing the peace process remain unchanged: the Palestinian Authority requires an end to settlement activity, and more recently the release of prisoners, as prerequisites for negotiations, while Israel will only accept talks without preconditions.

A further complication is the possibility that the Palestinian Authority could use its upgraded status at the UN to press claims against Israel through the ICC, an action that Israel would find counter-productive to returning to negotiations.

The lack of 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.

Options

The Council has very few options in July. It is likely that the open debate will again feature the reiteration of Council members’ previously stated positions before quickly moving on to Syria.

Should the Council want to take a more active role in the peace process, an option, albeit highly unlikely, 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;
  • outline parameters for renewed negotiations between the parties; or
  • call on the Quartet—comprising the EU, Russia, the UN and the US—to resume its diplomatic push and report back to the Council (the Quartet has not met in over a year).
Council and Wider Dynamics

Most Council members believe that no activity will be possible in the Council on the peace process without the active support of the US and are waiting to see what, if anything, develops from Kerry’s efforts.

China has recently strengthened its bilateral approach to the peace process saying that the challenges are too complicated for the U.S. to address alone. Beijing also hosted a UN conference on this issue on 19 June and hosted Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in back-to-back visits on 6 and 8 May. However, most Council members do not expect this engagement to fundamentally affect the dynamics in the Council.

Few, if any, Council members would disagree that any agreement must be reached through direct talks. However, most consider that this does not rule out a Council role in the peace process. Nevertheless, the Council is unlikely to take any action despite ongoing reports from the Secretariat that the situation on the ground undermines the possibility of a two-state solution.

The Council is at a standstill on Israel/Palestine because an overwhelming amount of political energy is being consumed by the Syrian crisis and its regional spillover, with little left to confront the particularly rigid US position on this issue.

In the past, the Council had outsourced its role to the Quartet, which seems to be similarly frozen, the principals not having met since September 2011.

The US is the lead on Israel/Palestine.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolutions
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
22 May 2013 S/PV.6969 This was a briefing on the Middle East by Special Coordinator Robert Serry.
24 April 2013 S/PV.6950 This was a quarterly open debate on the Middle East during which Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed the Council.
24 April 2013 S/PV.6950 (Resumption 1) This was the resumption of a quarterly open debate on the Middle East.
General Assembly Document
29 November 2012 A/RES/67/19 This resolution conferred non-member observer state status in the UN on Palestine.