Expected Council Action
In October the Council is expected to hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East featuring a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. Discussions will likely focus on the current direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, though they may also cover other developments in the region.
Key Recent Developments
On 17 September, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry delivered the latest monthly Middle East briefing to the Security Council (S/PV.7032). Serry’s briefing focused on the renewed peace process, which he stressed “should not be neglected, even against a backdrop of turmoil elsewhere in the neighbourhood.”
Speaking about the 29 July resumption of direct final status negotiations, Serry acknowledged that momentous and sustained efforts would be necessary to successfully conclude negotiations within the nine-month deadline set for achieving a comprehensive settlement. The US-brokered peace talks are underway and both parties have agreed not to disclose the substance of negotiations in an effort to increase chances of success. According to this agreement, US Secretary of State John Kerry is the only actor authorised to comment on the talks. He has mostly refrained from doing so.
There have been numerous leaks, however, indicating that Palestinian officials are frustrated on multiple fronts. They are displeased with the lack of direct US involvement. Israel had objected to the US having a seat at the table, but the Palestinians believe a US presence is required for fruitful negotiations. Palestinian officials are also believed to have divulged information on the substance of the talks and on contentious proposals made by Israel on such issues as future borders, dates for the next prisoners’ release and future security arrangements. Israel has largely held to the agreement not to disclose details of the talks but has publicly challenged the veracity of some of the leaked information. It has also reportedly complained to the US about the leaks, which it believes are a pressure tactic that violates the terms of the talks.
Despite the lack of direct US participation, US officials are continuing to engage with the parties bilaterally. US President Barack Obama met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on 24 September and at press time appeared set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 30 September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Kerry met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on 15 September and with Abbas six days earlier in London. On 25 September, Kerry said that in his meetings with the parties, it was agreed that US participation “should be increased somewhat” in order to help facilitate that.
In his September briefing, Serry warned that both sides ought to refrain from activities that risk undermining negotiations and noted in particular the August killing of five Palestinians in Jenin and Qalandia refugee camps by Israeli forces; settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which he deemed counterproductive and illegal; and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers and settler attacks on Palestinian farmers.
The situation in the West Bank has been tense, following the 22 September shooting death of an Israeli soldier at a Jewish festival in Hebron. In response to the apparent sniper attack, Netanyahu issued an order to permit settlers to move into a once disputed building in Hebron near the scene of the attack. A day earlier, the body of another Israeli soldier who had reportedly been killed by a Palestinian co-worker was discovered in a well in the West Bank. The US condemned the killing of both soldiers.
On 20 September Israeli forces reportedly forcibly seized a truck from European diplomats who were attempting to deliver aid to 120 Palestinians whose homes had been demolished four days earlier in the Jordan Valley, after an Israeli court ruled they did not have proper building permits. The final status of the Jordan Valley remains a contentious issue.
Meanwhile the relationship between Egypt and Gaza’s Islamist government, Hamas, is under increasing strain. Egypt has intensified its military campaign against an Islamist insurgency in the northern Sinai, which it believes to be supported by Gaza militants. On 1 September, Egyptian security forces destroyed more than a dozen homes along the border with Gaza in an apparent effort to build a buffer zone to reduce weapons smuggling and illegal militant crossings. Egypt has also intensified efforts to close tunnels along the border. Israel has reportedly urged the US to support Egypt in its fight against militants, warning that losing Egypt to Islamists would endanger the peace process.
At press time it appeared that the Quartet—the EU, Russia, the UN and the US—would meet at principal level on 28 September alongside the General Assembly events in New York, its first meeting since April 2012. On 30 July the Quartet welcomed the announcement that direct talks had resumed and expressed its hope that the negotiations would set a clear path towards a two-state solution and the end of conflict.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 13 August, a group of UN independent human rights experts expressed deep concern at the alleged ongoing judicial harassment, intimidation and abusive treatment of Issa Amro, a prominent Palestinian human rights defender.
In opening the 24th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 9 September, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed concern at Israel’s continued policy of forced evictions and demolitions. She was also concerned by the excessive use of force by both Israeli and Palestinian security forces in refugee camps in the West Bank which led to the death of civilians.
On 23 September, the HRC considered the report of the Secretary-General on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (A/HRC/24/30).
The key issue is determining what, if anything, the Council can do to enhance the efficacy of direct negotiations and encourage parties to reach a comprehensive final status agreement.
The Council has very few options on the Middle East peace process, and it is likely that the open debate will again feature the reiteration of previously stated positions.
Council members may also take the opportunity to voice support for the negotiation process or encourage parties to refrain from undertaking actions that could threaten the viability of negotiations, or both.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members, while acknowledging the tremendous challenges, are generally supportive of the current direct negotiations. In the event that the talks conclude without any major developments, there may be impetus for more direct Council action. However, for the time being members are unlikely to pursue any action that might upset the course of the talks. Most members also believe that no Council activity would be possible without the active support of the US.
The US has a vested interested in the furtherance of the talks and does not want to see the Palestinian Authority explore other avenues, such as the campaign for statehood at the UN or a referral of Israel to the ICC. The US is not generally amenable to Council outcomes on Israel/Palestine.
While significant energy has been diverted to the Syrian crisis recently, Council members are cognisant of the need to continue to keep a close eye on the peace process.
The Palestinians have voiced frustration over both the structure and substance of the current talks. While they have committed to following the course of US-brokered negotiations for reaching a final status agreement, it remains to be seen what they will do if no progress has been made at the end of the nine-month timeline. At that time, the Palestinian Authority may choose to pursue other avenues at the UN or the ICC.
The US is the lead on Israel/Palestine in the Council.
UN Documents on Israel/Palestine
|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|
|17 September 2013 S/PV.7032||The Council was briefed on the Middle East by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry.|
|20 August 2013 S/PV.7020||The Council held a briefing and consultations on the situation in the Middle East.|