January 2014 Monthly Forecast

Posted 20 December 2013
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Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action

The Secretary-General is expected to brief the Council prior to its quarterly open debate on the Middle East that will likely focus on the current direct talks between Israel and Palestine. 

Key Recent Developments

On 16 December, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry delivered the latest monthly Middle East briefing to the Security Council. The Department of Political Affairs has welcomed the 29 July resumption of direct final-status negotiations while reiterating that momentous and sustained efforts would be necessary to conclude negotiations successfully within the nine-month deadline set for achieving a comprehensive settlement. The UN has become increasingly pessimistic about the likelihood of a substantive political breakthrough.

When Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed the Council on 19 November, he reported that the talks were tackling substantive issues but were strained and had suffered a setback when Israel announced new settlement building. He said it was the UN’s view that settlement expansion cannot be reconciled with the vision of a two-state solution and that without progress soon, the two-state solution may be irreparably damaged.

Both parties have agreed not to disclose the substance of the US-brokered negotiations and that US Secretary of State John Kerry is the only actor authorised to comment. He’s refrained from doing so in any detail except on 6 November following claims in Israeli media that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to Israeli settlement expansion in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners. In response, Kerry said, “I want to make it extremely clear that at no time did the Palestinians in any way agree … that they could somehow condone or accept the settlements.”

There have been numerous leaks, however, indicating that Palestinian officials are frustrated by what they view as problematic proposals on final-status issues favouring Israel, ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, being informed by Israeli negotiators that the “separation wall” that Israel built cutting through the West Bank would be the border of a future Palestinian state and not the 1967 Green Line and discussions by Israeli authorities that they would build a similar barrier in the Jordan Valley. These setbacks caused several Palestinian negotiators to resign on 13 November. Abbas announced the same day that negotiations would continue despite the resignations.

Kerry has undertaken intense shuttle diplomacy to keep the talks afloat but has largely acted as a facilitator. However, in December he intervened for the first time to present US proposals on security arrangements in the hope that it would break the deadlock. Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas twice in December to focus largely on Israel’s security needs in the Jordan Valley, a contentious final-status issue related to the territory and borders of a future state of Palestine. Neither side has responded positively to the proposal, which would leave a limited number of Israeli troops stationed inside a future Palestinian state for five to 15 years. Netanyahu maintains the proposal does not sufficiently guarantee Israel’s safety. Abbas has argued any Israeli military presence in a future state perpetuates the occupation and undermines sovereignty. However, the Palestinians have never objected to a third-party or international security presence.

The US plan for security arrangements is the first of several final-status “bridging proposals” that may be made in January if direct talks continue to falter. These US proposals are expected to address other core issues, such as territory and borders, and would include a timetable for implementation and a plan for the Palestinian economy. It was unclear how these proposals might address the issue of Palestinian refugees’ right of return and the status of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Egypt and Gaza’s Islamist government, Hamas, continues to be under increasing strain after the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July. Egypt has intensified efforts to close tunnels under the border, which, along with the Israeli blockade, has made living conditions in Gaza untenable. The UN has warned of a humanitarian disaster due to power shortages that have disrupted health services and left water and sewage facilities inoperable, along with the lack of fuel and building materials and the severely limited import and export of goods.

The tense relationship between Egypt and Hamas, the humanitarian situation in Gaza and public discontent with the peace talks have led to the resumption of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks in Doha. A key obstacle undermining progress towards reconciliation has been the insistence by Hamas that it maintain its own security force. However, on 15 December this dialogue resulted in a grant from Qatar which allowed fuel to be imported to Gaza via Israel, bringing a power plant back on-line. (The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority can ship fuel to Gaza via Israel, but Hamas has accused Fatah of imposing high taxes on the fuel and had refused to buy it.)

Human Rights-Related Developments

Following the decision by the Human Rights Council (HRC) in March 2012 to establish an international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of Israeli settlements on the human rights of the Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel suspended its cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the HRC and its mechanisms. On 29 January 2013, Israel did not appear for its Universal Periodic Review (UPR). In June, Israel expressed its intention to cooperate and resolve all outstanding issues, and appeared for its UPR on 29 October. The working group on the UPR adopted a report on Israel on 1 November. Israel will examine more than 230 recommendations formulated during the interactive dialogue and provide responses no later than March. Israel noted that seven of the recommendations contained the term “State of Palestine” and stressed that the term did not imply the existence of a sovereign State of Palestine, nor its recognition as such.

Key Issues

The key issue is determining what, if anything, the Council is willing to do to encourage parties to reach a comprehensive final-status agreement in the face of US intransigence on the Israel/Palestine situation being substantively addressed by the Security Council.

Options

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, encourage parties to refrain from undertaking actions that could threaten the viability of negotiations, or draw attention to concerns that very little real progress is being made in the latest round of talks and rather, to the contrary, the situation has mostly deteriorated over the span of twenty years since the 1993 Oslo Accords.

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 significant progress, 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 interest 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. The last resolution that specifically addressed the peace process was resolution 1850 of 16 December 2008.

The Palestinians have voiced frustration over both the structure and substance of the current talks. While they have committed to the US-brokered negotiations, 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.

Council members are aware that the 24 November agreement between the P5+1 and Iran on its nuclear programme may negatively impact the Israel/Palestine peace process. Israel has consistently argued that its security needs are paramount because of the threat Iran poses. Israel’s displeasure over the recent thaw in diplomatic relations between the US and Iran may make it more difficult for the US to effectively exert pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in pursuit of a two-state solution. 

The US is the lead on Israel/Palestine in the Council.

UN Documents

Security Council Resolution
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.
Security Council Meeting Records
16 December 2013 S/PV.7084 The Council was briefed by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry.
19 November 2013 S/PV.7063 This was a meeting record of the briefing by Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.
22 October 2013 S/PV.7047 This was a quarterly open debate on the Middle East.