Expected Council Action
In early April, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry is expected to brief the Council prior to its quarterly open debate on the Middle East. His comments will likely focus on the lack of any substantial agreement between Israel and Palestine as 29 April approaches, the deadline marking the end of the nine-month period that the parties committed to direct talks.
Key Recent Developments
On 18 March, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed the Council saying the need to open a political horizon for the two-state solution was becoming more urgent as conditions on the ground continue to worsen. The volatile situation was exemplified by repeated exchanges of fire between 11 and 13 March when 70 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza and Israel conducted 15 airstrikes against Gaza.
Feltman also reported a rise in Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes while Israeli settlement construction almost doubled in 2013 in comparison to 2012. (On 7 February, a group of 25 aid organisations said that demolitions were at a five year high and that there had been a marked increase in destruction and displacement with the period beginning July 2013—the same month the nine-month direct talks began. Media reports indicate that UN figures show the pace of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians has increased four-fold over an eight year period.)
On 24 February, the Israeli Knesset passed a controversial law distinguishing between Muslim and Christian Palestinian citizens of Israel. The legislation was criticised as an attempt to divide the Arab population of Israel.
The US-brokered negotiations have been underway since 29 July 2013. What began as a nine month timeframe to achieve a comprehensive settlement, has devolved into a struggle to get the parties to agree to continue talking. The US may put forth several final-status “bridging proposals” before the deadline if direct talks falter in an effort to convince the parties, particularly the Palestinians, that there is value in continuing the negotiations. These proposals are reportedly based on the 2008 Annapolis talks and address core issues such as security arrangements, borders, Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees. However, Palestinian officials anticipate such proposals will be highly problematic and largely favouring Israel. Israel’s position has shifted in the eight years since Annapolis and it now seeks to retain even more settlement blocs and maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley.
In March, the issue of Al-Aqsa mosque in the Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem was particularly sensitive. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab Group sent letters to the Security Council, complaining of repeated and aggressive Israeli incursions and reporting that the Knesset had introduced provocative legislation to assert sovereignty over the compound to further entrench Israel’s illegal annexation of the city. In remarks to the media on 18 March, following Feltman’s briefing, elected Council member Jordan said it had raised the incursions on Al-Aqsa and Israel’s attempts to impose sovereignty during consultations. (Jordan is also the historic custodian of the compound.)
US President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 3 March and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 17 March. Netanyahu reiterated the demand that Palestine recognise Israel as a Jewish state, a position rejected by Abbas since the Palestine Liberation Organization recognised Israel in 1993. Palestinian officials argue that the sole purpose of insisting on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is to undermine the Palestinian right of return in a final status agreement and that any such recognition would also damage the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has facilitated the talks with intense shuttle diplomacy and most recently met with Abbas in Amman on 26 March and had spoken with Netanyahu earlier in the day. The impasse at press time was over the issue of prisoner releases. Media reports indicated that Israel will not honour the previously agreed commitment to release Palestinian prisoners and instead added a new condition that the release was contingent on Abbas agreeing to continue talks past the 29 April deadline.
Meanwhile, the relationship between Egypt and Hamas, the Islamist government in Gaza, seems to have ruptured after the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013. On 4 March, Hamas was banned from carrying out any activity in Egypt when a Cairo court ordered the seizure of its assets and that its offices close. Egypt has continued to close tunnels under the Gaza-Sinai border, announcing on 12 March it had destroyed 1,370 such tunnels. These closures, along with the Israeli blockade, have made living conditions in Gaza untenable. On 25 March, the UN Relief and Works Organization, that services the Palestinian refugee population, urged Israel and Egypt to lift their restrictions to ease the plight of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza.
On 5 March, Israel seized a ship on the Red Sea that was carrying Iranian-supplied weaponry, allegedly bound for Gaza. The US called for the incident to be taken up by the 1737 Iran Sanctions Committee.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 24 March, the Human Rights Council considered four reports: by the Secretary-General on Israeli settlements (A/HRC/25/38); by the High Commissioner on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the international fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements (A/HRC/25/39); by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (A/HRC/25/40); and by the Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, Richard Falk, who called for an assessment by the International Court of Justice of the legal status of Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory (A/HRC/25/67).
The key issue is determining what, if anything, the Council may do to encourage parties to reach a comprehensive final-status agreement in the face of US reluctance to having the Israel-Palestine situation substantively addressed by the Security Council.
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—such as support for the negotiation process while encouraging parties to refrain from undertaking actions that could threaten the viability of negotiations.
Council members may also take the opportunity to 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 since the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Most Council members do not have a great deal of confidence that the talks will conclude with any significant progress, yet are unlikely to pursue any action that might upset the course of the talks. If the 29 April deadline passes without any agreement then there may be impetus for more direct Council action. However, members also believe that no Council activity would be possible without the support of the US.
The US has a vested interest in the furtherance of the talks beyond the deadline and does not want to see the Palestinian Authority explore other avenues, such as membership 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 by 29 April. 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.
|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
|18 March 2014 S/PV.7140
|This was a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
|25 February 2014 S/PV.7118
|This was a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
|20 January 2014 S/PV.7096
|This was a quarterly open debate on the Middle East.
|Security Council Letters
|6 March 2014 S/2014/161
|This letter was from the OIC regarding the issue of Al-Aqsa mosque.
|3 March 2014 S/2014/185
|This letter was from the Arab Group regarding the issue of Al-Aqsa mosque.