Expected Council Action
In July, Special Coordinator Robert Serry will brief the Council during its quarterly open debate on the Middle East. Issues likely to be raised include the lack of a credible path toward a political solution, Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, East Jerusalem, Israeli settlement expansion, the disproportionate Israeli military response to the disappearance of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli administrative detention.
Key Recent Developments
The most recent quarterly debate on the Middle East was held on 29 April—the final day of a nine-month time frame to achieve a comprehensive settlement between Israel and Palestine. Serry briefed on the collapse of US-brokered peace talks, and there has been no real momentum to bring the parties back to the table since.
There were significant developments in the preceding weeks that had signalled the collapse. In March, Israel reneged on its commitment to release Palestinian prisoners, which, alongside accelerated expansion of illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, created obstacles to the peace talks. Monitoring groups reported that Israeli settlement construction quadrupled in the nine months of the peace talks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not continue talks unless Israel agreed to a settlement freeze and honoured its previous commitment to release Palestinian prisoners.
On 2 April, Palestine then presented letters to accede to 15 international conventions and treaties, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 on international humanitarian law and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 on the laws of war. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was not included. However, on 27 April the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) authorised Abbas to join some 63 additional treaties and international agencies, including the ICC. If Palestine were to accede to the Rome Statute, it would have a legal avenue to hold Israel accountable for its occupation of Palestinian territory. Such moves for recognition and the accoutrements of statehood have long been opposed by both Israel and the US. Abbas has not pursued that track any further to date.
Israel formally suspended its participation in the peace talks following the 23 April announcement that Fatah and Hamas had reached an agreement to form a unity government. While Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreements have been reached several times—most notably in Mecca in 2007, Cairo in 2011 and Doha in 2012—each has gone unimplemented. However, both Fatah and Hamas have a significant impetus to make this agreement stick. The chances of Fatah forging a peace deal with Israel have dissipated. Hamas is extremely isolated due to the seven-year-old Israeli blockade of Gaza that was compounded by similar closures at the Rafah crossing into Egypt following the 3 July 2013 military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood-led government.
On 2 June, a national unity government was formed, ending the seven-year split between Fatah and Hamas, but key stumbling blocks remain, such as how to integrate the two security forces. Abbas pledged that the unity government would honour its international commitments, recognise Israel (the PLO recognised Israel in 1993) and renounce violence. Composed of technocrats, the unity government is temporary and will prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections in early 2015—a prospect that neither bloc seems eager to face. The EU and the US agreed to work with the new government but, given their concerns about Hamas, will watch closely how it operates.
On 5 June, in reaction to the formation of the unity government, Israel reaffirmed that it would not negotiate with any Palestinian government that included Hamas and announced major new settlement plans in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This resulted in renewed Palestinian consideration of joining the ICC, as the Rome Statute includes as war crimes the transfer of civilians into occupied territory (i.e., settlers and settlements) as well as the forcible transfer of a protected people in an occupied territory (i.e., forcing Palestinians off their lands, preventing their return and destroying their property).
Also in late April, around the time of the disintegration of the peace talks, 120 Palestinians in Israeli administrative detention began a hunger strike to protest their detention without charge or trial. There are approximately 5,200 Palestinian detainees in administrative detention, by which Israel holds Palestinians suspected of being a security threat without charge or trial for six-month periods that may be renewed ad infinitum. By mid-June, the number of prisoners refusing food had increased to 300 and 75 of these had been hospitalised. The Israeli parliament approved in a first vote a measure on 10 June to enable force-feeding prisoners, other votes are necessary for the bill to become law. On 6 June the Secretary-General reiterated the UN’s long-standing position that administrative detainees should be charged or released without delay and that force-feeding prisoners would contravene international standards. The hunger strike ended on 25 June after Israel agreed to improve some conditions in detention.
On 12 June, an Israeli airstrike killed one Palestinian and wounded three in Gaza, following a rocket launch from Gaza into Israel. A similar exchange occurred on 18 June with Israel striking five targets in Gaza.
Also on 12 June, three Israeli teenage settlers went missing near Hebron in the West Bank. The incident occurred in Area C of the West Bank where Israel has sole security responsibility, yet Israel has attributed responsibility to Hamas. Hamas denied responsibility but has made public comments praising the perpetrators. The Palestinian Authority has condemned the incident without ascribing blame while criticising the Israeli military response. At press time, a massive security sweep across the West Bank has resulted in four killed, including a minor, dozens injured and more than 370 Palestinians detained—mostly Hamas members, including “re-arrests” of previously released prisoners as well as several legislators. The Palestinian Authority has characterised the response as collective punishment and as an Israeli escalation tactic in retaliation for the unity government.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 15 May, the Israeli security forces killed two Palestinian teenagers during demonstrations in the West Bank. On 23 May, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said the two minors presented no direct threat and their killing may amount to extrajudicial executions under human rights law and wilful killings under international humanitarian law.
In a 5 June press release, the UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories expressed grave concern at the deteriorating health of the hunger strikers and urged Israel to end the practice of administrative detention. The Special Committee also stressed that force-feeding violates principles of international human rights law and the rights of the detainees. The statement furthermore expressed concern at the alarming pace and scale of Israeli settlement expansion, the continuing exploitation of natural resources in Palestine by Israel in violation of its international obligations, the impact of the land and maritime blockade imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip and accounts of excessive use of force by Israeli security forces against Palestinian children, especially in refugee camps.
In a statement to the Human Rights Council on 10 June, High Commissioner Navi Pillay reiterated her concern about the excessive use of force by Israeli security forces and about the continued evictions from and demolition of Palestinian homes. She also reiterated her call for Israel to respect due process when using administrative detention.
The key issue is determining what, if anything, the Council is prepared to do to encourage parties to reach a comprehensive final-status agreement in the face of US reluctance to address the Israel-Palestine situation substantively in the Security Council.
Council members could take advantage of the political vacuum left by the rupture of US-brokered talks. They could draw attention to the fact that the situation has mostly deteriorated in the 21 years since the 1993 Oslo Accords and perhaps question whether US mediation efforts will ever be able to deliver a comprehensive agreement. Council members could also draw attention to the lack of any meaningful engagement by the Middle East Quartet—comprising the EU, Russia, the UN and the US—and call for the Quartet to take up an effective mediation role, particularly since peace talks failed two months ago.
In response to Israeli settlement expansion, Council members could consider reviving the draft resolution condemning settlements, which had 14 votes in favour but was vetoed by the US on 18 February 2011. Such a resolution could be a more palatable option for Council members leaning on Palestine to stay clear of acceding to the Rome Statute of the ICC.
Nevertheless, the most likely option for the open debate is that Council members will assert their customary reiteration of previously stated positions—such as the importance of the two-state solution and encouraging parties to refrain from undertaking actions that could threaten the renewal of negotiations, despite the accumulated evidence of such actions taking place.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The artificially imposed moratorium on Council action on Israel/Palestine ended when the 29 April deadline passed without any agreement. Nevertheless, there remains little impetus to forge a more direct role for the Council vis-à-vis the peace process. All Council members share the view that no Council activity would be possible without the support of the US. Given the more overwhelming concerns in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Council members have very little appetite to challenge the status quo on this particular issue—especially as the parties themselves seem ill inclined to resume negotiations at this juncture.
The US is the lead on Israel-Palestine and has given no indication it is willing to relinquish its monopoly on mediating between the parties. The US does not have favourable views of the Palestinian Authority exploring other avenues toward statehood, such as membership in the UN or a referral of Israel to the ICC. Nor is the US amenable to Council outcomes on Israel-Palestine. This was most recently displayed on 23 June when the US blocked a press statement put forward by Jordan that condemned the killing of Palestinians by Israeli forces during the security sweep.
The last resolution that specifically addressed the peace process was resolution 1850 of 16 December 2008, which expressed support for the since defunct 27 November 2007 Annapolis negotiations.
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|23 June 2014 S/PV.7204||This was the regular monthly Middle East briefing, given by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.|
|20 May 2014 S/PV.7178||This was a briefing on the situation in the Middle East by the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco.|
|29 April 2014 S/PV.7164||Special Coordinator Robert Serry briefed the Council during its quarterly open debate on the Middle East.|
|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.|