Expected Council Action
In October, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman will brief the Council during its quarterly open debate on the Middle East. Feltman is likely to focus on developments following the 26 August Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that ended 50 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza militants.
Key Recent Developments
The Council was last briefed on the situation by Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry on 16 September during the monthly meeting on the Middle East. He characterised the situation in Gaza as worryingly fragile and advocated that the calm brokered in Cairo be solidified through continuing talks under Egyptian auspices to resolve outstanding issues.
Serry stressed that Gaza must now be opened for reconstruction and recovery, while security concerns with regard to dual-use material must be addressed. To this end, he announced that he had brokered a trilateral agreement among Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the UN to enable work at the scale required in Gaza. The agreement gives a lead role to the PA in the reconstruction effort while providing security assurances through UN monitoring, that construction materials will not be diverted from their civilian purposes. Serry said he would welcome the Council’s support and guidance in the implementation of the agreement. He asserted that the Palestinian Government of National Consensus, under President Mahmoud Abbas’s leadership, must be empowered to assume its rightful responsibilities and oversee the reconstruction.
Regarding accountability for alleged violations of international law committed by both sides during the hostilities, Serry noted that the Secretary-General plans to commission a board of inquiry to investigate a number of incidents involving UN premises.
The parties resumed negotiations in Cairo on 23 September to address outstanding issues. The following day, the head of the Palestinian Fatah delegation, Azzam al-Ahmad, met with Hamas deputy leader, Musa Abu Marzouk, to begin reconciliation talks on issues including security, elections and governance of Gaza.
Meanwhile, Abbas has been working to garner support for a peace plan that he hopes will be adopted in a Council resolution. Speaking to the General Assembly on 26 September, Abbas said the plan would set a deadline for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, over the entire territory occupied in 1967, and would entail a solution to the plight of Palestine refugees on the basis of General Assembly resolution 194 of 1948. This plan would be linked to the immediate resumption of negotiations to demarcate the borders, reach a comprehensive agreement and draft a peace treaty. On 4 September, Palestinian officials met with US Secretary of State John Kerry to present the plan. Speaking with Abbas at a joint press conference on 19 September, French President Francois Hollande said, “We will have a resolution, to be presented to the Security Council, [it] will say very clearly…what the solution to the conflict must be”. Abbas had presented the plan to the Arab League on 7 September, and the group later adopted a resolution reaffirming the “Arab decision” to approach the Security Council for such a resolution. Palestinian authorities have publicly noted that if such a resolution were to be put forth and vetoed by the US, other avenues could include going to the General Assembly and the ICC.
On 31 August, Israel announced its intentions to expropriate close to 1,000 acres of Palestinian land in the area of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. The US called on Israel to rethink the move, with the State Department reiterating its long-held policy of opposing settlement expansion. On 9 September, the envoys of five EU countries—the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain—submitted a joint official protest to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. The Secretary-General issued a statement saying the seizure “risks paving the way for further settlement activity, which… is illegal under international law and runs totally counter to the pursuit of a two-state solution”.
On 22 September, the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which seeks to promote dialogue between donors, the PA and the Israeli government, met at UN headquarters. A donor conference co-hosted by Egypt and Norway will be held in Cairo on 12 October. The PA estimates that the reconstruction of Gaza will cost $7.8 billion.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The Human Rights Council held a special session on 23 July and passed a resolution condemning widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights arising from Israeli military operations carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territories beginning on 13 June (A/HRC/RES/S-21/1). The resolution established an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, identify those responsible and propose ways and means to protect civilians. A written report is to be presented in March 2015. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 29 in favour, with the US voting against and 17 abstentions, including Security Council members France, the Republic of Korea and the UK. Doudou Diène (Senegal), William Schabas (Canada) and Mary McGowan Davis (US) were appointed as members of the commission of inquiry.
The new Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Makarim Wibisono, will undertake his first official visit to the region from 20 to 28 September to gather first-hand information on the current human rights situation there following Israel’s military operations, with a focus on children. Despite requests, he was not granted access by Israel and will instead visit Egypt and Jordan and seek access to Gaza through the Rafah crossing. A press conference was planned for 28 September, with an oral update to the General Assembly in October and a report to the Human Rights Council in March 2015.
Key issues for the Council pertaining to Gaza in the post-ceasefire phase include the role it can play in solidifying the cessation of hostilities through negotiations on outstanding issues and achieving a clearly defined agreement, while ensuring that such an agreement prohibits a return to the status quo by providing for the lifting of the blockade and establishing security arrangements to prevent a resumption of hostilities.
Encouraging and facilitating emergency humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for the devastated Gaza Strip remains a key issue.
Another key issue regarding Gaza is ensuring that impartial investigations into alleged war crimes committed during the conflict are conducted and that those found accountable are prosecuted.
The overarching issue is determining how to move forward on achieving a two-state solution in light of the breakdown of US-brokered negotiations in late April.
A related issue for the Council is Israel’s continuing settlement expansion in the West Bank, which undermines prospects for attaining a peace agreement.
One option is for the Council to adopt a resolution concerning Gaza that supports the ceasefire and also tackles the root causes of the conflict. Such a resolution could provide for the establishment of a mechanism to monitor compliance with the ceasefire agreement.
Another option is to adopt a resolution that addresses the conflict in its entirety, rather than narrowly addressing Gaza.
Issuing a statement welcoming the trilateral agreement on reconstruction brokered by Serry is a further option.
The Council met several times throughout the most recent outbreak of violence, with meetings called by Jordan as the Arab Group representative, though outcomes have been weak, with the Council issuing one press statement and one presidential statement. (Council action on the issue has long been constrained by the veto-wielding US, which traditionally protects Israeli interests, making the adoption of decisions critical of Israel’s conduct or limiting Israel’s options hard to achieve.)
Jordan circulated a draft resolution on 22 July that called for an immediate ceasefire and the “withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces” from Gaza, lifting of the blockade and renewed efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace based on the vision of two states on pre-1967 borders. This draft was discussed several times in consultations; however, consensus was never reached as some members, particularly the European members, felt that a resolution ought to be sequenced after a ceasefire agreement was reached and should support the cessation of hostilities. The US did not engage on the substance of the draft. On 4 August, Jordan put the resolution in blue, with no action taken at press time.
Two other draft resolutions—one drafted by France, the UK and Germany, and another later by the US—surfaced in late August. While the drafts differed, particularly on the establishment of a mechanism to monitor the provisions of any ceasefire reached, both sought to address obstacles to establishing a durable peace and called for a sustainable ceasefire on the basis of returning Gaza to the PA’s control, security arrangements to prevent a resumption of hostilities and the lifting of economic and humanitarian restrictions. The drafts were discussed bilaterally, mainly between the P3 and Jordan. These negotiations appeared to be proceeding with some urgency in mid-September. However, it appears that both Israel and Palestine may have had reservations concerning the text. At press time—a month after the ceasefire was brokered—no further texts had been circulated to the larger Council membership.
It remains to be seen how Council members will receive Abbas’ initiative for a resolution setting a deadline for ending the occupation. France has publicly announced support for the initiative, and Jordan would also endorse the resolution.
UN Documents on Israel/Palestine
|Security Council Resolutions|
|8 January 2009 S/RES/1860||This resolution called for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|28 July 2014 S/PRST/2014/13||This presidential statement among other things, called for respect of international humanitarian law; expressed support for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire into the Eid al-Fitr period and beyond; called on parties to engage in efforts to achieve a durable ceasefire; emphasised that civilian and humanitarian facilities be respected and protected; and called for the full implementation of resolution 1860.|
|4 September 2014 S/2014/650||This was a report on the question of Palestine submitted to the General Assembly.|
|Security Council Letters|
|25 August 2014 S/2014/621||This was a letter from Palestine reminding member states of their obligations to investigate and prosecute humanitarian law violations, including those committed by their nationals serving in Israeli forces.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|16 September 2014 S/PV.7266||This was a briefing by Special Coordinator Serry.|
|31 July 2014 S/PV.7232||The Council met for an urgent meeting on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, a day after Israel’s shelling of an UNRWA shelter. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos and Comissioner-General of UNRWA Pierre KrÃ¤henbÃ¼hl briefed the Council via video teleconference and telephone, respectively.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|12 July 2014 SC/11472||This press statement called for de-escalation; reinstitution of the November 2012 ceasefire; respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians; and support for the resumption of direct negotiations.|
|4 August 2014 S/2014/568||This was a draft resolution on Gaza put in blue by Jordan.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|11 December 1948 A/RES/194||This was a resolution calling for a right of return for Palestinian refugees.|