Expected Council Action
In April, the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East, with a focus on the situation in Israel/Palestine. Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Judeh is expected to preside.
Key Recent Developments
Israeli legislative elections were held on 17 March. With a voter turnout of 72.3 percent, incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won the most seats. On the eve of the election, Netanyahu promised would-be voters that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch and that anyone who moves to establish such a state is “giving radical Islam an area from which to attack the state of Israel”.
Two days after the election, on 19 March, US President Barack Obama called Netanyahu to congratulate him on his victory. A White House statement that followed said that in the call, Obama reaffirmed that the US is committed to a two-state solution “that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine”. Earlier that day, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Netanyahu’s pre-election statements demonstrated that he was “no longer committed to a two-state solution”, that the US is in a position to re-evaluate its thinking and that the comments have consequences for actions that the US takes “at the United Nations and other places”.
Also on 19 March, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) executive committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah, cited Netanyahu’s comments repudiating a two-state solution and said he would continue his unilateral strategy of seeking full UN recognition and using the ICC to press war crimes charges.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a congratulatory call to Netanyahu on 20 March and urged him to renew Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution. Ban also urged Netanyahu to release the tax revenue currently held by Israel but owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel stopped transferring customs revenue to the PA after Abbas, on 31 December 2014, followed through on a promise to accede to the Rome Statute if a Security Council resolution on ending Israel’s occupation failed to be adopted. In three months, about $374 million has been frozen. The tax freeze has forced the PA to adopt harsh budgetary restraints and in recent months Palestinian civil service workers have received only about 60 percent of their salaries.
The Middle East Quartet—comprised of the EU, Russia, UN and US—met on 8 February in Munich to prioritise the urgent resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a revival of the peace process. On 9 February, the group issued a statement urging the resumption of negotiations “as soon as possible” and calling for donor funding to accelerate reconstruction of Gaza “to address the basic needs of the Palestinian population and to ensure stability”.
In his final briefing as Special Coordinator, Robert Serry on 26 March urged the Council to take the lead and present a framework for negotiations as perhaps “the only way to preserve the goal of a two-state solution”. He recalled that all three stalled negotiations, had been followed by wars in Gaza, called for a new strategy that prioritised Gaza, and warned that persistent illegal settlement activity could kill the prospects for peace.
In Gaza, limited progress has been made in rebuilding following last summer’s fighting between Gaza militants and Israeli forces. On 26 February, a joint statement from some 30 aid agencies expressed alarm at the slow pace of reconstruction, stating that “repairs to the tens of thousands of homes, hospitals and schools damaged or destroyed in the fighting has been woefully slow” and that “sporadic rocket fire from Palestinian armed groups” had resumed.
On 2 March, an Egyptian court declared Hamas a terrorist organisation, as Egypt has blamed Hamas for violence in the Sinai Peninsula. Due to Egyptian security concerns, the Rafah crossing, which links Gaza to the Sinai, has been mostly closed since last October. On 4 March, Serry expressed “deep concern” that not enough was being done to address Gaza’s underlying issues and urged “all stakeholders, including the government of national consensus, Palestinian factions, Israel, Egypt, the international community and donors, to adopt a ‘Gaza first’ strategy”. Egypt’s foreign ministry issued a response noting Serry’s “inability” to negotiate with Israeli officials to remove the blockade and stressing Egypt’s right to take the “necessary measures” to protect and secure its borders, referring to the closure of the crossing.
A Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry established to investigate possible war crimes committed by all sides during the Gaza conflict last year announced on 9 March that it was postponing the publication of its report until June; the report was originally due on 23 March. On 3 February, Commission head William Schabas stepped down from his post amid claims by Israel that he had a “clear and documented” bias against Israel. After Schabas’ resignation, Netanyahu said it was “time to shelve the anti-Israeli report his committee wrote”.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on 5 February that Nickolay Mladenov will succeed Serry as his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and his Personal Representative to the PLO and the PA. In this capacity, Mladenov will be the Envoy of the Secretary-General to the Quartet.
On 15 March, media reported that Tony Blair intends to step down from his post as Middle East envoy for the Quartet, however at press time no official statement had been released.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 28th session in March, the Human Rights Council considered six reports on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, including the Secretary-General’s report on Israeli settlements (A/HRC/28/44) and the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report (A/HRC/28/43). Presenting the reports on 23 March, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri commented that the establishment and expansion of settlements are at the centre of many of the ongoing human rights violations. She also said doubts persist about the Israeli authorities’ willingness to ensure accountability and to prevent future violations in light of persistent impunity regarding past operations. Israel did not attend the session.
The overarching issue is determining how to move forward on a two-state solution in light of the breakdown of US-brokered negotiations in April 2014.
A related issue is Israel’s continuing settlement expansion in the West Bank, which undermines prospects for peace.
Continuing to encourage and facilitate emergency humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for the devastated Gaza Strip remains a key issue.
Another key issue regarding Gaza is ensuring that investigations into alleged war crimes committed during last summer’s conflict are impartial and that those found accountable are prosecuted.
One option for the Council at this time is to revisit the idea of adopting a resolution outlining parameters for a final status agreement, an initiative that has been brewing behind the scenes among some Council members for a while.
Another option, in lieu of an agreement on a parameters resolution, would be to explore other Council outcomes that could help advance prospects for a negotiated settlement of the conflict, such as a resolution condemning the continued building of settlements in the West Bank, which remains a key impediment to achieving a two-state solution.
Given the political sensitivities surrounding the issue, Council decisions on Israel/Palestine are generally negotiated outside of New York, at capital level, and it is generally accepted that any outcome’s fate lies ultimately with the US, which has historically used its veto to protect Israeli interests in the Council. Recent developments between Israel and the US, particularly the fallout over Netanyahu’s pre-election comments repudiating a two-state solution, may mean that, given the deadlock in US-brokered negotiations and Netanyahu’s apparent intransigence, the US may shift its posture towards action on the issue in the Council.
Other Council members, such as France, Jordan and the UK, have been involved since late last year in efforts to broker agreement on a resolution that sets parameters for a final status agreement, though movement on any such document was stalled due to US insistence that the Council should not act until after Israel’s elections. With the elections out of the way, these or other members may be compelled to re-introduce such an initiative.
UN DOCUMENTS ON ISRAEL/PALESTINE
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|26 March 2015 S/PV.7417||This was a regular monthly briefing on the Middle East.|
|15 January 2015 S/PV.7360||This was the regular quarterly open debate on the situation in the Middle East.|
|30 December 2014 S/PV.7354||This was a meeting to vote on a draft resolution (S/2014/916) calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories by the end of 2017. Argentina, Chad, Chile, China, France, Jordan, Luxembourg and Russia voted in favour; Lithuania, Nigeria, Republic of Korea, Rwanda and the UK abstained; and the US and Australia voted against.|
|17 December 2014 S/2014/916 version 1||This was the draft resolution on Palestine put into blue by Jordan, on behalf of the Arab Group.|