October 2015 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 October 2015
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action

In October, the Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East, with a focus on the situation in Israel/Palestine. 

Key Recent Developments

On 20 July, Security Council members Jordan and Malaysia convened an Arria-formula meeting on Gaza, intended to draw attention to the fact that since “Operation Protective Edge”, the 51-day Israeli offensive against Gaza last year, little or no recovery or reconstruction has taken place, and the situation of civilians in Gaza is unsustainable. The situation remains dire with the UN Conference on Trade and Development warning on 1 September that Gaza might become uninhabitable by 2020 if current political and economic trends continue. Eight years of effective bans on most exports, three major conflicts and tight restrictions on materials entering Gaza have “shattered its ability to export and produce for the domestic market, ravaged its already debilitated infrastructure, left no time for reconstruction and economic recovery, and accelerated the de-development” of the Gaza Strip, a statement said. 

On 31 July, Council members issued a press statement that expressed outrage and condemned the “vicious terrorist attack” earlier that day, which killed an 18-month-old Palestinian child and injured his family members in the West Bank village of Duma. The child’s mother and father subsequently died from injuries sustained during the arson attack on their home, which was apparently committed by extremist Jewish settlers. Israel placed a number of Jewish extremists suspected of belonging to a network that had encouraged acts of arson under administrative detention. The government, however, imposed a news blackout on the investigation into the attack, so it remains unclear if any of those in detention are suspected of participation in it. 

On 7 September, a conference of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) that had been scheduled for 14-15 September was indefinitely postponed amid planned boycotts by some political factions and disagreements about the agenda and structure of the meeting. The PNC has not had a regular session since 1996. Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who is also president of the Palestinian Authority, along with ten of the executive committee’s 18 members, was to submit his resignation, which could only take effect with a meeting of the PNC. 

On 10 September, the General Assembly passed a resolution allowing the flags of non-member observer states to fly at UN headquarters in New York. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 119 in favour, eight against (including the US) and 45 abstentions (including Council members Lithuania and the UK). Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah commented after the vote that he strongly believes this marks another step towards recognition of Palestinian statehood. Israel opposed the decision, claiming the international body is biased in favour of the Palestinians. US Ambassador Samantha Power expressed concern that flying the flag will only create more tension between Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinian flag was raised on 30 September, coinciding with Abbas’s address to the General Assembly. 

The Security Council last met on Israel/Palestine on 15 September when Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov briefed. He remarked that frustration, fear and violence have continued to spiral, undermining belief in finding a way out of the impasse. The situation on the ground remains precarious despite efforts by Israel in recent months to ease some restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza, he said. Sporadic rocket and missile exchanges between Israel and Gaza continue, as do clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank. August saw the highest number of demolitions since June 2010, with 142 Palestinian-owned structures demolished and more than 200 Palestinians displaced. 

Mladenov also voiced serious concern over violence of varying intensity in the Old City of Jerusalem, sparked by clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police that began on 13 September at the Al-Aqsa mosque in the Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem. Jordan (the historic custodian of the compound) circulated a draft Council press statement on the situation in Jerusalem on 14 September; it was only issued three days later after substantial revisions by the US. On 18 September, Israeli officials increased security and restricted access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, while Palestinian leaders called for a “day of rage” protest. On 22 September, Abbas warned that there was a risk of a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, erupting if violence at the mosque did not ease and peace talks with Israel did not resume. 

On 22 September, Human Rights Watch released a report saying that since July 2013, the Egyptian military has arbitrarily and in violation of international law carried out mass home demolitions and forced eviction of about 3,200 families in the Sinai Peninsula on the border with Gaza, ostensibly to eliminate the threat of smuggling tunnels. Egypt’s official plan for the so-called buffer zone calls for clearing about 79 square kilometres on the Gaza border, including all of Rafah, a town of about 78,000 people. Meanwhile, the US has reportedly increased the number of troops deployed to the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping operations in the Sinai Peninsula after four US soldiers were wounded in a roadside bomb attack. 

On 30 September, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon chaired a meeting of the Middle East Quartet—comprising the EU, Russia, the UN and the US—in New York, on the margins of the General Assembly. The Secretary-General of the League of Arab States and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were invited to join the meeting. 

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 3 July, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution on ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (A/HRC/RES/29/25). The resolution (adopted with 41 votes in favour, five abstentions and the US voting against) welcomed the report of the independent commission of inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict; deplored Israel’s non-cooperation with the commission; stressed the need to pursue practical steps towards accountability; called upon the parties concerned to cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court; and requested a report at its 31st session on the implementation of the resolution and the commission’s recommendations.

The UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories conducted its annual fact-finding visit to Amman from 4 to 8 August. According to the committee’s 10 August statement, a large number of representations by civil society groups expressed alarm over the escalating violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Other issues raised included increasing human rights violations against women and children; poor conditions prevailing in prisons; the expulsion of Bedouins by Israeli authorities; and the slow pace of reconstruction in Gaza.

On 14 September, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein during his opening statement of the HRC’s 30th session, expressed profound dismay over the persistence of serious human rights issues in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. He noted the spike in killings of Palestinians in incidents involving Israeli security forces in the West Bank over the past two months, which raise concern about excessive use of force, and the murderous arson of a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Duma. He also raised concern over the increasingly restrictive atmosphere in Israel, including for those who are critical of Israeli occupation policies and practices, and over legislation that enables financial penalties to be enforced against those who advocate for boycotts of Israeli settlements.

Key Issues

The overarching issue is determining how to move forward on a two-state solution in light of the April 2014 breakdown of US-brokered negotiations.

Other key issues include:

• escalating tension and incidents of violence between Israelis and Palestinians;

• Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank, which undermines prospects for peace;

• reconstruction in Gaza, which needs to be facilitated and accelerated; and

• alleged war crimes committed in Gaza during last summer’s conflict, which need to be investigated, with measures to ensure accountability.

Options

The Council has limited 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 to establish conditions for the parties to return to realistic and meaningful negotiations, while encouraging parties to refrain from undertaking actions that could threaten the viability of such negotiations.

An option 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 would be to explore other Council outcomes that could help advance prospects for a negotiated settlement and to invite the Quartet to report back to the Council on its meeting in New York and ongoing efforts.

Council Dynamics

Some Council members, such as France, Jordan and the UK, have been involved since late last year in efforts to negotiate a resolution that sets parameters for a final status agreement. On 30 December 2014, a draft resolution calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories by the end of 2017 failed to pass. Since the start of this year, movement on any further outcome has been stalled because of US insistence that the Council should not act until after Israel’s election and subsequently the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal. It seems that despite the completion of both these processes, Council dynamics on the issue remain unchanged and do not signal a shift towards action on the issue at this time. Instead, it seems members such as France, are seeking to focus on creating the necessary atmosphere conducive to resuming talks outside of the Council. Separately, developments in Sinai may gain prominence in relation to the impact on Gaza, and with Egypt expected to become a member of the Council in January 2016.

It is generally accepted that the fate of any Council outcome on Israel/Palestine lies ultimately with the US.

UN Documents on Israel/Palestine

Security Council Meeting Record
15 September 2015 S/PV.7521 This was the regular monthly Middle East briefing.
Security Council Press Statements
17 September 2015 SC/12052 This was a press statement that expressed grave concern regarding escalating tensions in Jerusalem, including clashes in and around the Haram al-Sharif compound, and called for upholding the compound’s historic status quo.
31 July 2015 SC/11994 This was a press statement that condemned the terrorist attack in the village of Duma near Nablus, which killed a Palestinian child and his parents.