April 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 April 2016
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action

In April, the Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East, with a focus on the situation in Israel/Palestine and the absence of a path toward a political solution.

Key Recent Developments

The situation in Israel/Palestine remains tense as the recent wave of violence that began in late September continues. Since then, stabbings, car-rammings and shooting attacks by Palestinians have killed 28 Israelis and two American tourists. Israeli forces have killed 182 Palestinians, including 135 who Israel alleged were attackers.

Israel’s expropriation of land also continues. On 15 March, Israel announced the appropriation of 579 acres (234 hectares) of land in the occupied West Bank near Jericho, the largest seizure of West Bank land in recent years. In response, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to press Israel to stop land confiscations. The US State Department criticised the move, saying that continuing expropriations and settlement expansion were “fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution”. Russia urged “all the sides to refrain from unilateral steps that undermine the prospects of the Palestinian issue settlement on the internationally recognised basis”. An EU statement said the move “calls into question Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution”.

On 20 March, a Palestinian delegation met with an ICC prosecution delegation in Amman, Jordan for three days of meetings discussing allegations of Israeli war crimes. The delegations discussed Israeli settlements, Israel’s large scale military offensive in the Gaza Strip in 2014 and settler crimes, including the arson attacks by Israelis against Dawabsha family, in which a young child and his parents were burned to death. 

On Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, negotiators for both parties met for talks beginning on 7 February in Doha. Negotiators said the sides reached agreement on a “limited practical perception” as to how to solve their dispute and implement previous reconciliation accords, but the talks were considered unsuccessful as major differences remain. In , particular, Hamas refuses to accept the formation of a unity government on the basis of the political program of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which accepts a two-state solution and calls for a negotiated settlement with Israel. Hamas also rejects Fatah’s offer to retain control over the finance, foreign affairs and security ministries.

Regarding Gaza, the Egyptian military in mid-March reportedly discovered tunnels large enough for trucks to pass through underneath the Sinai-Gaza border. Some of the tunnels stretch for more than three kilometres. Egypt and Israel claim that through these tunnels weapons are entering the Sinai to be used by extremist groups, and that ISIS members in the Sinai have entered Gaza to receive medical treatment. Tunnels traversing Gaza and the Sinai have long been used to facilitate the flow of building materials, medicine and humanitarian goods into the besieged Gaza strip.

On 15 March, a Hamas delegation visited Cairo, seeking to mend tense relations and requesting that Egypt allow more traffic through the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, the enclave’s only transit point not controlled by Israel. According to Hamas, the crossing was open for only 21 days in 2015. On 21 March, it was reported that Hamas had removed all banners displaying the images of senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Egyptian Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, in an apparent gesture to improve relations with Cairo.

Since the last quarterly debate on Israel/Palestine on 26 January, Council members have met on several occasions to consider the situation. In February, three briefings were held on Israel/Palestine under “any other business”, all at the request of Venezuela, the Council president in February. 

On 5 February, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav JenĨa briefed Council members on illegal settlements and the demolition of Palestinian houses. Following the meeting, Venezuela circulated a draft press statement to Council members. Among other things, the initial draft expressed concern about the recent home demolitions and the expulsion of Palestinians by Israeli authorities. It also rejected Israel’s appropriation of 370 acres in the area of Jericho, in the West Bank, as “state property” as well as the policies of establishment and expansion of illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.

Several Council members expressed their support for the Venezuelan initiative. New Zealand, supported by Egypt and Malaysia, suggested that a press statement might be too weak an outcome on such major issues and suggested that a presidential statement or resolution might be more appropriate. Egypt proposed strong language reaffirming the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force and reiterating that Israel’s appropriation of land in Palestinian and other Arab territories has no legal validity. Malaysia, Spain and Russia provided comments. Venezuela put a revised draft statement under silence on 9 February. Silence was broken by the US, which proposed extensive changes to the original text. Venezuela withdrew the draft, saying that consensus could not be reached on the statement. (For more details, see our 17 February story “Middle East Briefing and Press Statement” in What’s In Blue.

On 16 February, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed Council members under “any other business” on Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and on international protection to Palestinian people there, as had been called for by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Feltman referred to the Secretary-General’s letter dated 21 October 2015, transmitting an internal review of historical precedents for regimes that have been devised to provide varying forms of protection for areas and their inhabitants. This review was undertaken in response to a 2014 letter from Abbas that requested that “the territory of the State of Palestine be placed under an international protection system”, with the aim of “ensuring the protection of the Palestinian people”

A third briefing under “any other business” was held on 25 February, when OCHA head Stephen O’Brien briefed on the humanitarian situation and the situation of Palestinian children.

On 24 March, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov briefed the Council in the regular monthly meeting, where he warned that amid escalating violence, the international community must move beyond mere condemnations and send a clear message to both sides that a two-State solution was the best road to peace, but acknowledged that the possibility of a two-state solution was diminishing. He also reported that the Middle East Quartet, stepping up efforts to break the political impasse, have begun work on a report that would review the situation on the ground, identify dangers to a two-State solution and provide recommendations on the way forward.

Human Rights-Related Developments

The Human Rights Council considered three reports on Israel/Palestine during its 31st session in March. The first was the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of the recommendations contained in the fact-finding mission’s report that investigated the implications of Israeli settlements. The implementation report addressed continued Israeli settlement activity; settler violence and lack of accountability; issues related to Palestinian detainees, including children in Israeli custody; and business and human rights in relation to the settlements (A/HRC/31/42). The report of the Secretary-General on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory included developments concerning the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements, and updates and analysis of the effects of related house demolitions, evictions, settlement expansion, settler violence, discriminatory zoning and planning policies on the economic, social and cultural rights of Palestinians (A/HRC/31/43). The report of the Secretary-General on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory examined how the occupation and associated measures restrict freedom of movement and how those restrictions impact Palestinians’ enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights (A/HRC/31/44).

Key Issues

The immediate issue is determining how to de-escalate tensions. The overarching issue is how to urge the parties to cease actions that hinder the resumption of negotiations on a two-state solution, such as settlement building, acts of violence and other provocative acts. 

Options

There are several issues related to Israel/Palestine that the Council could choose to address.

One option would be to adopt a resolution outlining parameters for a final status agreement.

Another option would be to take a piecemeal approach and pursue an outcome on areas where agreement can be found among Council members. Issues such as settlements or the idea of an international protection plan could be addressed in this manner.

Council and Wider Dynamics

The negotiations on the draft press statement in February demonstrated that, though consensus could not be reached, several Council members including Egypt, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Spain and Venezuela are keenly interested in using the tools available to the Council to move the sides towards peace.

Egypt has expressed its intention to push for a Council outcome on Israel/Palestine before the end of the year. Egypt, while aware of the difficulties, is nevertheless interested in pursuing a Council product substantial enough to help the Palestinians return to the negotiating table, but which will not invite a veto by the US. While Egypt demonstrated a strong stance against settlement expansion during the February press statement negotiations, its approach to issues pertaining to Gaza remains to be seen and is likely to be complicated by its security concerns in the Sinai.

It is generally accepted that the fate of any Council outcome on Israel/Palestine lies ultimately with the US. While US reluctance to use the Council has often made Council action on the issue impossible, recent reports suggest that US President Barack Obama is exploring options for addressing the conflict before the end of his second term, and the US has indicated that it is considering changing its policy of opposition to using the Council as an avenue for resolving the conflict.

With US-led talks having fallen apart nearly two years ago, P5 member France is lobbying to hold an international peace conference before May that would outline incentives and give guarantees for Israelis and Palestinians to resume face-to-face talks before August to try to end the conflict. While Abbas welcomes the initiative, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced opposition, insisting on direct talks between the parties without pre-conditions and preferring less international involvement. 

UN Documents

Security Council Meeting Records
24 March 2016 S/PV.7657 This was a monthly briefing on Israel/Palestine.
Security Council Letters
21 October 2015 S/2015/809 This was a letter from the Secretary-General, which contained a summary of a 2014 review by the Secretariat of a number of historical precedents for the administration of territory by the League of Nations and the UN.
14 July 2014 S/2014/514 This was a letter from Abbas requesting that “the territory of the State of Palestine be placed under an international protection system’’ by the UN.