July 2016 Monthly Forecast

Posted 1 July 2016
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action

In July, 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. An outcome is unlikely.

Key Recent Developments

On 3 June, France hosted senior diplomats from 29 countries, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives from the Arab League, the EU and key Arab states, at a one-day summit in Paris, to reaffirm their support for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to organise an international conference later this year with the parties present.

Following the meeting, the participants issued a communiqué in which they reiterated that a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve peace and expressed alarm that actions on the ground, including violence and ongoing settlement activity, are imperilling prospects for such a solution. Participants stressed that both sides must demonstrate a genuine commitment to the two-state solution and resolve all permanent-status issues through direct negotiations based on resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). The communiqué also recalled relevant Security Council resolutions and highlighted the importance of implementing the Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal for an end to the Arab–Israeli conflict that was endorsed by the Arab League at the Beirut Summit in 2002. Participants discussed ways in which the international community could advance prospects for peace, including by providing meaningful incentives. They also highlighted the potential for regional peace and security as envisioned by the Arab Peace Initiative. Finally, the participants highlighted the key role of the Quartet, comprised of the UN, US, EU and Russia, and of regional stakeholders and welcomed France’s offer to coordinate an international conference before the end of the year.

That day, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement describing the event as a “missed opportunity” and said that the international community was allowing the Palestinians to continue to evade direct bilateral negotiations. On 30 May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had expressed interest in resuming the peace process in the Middle East and proposed to make amendments to the Arab Peace Initiative. On 13 June, he told Likud ministers that the positive part of that initiative was the willingness of the Arab nations to achieve peace and normalisation with Israel. Its negative elements, he said, included the demands that Israel retreat to the 1967 borders, leave the Golan Heights and permit the return of Palestinian refugees. In a 4 June statement, Arab League head Nabil Al-Arabi rejected making any amendments to the initiative. Concerning the Paris meeting, Al-Arabi said on 6 June that Kerry was “definitely not enthusiastic”, and that he prevented the summit from issuing a communiqué with stronger recommendations outlining a timeframe for conducting any future peace talks and specifying the UN resolutions such talks would be based on.

The summit was intended to follow the publication of a Middle East Quartet report that would review the situation on the ground, identify dangers to a two-state solution and provide recommendations on the way forward, however, at press time it had not yet been released. Early reports indicated that US might take a stronger stance on settlements in the report. Media reports have suggested that Israel has been lobbying the US to soften the tone of the Quartet report and prevent it from mentioning future possible steps by the Security Council.

On 8 June, two Palestinians from the town of Yatta in the occupied West Bank opened fire on patrons at a Tel Aviv food and retail centre. Hamas praised what it referred to as a “heroic attack” but did not claim responsibility. In a press briefing on 10 June, a spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the attack, which killed four Israelis, and expressed concern at the response of the Israeli authorities, “which includes measures that may amount to prohibited collective punishment and will only increase the sense of injustice and frustration felt by Palestinians in this very tense time”. The response, according to the spokesperson, included cancelling all of the 83,000 permits granted to West Bank and Gaza residents to travel during Ramadan, suspending 204 work permits of individuals in the alleged attackers’ extended families and sealing off the entire town of Yatta by Israeli security forces.

Israeli forces on 21 June opened fire on a car in the occupied West Bank, killing one Palestinian teenager and wounding four others, according to Palestinian officials. An initial probe by the Israeli Defense Forces found that the teenager was killed by mistake. The teenagers appeared to be innocent bystanders hit when the military tried to stop Palestinians who were throwing stones and firebombs.

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice promised on 13 June that the new military aid agreement that is currently being negotiated between the US and Israel would constitute “the single largest military assistance package with any country in American history”. The new decade-long aid package, which is expected to provide Israel between $37.5 and $40 billion over the life of the pact, will be used to update Israel’s aircraft fleet and strengthen missile defences.

On 27 June, Israel and Turkey struck a deal to restore diplomatic relations, ending a six-year rift over the Israel’s killing of ten Turkish activists on a Gaza-bound flotilla. According to the deal, Israel will pay $20 million in compensation and will allow Turkey to send aid to, and carry out infrastructure projects in, Gaza.

Concerning the ICC’s inquiry into possible war crimes in the 2014 Gaza conflict, Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a 2 June interview that Israel is holding talks with the court and information is being exchanged. Until this point, Israel has publicly declined to cooperate with the ICC on investigations related to its conflict with the Palestinians, arguing that the Palestinian Authority is not a sovereign state and has no right to formal relations with the international court.

On 14 June, Israel won a General Assembly election to chair the UN’s Sixth Committee, which oversees issues related to international law, marking the first time that the country will head one of the UN’s six permanent committees. Committee heads are normally elected by consensus, but opponents of Israel’s candidacy called for a vote. Israel received 109 out of 175 valid votes cast in the 193-nation General Assembly.

Israeli politician Avigdor Lieberman agreed on 25 May to bring his far right Yisrael Beitenu party into Israel’s governing coalition. As part of the deal, Netanyahu named Lieberman the country’s defence minister, replacing Moshe Yaalon, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party. Yaalon resigned from his post and from parliament in protest of Lieberman’s appointment days before it was made official. Yaalon, who warned that Israel was being taken over by “dangerous and extreme elements”, on 16 June announced his intention to run against Netanyahu in the next election.

On 6 May, Council member Egypt, along with Angola, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela, organised an Arria-formula meeting on the protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The meeting was open to all member states.

Key Issues

The overarching issue is determining what role the Council ought to play in encouraging the resumption of direct negotiations between the parties to achieve a two-state solution. A related issue is how to urge the parties to cease actions that hinder the resumption of negotiations, such as settlement-building, acts of violence and other provocative acts, and to agree to new bilateral talks.  

Options

One option for the Council is to adopt a resolution outlining parameters and a timeline for a final status agreement.

Another option would be to take a piecemeal approach and pursue an outcome on areas where agreement may be more likely among Council members, such as on settlements.

Council and Wider Dynamics

With US-led talks having failed over two years ago, P5 member France has pursued the organisation of an international conference aimed at restarting negotiations between the parties. Council member Egypt has also voiced its willingness to act as a broker between the parties. Egypt accepts France’s approach of involving international participation, which the Palestinian Authority favours, but Israel would prefer direct negotiations with the Palestinians, with Egypt’s role being to act as a broker between Israel and other Arab states.

Several other members, including Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, have shown an interest in using the tools available to the Council to address various aspects of the conflict.

It is generally accepted, however, that the fate of any Council outcome on Israel/Palestine lies ultimately with the US. Earlier this year, reports suggested that US President Barack Obama was exploring options for addressing the conflict, including possibly through the Council, before the end of his second term, but there has been no indication so far that the US will allow a Council outcome at this time.

UN Documents

Security Council Meeting Record
25 May 2016 S/PV.7697 This was the regular monthly meeting on the Middle East.