Expected Council Action
In October, the Council is expected to hold its regular quarterly open debate on the Middle East, with a focus on Israel/Palestine. Also in October, an Arria-formula meeting will be co-hosted by five Council members—Angola, Egypt, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela—on illegal Israeli settlements.
Key Recent Developments
The situation in Israel and Palestine remains tense as the wave of violence that began a year ago continues. According to OCHA, attacks in the West Bank declined in the second quarter of 2016, but 65 Palestinians have been killed so far this year, the majority of them in attacks or alleged attacks against Israelis. OCHA has registered concern about possible excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions by Israeli forces in such cases. At least 200 Palestinians and 30 Israelis have been killed since last fall.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed the Council on Israel/Palestine on 15 September, saying that leaders on both sides are failing to take the steps needed for peace and warning that a two-state solution remains at risk of being replaced by a one-state reality of perpetual violence and occupation. He noted that in the preceding two weeks alone, plans had been advanced for another 463 housing units in four settlements in Area C of the occupied West Bank. Ban referred to a Gaza under closure as a “ticking time bomb”, and warned that instability and risk of escalation are ever-present due to an arms build-up and militant activities by Hamas and other radical groups. He acknowledged that some progress has been made in reconstruction in the enclave since the 2014 ceasefire, but he noted that 65,000 people remained displaced and more coordination was required to accelerate ongoing reconstruction.
Permanent Council member Russia announced on 8 September that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed “in principle” to meet in Moscow for talks that could revive the peace process after the collapse of US-led negotiations in April 2014. No date for talks has been announced.
On 8 September, a Palestinian high court in Ramallah postponed preparations for the upcoming elections, originally set for 8 October, because voting could not take place in East Jerusalem, and because it had questions about the legality of courts in Gaza after judges there disqualified five electoral lists on which Fatah candidates were running. A Hamas spokesman in Gaza alleged that the Ramallah court decision was “a political one dictated to the court by Fatah and President [Mahmoud] Abbas” to avoid defeat; Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official in the West Bank, accused the court in Gaza of being politically motivated. The election would have been the first in ten years in which candidates from Hamas had run against President Abbas’s Fatah in both Gaza and the West Bank. It is seen as an important step towards inter-factional reconciliation.
Concerning the ICC’s inquiry into possible war crimes in the 2014 Gaza conflict, Israel announced on 2 September that it will allow the Court to conduct its first visit, following ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s formal request. The ICC must determine that Israel is unable or unwilling to conduct the investigations itself before it can begin proceedings. On 20 September, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, also known as B’Tselem, asserted that Israeli investigations provided a whitewash mechanism to clear all implicated soldiers, commanders and politicians of wrongdoing, and concluded that the ICC must intervene. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) countered that the report ignored the fact that the majority of air strikes carried out by the IDF during the war did not cause civilian casualties.
On 14 September, Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov welcomed an agreement reached by Israeli and Palestinian authorities to resolve the issue of outstanding electricity debts owed to Israel by the Palestinian Authority (PA), putting an end to a 10-year debt crisis. The agreement includes the transfer of authority to the Palestinian government for collecting payments for electricity distributed to Palestinian territory and will provide an important increase in the Palestinian revenue base. Mladenov’s statement lauded the deal as a significant step in line with the Quartet’s recommendations calling on both sides to take steps to strengthen Palestinian institutions and develop a sustainable economy.
On 1 September, the UN Conference on Trade and Development released a report on economic developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) which said that Israel withheld Palestinian fiscal revenue for four months in 2015, donor aid declined and Israeli settlements continued to expand (UNCTAD/APP/2016/1*). According to the report, if it were not for Israeli occupation, the economy of the OPT might be twice its current size. The report said that the OPT remains a captive market for exports from Israel and that occupation has neutralised the potential development impact of donor aid, noting that genuine reconstruction has yet to take off in Gaza despite $3.5 billion in donor pledges.
A 15 September report of the World Bank said that less than half the money pledged by donors to rebuild the Gaza Strip after the 2014 war has been disbursed, contributing to the stagnation of the Palestinian economy. The bank recommended that Israel allow more building in the West Bank and that it loosen its blockade of Gaza. It also called on the Palestinian Authority to cut spending, especially by reducing pension payments.
The US and Israel signed a landmark agreement on 14 September stipulating that the US will give Israel $38 billion in military assistance over the next decade, the largest such aid package in US history. The deal guarantees annual payments of $3.3 billion in military financing and $500 million a year for Israeli missile defence funding.
Human Rights-Related Developments
The special rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, visited Israel and the OPT from 12 to 22 September to examine the overall situation of violence against women and girls and gather first-hand information from women survivors of violence. In Israel, she visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beer-Sheva, Haifa and Nazareth. In the OPT, she visited Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Šimonović noted in a 26 September end of mission statement that “specific groups of women in Israel, including women from the Palestinian minority (including Bedouin women), asylum-seekers, refugees, and women belonging to other minority communities face accrued and multiple forms of discrimination and heightened risk of violence”. While in the OPT, “many deeply embedded forms of violence against women are petrified in a context of prolonged occupation, including domestic violence, early marriages, sexual violence, including rape and incest, as well as killings in the name of ‘honour’”, the statement said. The special rapporteur will present a report during the Human Rights Council’s (HRC’s) 35th session in June 2017. The HRC held a general debate on Agenda Item 7: The human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories, during its 33rd session in September, as it does at every session. As in previous years, the US boycotted the debate, along with Israel.
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.
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 more than two years ago, two other P5 members are attempting to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. Russia’s announcement that the parties have agreed to meet in Moscow follows attempts by France to pursue an international conference, with the parties in attendance, before the end of the year. Among elected members, Egypt has voiced its willingness to act as a broker between the parties. However, it is unclear how this will play out.
Egypt is joined by several other elected members, including Angola, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela, in pursuing the tools available to the Council to address various aspects of the conflict, as demonstrated by the Arria-formula meeting they organised for this month on settlements, the second such meeting hosted by these countries this year. (On 6 May, they organised an Arria-formula meeting on the protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the OPT.) In an effort to enhance the Council’s deliberations on the issue, these five countries have also requested that OCHA brief the Council in the monthly Middle East meetings. An OCHA representative briefed Council members alongside Mladenov in consultations following the Secretary-General’s 15 September briefing, though it is unclear whether this format will become a regular feature as requested. Elected member New Zealand has also been vocal about the need for the Council to pronounce itself on the conflict.
Israel remains staunchly opposed to international initiatives on the issue, including involvement of the Council, preferring direct negotiations with the Palestinians, while the PA favours international participation. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in September, Abbas said that Palestine will continue to seek a Council resolution on settlements.
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 Records|
|15 September 2016 S/PV.7772||This was a briefing by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.|