Expected Council Action
In January, the Council is expected to hold its regular quarterly open debate on the Middle East, with a focus on Israel/Palestine.
Key Recent Developments
On 23 December, the Council adopted resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement building, with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention. The resolution, the first in the Security Council since 2009, reaffirmed that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution; reiterated the Council’s demand that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem; and underlined that it will not recognise any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations. It also stressed that the cessation of settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-State solution, and called upon all States to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967. It also called upon both parties to act on the basis of international law and to observe calm and restraint, and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.
The text, originally drafted by the Palestinians, was tabled by Egypt on the night of 21 December and put in blue for adoption the following day. The vote was to be held on the afternoon of 22 December, however, that morning Egypt abruptly cancelled the vote. That evening, the draft’s co-sponsors, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, told Egypt that it had until midnight to decide to proceed with the text, and that if it did not reschedule a vote, they would proceed to re-table the same text. The next morning (23 December) Egypt withdrew its text and the other sponsors put the text to a vote.
US Ambassador Samantha Power, in her explanation of vote, stated it had been a long-standing position of her country that settlements undermined Israel’s security and eroded prospects for peace and stability. She emphasised, however, that the vote had not been straightforward, as Israel has been treated differently from other states for as long as it had been a member of the UN. She said it was because of that bias, and because the US did not agree with every word in the resolution, that the US chose to abstain instead of vote for the resolution. She added that her delegation would not have let the resolution pass had it not addressed terrorism and incitement to violence.
Following the adoption, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 26 December announced that Israel would move ahead with building thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem and warned nations against further action, declaring that Israel does not “turn the other cheek.” A spokesman for Netanyahu on 25 December accused the Obama administration of having orchestrated the resolution, and Netanyahu also called for Israel’s foreign ministry to temporarily limit working ties with the members who voted in favour of the resolution.
On 16 December, Ban Ki-moon gave his final briefing to the Council on Israel/Palestine as UN Secretary-General. He expressed a lack of optimism and pointed out that during his ten years as Secretary-General the Security Council had adopted only two resolutions on the Middle East peace process. He noted that Israel’s settlement-construction activities beyond the 1967 line were in flagrant violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
He continued to emphasise that the framework for peace remained the establishment of two States on the basis of the principle of land for peace, and a just and comprehensive regional peace settlement consistent with relevant Council resolutions and with existing agreements signed by the parties. He also pointed out that the Council had made clear that the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had been under military occupation since 1967. He urged Israel to take bold steps to empower the Palestinian Authority (PA), which would bring benefits to the Palestinian people and increase Israeli security. He also acknowledged that progress on that front would be difficult unless the Palestinian authorities took concrete steps to address incitement and violence. He called upon the Council to reaffirm without reservations that there is no alternative to the two-State solution. “We must not give up on the right of Palestine to exist, just as we must protect the right of Israel to exist in peace and security with its neighbours,” he said.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 8 December, the High Commissioner for Human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein released a statement that expressed deep concern over the unprecedented proposed legislation in Israel that, if adopted, would allow the retroactive “legalisation” of so-called Israeli outposts constructed on privately owned Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank and violate international law. This would further add to the fragmentation of the Palestinian territory and consequently undermine any viable future Palestinian state on that territory, the statement said.
The overarching issue is determining how the Council can encourage the resumption of direct negotiations between the parties to achieve a two-state solution.
An immediate issue is how not to lose the momentum created by the adoption of the first resolution on Israel/Palestine in nearly eight years.
One option is for the Council to simply receive the briefing. Another option is to issue a statement in response to the information conveyed by the Secretariat concerning compliance with resolution 2334. A further option would be to pursue another resolution aimed at salvaging the two-state solution before the 20 January change in US administrations.
Council and Wider Dynamics
With US-led talks having failed more than two years ago, other Council members are attempting to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. France intends to hold the second meeting of its international conference on the conflict on 15 January. Also, Russia in September 2016 announced that the parties had agreed to meet in Moscow for talks, however, this has not yet materialised. Among elected members, Egypt has voiced its willingness to act as a broker between the parties.
The January open debate will afford the five incoming members—Bolivia, Ethiopia, Italy, Kazakhstan and Sweden—an opportunity to put forth their perspectives on the conflict and the Council’s role in resolving it. UN members at large will likely voice their ideas for the next steps to be taken in the wake of the adoption of the Council resolution condemning the settlements.
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.
US President-elect Donald J. Trump has signalled that his administration will be staunchly supportive of Israel and will work to hinder the Council’s involvement on the issue.
UN DOCUMENTS ON ISRAEL/PALESTINE
|Security Council Resolution|
|23 December 2016 S/RES/2334||This was a resolution that condemned Israeli settlements, adopted with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
23 December 2016 S/PV.7853
|This was the meeting where a resolution was adopted condemning Israeli settlements.|
|16 December 2016 S/PV.7839||This was Ban Ki-moon’s final briefing to the Council on Israel/Palestine as UN Secretary-General.|