March 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2017
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action

In March, the Council expects to receive the first report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements, adopted on 23 December 2016. The resolution requested the Secretary-General to report on its implementation every three months.

Key Recent Developments

On 23 December, the Council adopted resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement building, with 14 votes in favour and an abstention by the outgoing administration of US President Barack Obama. The resolution reaffirmed that the establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory that Israel has occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law. The resolution said the settlements were a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and underlined that the Council will not recognise any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations. It also called upon all states to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967. Both parties, the resolution said, should act on the basis of international law, observe calm and restraint, and refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.

The resolution prompted strong pushback by the Israeli government. On 26 December 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would move ahead with building thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem and warned nations against further action. On 22 January, the Jerusalem City Council approved 566 new housing units in East Jerusalem that had been deferred because of US objections. Just two days later, the Israeli government announced that 2,500 new housing units would be built in the West Bank. Officials said most would be built in “settlement blocs” that Israel hopes to keep in a final deal. In reaction to these developments, Council member Bolivia requested that Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov brief Council members under “any other business” on 25 January.

Council members met again under “any other business” on 2 February to be briefed by the Council President, Volodymyr Yelchenko of Ukraine, following his meeting on settlements with Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour and Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim, the current chair of the Arab Group, a day earlier. He told Council members that, among other things, Palestine and the Arab Group believe that Israel’s announced settlement approvals undermine a two-state solution and escalate and destabilise the situation, and they called for all provisions of resolution 2334 to be upheld. Yelchenko relayed their request to convert the regular Middle East briefing for February into an open debate format. Only Bolivia spoke during the meeting, expressing support for the request. However, there was no wide support for the initiative among members.

During the 16 February Middle East briefing, Mladenov reported on the Israeli Parliament’s adoption of the so-called Regularisation Law, which enables the use of privately owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank without the owners’ consent. The law could potentially retroactively “regularise”, under Israeli law, thousands of existing settlement units built on land owned by Palestinian individuals living under occupation, as well as dozens of illegal outposts. Mladenov stressed that the law’s passage marks a significant shift in Israel’s position concerning the legal status of the West Bank, contravenes international law and, according to the Israeli Attorney General, is unconstitutional. Mladenov warned that if the law stays in place, it would have far-reaching consequences for Israel, while seriously undermining prospects for the two-state solution and for Arab-Israeli peace.

Following the briefing and subsequent consultations, US Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke to the press. Her remarks largely underscored the “ironclad support of the United States for Israel.” She emphasised that the US is “determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias” and would “never repeat the terrible mistake of Resolution 2334 and allow one-sided Security Council resolutions to condemn Israel.”

On 9 February, the US circulated a draft press statement condemning in the strongest terms a terrorist attack earlier that day in Petah Tikva, in which at least eight Israelis were injured, as well as rocket fire on Eilat a day earlier. Some Council members, including Bolivia, France and Senegal, felt that the statement should reference operative paragraph six of resolution 2334, which calls for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation and destruction and calls for accountability in this regard. The US would not include the reference to 2334, arguing that the text should not diverge from the standard language of counter-terrorism press statements. No text could be agreed to. On 8 January, Council members had issued a press statement condemning in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in Jerusalem that day in which four Israelis were killed and 15 injured, with no mention of resolution 2334.

On 19 February, reports emerged that Netanyahu had taken part in a secret summit in February 2016 with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, organised by then US Secretary of State John Kerry in Aqaba, Jordan. According to former officials in Obama’s administration, Kerry proposed regional recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which is a key demand of Netanyahu’s, and a renewal of peace talks with the support of the Arab countries. Netanyahu reportedly rejected the offer, saying he could not garner support from his coalition government for the deal, which would have required a significant withdrawal from occupied land.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 24 February, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement that they were “deeply disturbed” by the “excessively lenient” sentence of only 18 months given to Israeli Sergeant Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter in January for shooting dead Palestinian Abdelfattah al-Sharif in Hebron in March 2016. While welcoming Azaria’s prosecution and conviction because of how rare it is, the spokesperson said that it was “difficult to reconcile with the intentional killing of an unarmed and prone individual,” particularly given the harsher sentences handed down to Palestinian children for throwing stones.

The Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, said in a 3 February statement that the Israeli government’s approval of more than 6,000 new settlement homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem represents a “defiant and troubling repudiation of resolution 2334” and that continued settlement activity “poses a grave threat to Palestinians’ right to self-determination”. Lynk said that the international community must not “assume that resolutions, critical statements and international conferences alone will change state behaviour”, and called upon the Security Council and the General Assembly to explore ways to ensure Israeli compliance with resolution 2334.

During its 34th session in March, the HRC is set to hold an interactive dialogue with Lynk, to discuss his most recent report (A/HRC/34/70). It is also set to consider the Secretary-General’s reports on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including East Jerusalem (A/HRC/34/38) and on Israeli settlements in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan (A/HRC/34/39).

Key Issues

The immediate issue is ensuring compliance with resolution 2334 in order to salvage prospects for a two-state solution. The overarching issue is determining how the Council can encourage the resumption of direct negotiations between the parties to achieve this goal.  

Options

Given the difficult Council dynamics on this issue and the objection of the new US administration to resolution 2334, the most likely option will be to merely receive the report on its implementation and take no further action.

Council and Wider Dynamics

While the new US administration’s approach to resolving the conflict is as yet unclear, it has made clear that it plans to staunchly defend Israel at the UN and that it fiercely opposes resolution 2334. Therefore, it will likely prevent any Council action regarding the resolution’s implementation.

Several other Council members are attempting to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. France held the second meeting of its international conference on the conflict on 15 January, which brought together more than 70 foreign ministers and culminated in the adoption of a statement proclaiming support for a two-state solution. Also, Russia last year announced its intention to host direct talks between the parties. Among elected members, Egypt has voiced its willingness to act as a broker between the parties and is likely to play a leading role in any implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative. Incoming member Sweden appointed an envoy in February to address the conflict.

Israel remains staunchly opposed to international initiatives on the issue, including involvement by the Council, preferring direct negotiations with the Palestinians, while the Palestinian Authority favours international participation.

UN DOCUMENTS

Security Council Resolution
23 December 2016 S/RES/2334 This was a resolution that condemned Israeli settlements, which was adopted with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention.
Security Council Meeting Records
16 February 2017 S/PV.7885 This was a briefing on Middle East.
17 January 2017 S/PV.7863 This was the Council’s quarterly open debate on the Middle East.
23 December 2016 S/PV.7853 The Council adopted resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements.
Security Council Press Statement
8 January 2017 SC/12670 This statement condemned the terrorist attack in Jerusalem in which four Israelis were killed and 15 injured.