Expected Council Action
In April, 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 24 March, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov briefed the Council in the regular monthly meeting. The briefing included the first report on the implementation of resolution 2334, adopted on 23 December 2016 with 14 votes in favour and an abstention by the outgoing administration of US President Barack Obama. The resolution condemned Israeli settlement building and 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 requested the Secretary-General to report on its implementation every three months.
Mladenov reported that there had been a significant uptick in statements, announcements and decisions by the Israeli government to increase settlement expansion, as well as large-scale demolitions of Palestinian and Bedouin structures in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He reported that no steps were taken to comply with the resolution and that the rate of settlement activity during the reporting period was far higher than in the year preceding it. He also addressed the so-called ‘regularisation law’ adopted by the Knesset on 6 February that enables the use of privately owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank without the owners’ consent, which he stated contravenes international law.
Mladenov also addressed compliance with other aspects of resolution 2334, including the call on both parties to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric, reporting that leaders on both sides were found to be in violation, and cited in particular several instances of dangerous rhetoric by Hamas leaders. Mladenov also said an increase in rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel was a “worrying development” and described it as regrettable that Palestinian Authority (PA) officials had not condemned attacks against Israelis. He noted that during the reporting period there were no significant developments pertaining to the call on all States to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between Israeli territory and the territories occupied since 1967.
On 15 March, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), which comprises 18 Arab states, published a report accusing Israel of being an “apartheid state” and racially discriminating against the Palestinian people. The report elicited strong criticism from Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon and US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that “the report as it stands does not reflect the views of the Secretary-General” and said that Executive Secretary of ESCWA, Under-Secretary-General Rima Khalaf, had been asked to remove the report from the Commission website “not because of what it said but because no one at headquarters had been consulted prior to its release”. On 18 March, Khalaf submitted her resignation to Secretary-General António Guterres, saying that in the space of two months he had instructed her to withdraw two reports produced by ESCWA “due to the political pressure by member states who gravely violate the rights of the people of the region.” She said she could not “withdraw yet another well-researched, well-documented UN work on grave violations of human rights” and the only solution would be for her to step down.
The US boycotted a 20 March session at the Human Rights Council (HRC) that focused on Palestine and other Arab-occupied territories. Referring to the agenda item regarding Israel and the Palestinian territories, Haley said, “The United States will not participate in discussions under Agenda Item 7 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, other than to vote against the outrageous, one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions”.
On 23 March, Gaza’s Administrative Court overturned a decision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to establish a Palestinian Supreme Constitutional Court, saying the decision “is based on the fact that President Abbas’ four-year [presidential] term expired in 2009” and that “Abbas lacks the legal authority to issue such a decision”. Abbas abruptly announced his decision to establish a Palestinian constitutional court in April 2016, and Hamas at that time opposed the decision, saying the court would be dominated by members of Abbas’ Fatah movement.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 34th session, the HRC held an interactive dialogue on 20 March with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, to discuss his latest report (A/HRC/34/70). The report concluded that Israel’s occupation has been “profoundly corrosive” to human rights and that the Israeli government’s treatment of human rights defenders is “contrary to the basic guarantees of international human rights law”. The HRC also considered 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). The Secretary-General’s report, which covers the period from 1 November 2015 to 31 October 2016, concluded that “chronic” human rights violations by all parties have persisted, highlighting the “devastating impact of the Israeli occupation” on Palestinian rights, while also expressing concern at international law violations by the Palestinian Authority, the authorities in Gaza and Palestinian armed groups. The report on Israeli settlements, which covers the same period, concluded that Israeli settlement activity is “incompatible with Israel’s obligations under international law” and is a key driver of humanitarian need and a range of human rights violations.
On 24 March, the HRC adopted four resolutions on human rights in the OPT: on the human rights situation in the OPT, including East Jerusalem; on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination; on ensuring accountability and justice for violations of international law in the OPT, including East Jerusalem; and on Israeli settlements in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan. All four resolutions were adopted with two members—the US and Togo—voting against and some abstentions.
The overarching issue is determining how the Council can encourage the resumption of direct negotiations between the parties to achieve a two-state solution, including promoting compliance with resolution 2334 to salvage prospects for a two-state solution.
Given the difficult Council dynamics on this issue and the objection of the new US administration to much of the Council’s engagement on Israel/Palestine, the most likely option will be to merely receive the briefing and hold the open debate with no outcome.
Council and Wider Dynamics
While the new US administration’s approach to resolving the conflict is as yet unclear, it has made it known that it plans to staunchly defend Israel at the UN, and that it fiercely opposes resolution 2334 and what it deems to be a pervasive anti-Israel bias by the UN. Therefore, it is likely to prevent any Council action regarding the resolution’s implementation as well as other efforts to produce outcomes in the Security Council and elsewhere in the UN system.
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 PA favours international participation.
UN DOCUMENTS ON ISRAEL/PALESTINE
|Security Council Resolutions|
|23 December 2016 S/RES/2334||This was a resolution that condemned Israeli settlements and was adopted with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|24 March 2017 S/PV.7908||This was Mladenov’s briefing on the implementation of resolution 2334.|