July 2017 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 June 2017
Download Complete Forecast: PDF
MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action

In July, the Council will hold its regular quarterly open debate under the agenda item, “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.”

Key Recent Developments

On 20 June, the Council held its monthly meeting on the Middle East. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov briefed on the implementation of resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements, which requested the Secretary-General to brief on its implementation every 90 days. In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the occupation, president of the Council, Bolivia, invited additional speakers: Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit and Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who represented the Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights.  At the request of the US, Michael Doran, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, was also invited to brief.

Mladenov reported that while resolution 2334 had called on Israel to “cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”, there had been a sizeable increase in settlement-related announcements as compared with the previous reporting period, with plans for nearly 4,000 housing units moving forward and 2,000 tenders issued.  While there had been a sharp drop in the number of Palestinian-owned structures demolished in Area C, the monthly average of demolitions in East Jerusalem since the beginning of 2017 remained at the same level as 2016, when demolitions reached a 15-year record. Mladenov reported that violence remained a hallmark of the conflict, and while during the reporting period the security situation on the ground remained relatively calm—no rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel and the Israel Defense Forces had not conducted any airstrikes inside Gaza—according to OCHA, 17 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in various incidents, while one Israeli soldier was killed in a car‑ramming attack on 6 April and an Israeli policewoman was killed in a shooting and stabbing attack on 16 June, among other incidents. He reported that Palestinian officials and media outlets affiliated with Fatah continued to commemorate perpetrators of past terror attacks against Israeli civilians, while Hamas leaders also continued what he described as their “deplorable practice” of celebrating recent attacks against Israeli civilians as heroic, while noting that some Israeli officials had also employed provocative rhetoric. On Gaza, he said that heightened intra‑Palestinian tensions, resulting in an increasingly dangerous humanitarian situation, raised serious concerns about the prospect of another conflict. Gaza, he warned, “is a tinderbox,” adding that “if and when it explodes, it will have devastating consequences for the population and derail all efforts at advancing peace.”  

Voting took place in the West Bank on 13 May, in local elections that a number of political factions, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine boycotted. Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority (PA), maintained a majority of local council seats, although independent lists scored a higher number of votes. A 53 percent voter turnout was reported. Elections were held only in the West Bank, and not in the Hamas-governed Gaza SStrip, as Hamas leaders had rejected the legitimacy of the poll on the basis that elections should only be held after reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is achieved. Following the May poll, the PA cabinet decided that supplementary municipal elections would be held on 10 October in the Gaza Strip, as well as on 29 July in 66 West Bank councils where elections were not held on the regular election day.

On 11 June, Israel’s security cabinet approved a request by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cut by roughly a third the electricity it provides to Gaza.  The move is expected to shorten the daily average hours of electricity received by Gaza’s two million residents, which is currently roughly four hours. The PA cited Hamas’s failure to pay for power supplies as the reason for the cuts. The decision is causing concern that it could trigger a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and incite another armed conflict between Israel and Hamas. The day after the decision was made, Hamas warned that the cuts would be dangerous and would lead to an “explosion.”

A mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails ended on 27 May, after Israel offered a compromise deal to meet some of the prisoner’s demands. Marwan Bargouti, a Palestinian political figure convicted and imprisoned for murder by an Israeli court in 2002, led 800 hunger strikers for 41 days with two main demands: more frequent visits, and prisoners to be allowed to speak to their families on public phones under supervision. The strikers are among some 6,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails for offenses related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On 6 June, Ambassador Nikki Haley (US) addressed the Human Rights Council (HRC) during its 35th session, reiterating that the US is still considering whether to withdraw from the Geneva-based body. The US accuses the HRC of having an anti-Israel bias and of allowing countries that violate human rights to gain membership. Asked at an event later that day, Haley refused to say whether the US would commit to staying in or leaving the HRC.

In regional developments, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed financial embargoes on the Gulf state on 5 June. The countries accuse Qatar of providing support to groups they consider to be terrorist organisations, and object to Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, as well as its relations with Iran. Qatar provides strong financial aid to the OPT and is home to many Hamas leaders. The increased pressure on Qatar to cut ties with Hamas, and the rift between Qatar and Egypt, which borders Gaza, could worsen the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Human Rights-Related Developments

During its 35th session, the HRC considered the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the status of implementation of the recommendations addressed to all parties since 2009 regarding accountability and justice for violations of international law in the OPT, including East Jerusalem (A/HRC/35/19). The vast majority of the more than 700 relevant recommendations reviewed were made to Israel, with the report concluding that Israel’s overall rate of full implementation was only 0.4 percent, 1.3 percent by Palestinian authorities, and 17.9 percent by the UN and the international community. In an accompanying statement on 19 June, the High Commissioner called the “extremely low implementation rate on all sides…discouraging.” He reiterated that ongoing human rights violations and the non-implementation of the recommendations “are not merely symptoms of the conflict, but further fuel the cycle of violence” which can only be broken by addressing the root causes, including ending the occupation and addressing Israel’s security concerns.

In June, the HRC also considered the report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Šimonović, following her visit to the OPT/State of Palestine from 17 to 22 September 2016 (A/HRC/35/30/Add.2). The report concluded that while there have been improvements in efforts to combat and prevent violence against women, women are still subject to violence and discrimination from the Israeli occupation (both directly and indirectly) and a system of violence emanating from embedded patriarchal social norms and outdated legal frameworks.

Key Issues

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 this outcome.

Options

Given the difficult Council dynamics on this issue and the objection of the new US administration to much of the Council’s engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the most likely option will be to merely receive the briefings and hold the open debate with no outcome. 

Council Dynamics

The US has made it known that it plans to staunchly defend Israel at the UN; 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. The US is keen to turn the Council’s attention towards Israel’s foes: Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. At the 20 June meeting, Haley proposed that Hamas should be condemned in a Council resolution, with consequences for anyone that continued to support it.

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 announced last year 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. 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
20 June 2017 S/PV.7977 This was the briefing by Nickolay Mladenov, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, Lakhdar Brahimi and Michael Doran.