Expected Council Action
In January 2018, the Council is expected to hold its quarterly open debate under the agenda item “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, which will focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Key Recent Developments
On 18 December 2017, the Council voted on a draft resolution, tabled by Egypt and drafted with the Palestinians, in reaction to the 6 December declaration by US President Donald Trump that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. The resolution was drafted following bilateral discussions between the Palestinian delegation and various Council members. The draft obtained 14 affirmative votes but was vetoed by the US.
The text that was presented for a vote affirmed that any decisions and actions that purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void, and must be rescinded. It called upon all states to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in Jerusalem pursuant to resolution 478 (1980) of the Council and demanded that all states comply with Council resolutions regarding Jerusalem and do not recognise any actions or measures contrary to previous Council resolutions on the legal status of Jerusalem. The resolution reiterated the Council’s call for the reversal of the negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-state solution and for the intensification and acceleration of international and regional efforts and support aimed at achieving, without delay, a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
The text also reaffirmed several previous resolutions of the Council, including resolutions 476 and 478 of 1980 and 2334 of 2016. Resolution 476 said that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the [Fourth] Geneva Convention”. Resolution 478 was adopted in the wake of Israel’s enactment of its 1980 “basic law”, which declared that Jerusalem, “complete and united”, is the capital of Israel. The resolution decided not to recognise the law, called on all member states to accept this decision, and called on “those states that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City”. Resolution 2334 reaffirmed in December 2016 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. All three of these resolutions were adopted with 14 affirmative votes and a US abstention.
Following the US veto, Yemen, which serves as Chair of the Arab Group, and Turkey, Chair of the Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, sent a letter to the President of the General Assembly requesting the resumption of the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly on “Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory” under “Uniting for Peace”. (General Assembly resolution 377 of 3 November 1950, known as the “Uniting for Peace” resolution, states that in any cases where the Security Council fails to act as required to maintain international peace and security because of a lack of unanimity amongst its five permanent members, the General Assembly shall consider the matter immediately and may issue any recommendations it deems necessary. By a 16 January 2009 resolution, the General Assembly decided to temporarily adjourn the tenth emergency special session, first convened in April 1997 at the request of Qatar, which could later be resumed at the request of a member state. Yemen also presented a draft resolution that was very similar to the draft that was vetoed by the US. The General Assembly adopted the resolution with 128 votes in favour, 9 votes against, 35 abstentions and 21 absences.
The following day, Ukraine and the US co-sponsored an Arria-formula meeting on “Humanitarian aspects of missing and captive persons in Gaza”. During the 2014 conflict in Gaza, Hamas seized the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed, and on two other occasions, Hamas captured two Israeli civilians who entered Gaza. According to the concept note, the objective of the meeting was to provide an opportunity to discuss the related violations of humanitarian obligations and international law. Leah Goldin, whose son was killed in combat battle with Hamas and whose remains are being held, briefed Council members, along with Irwin Cotler, Founder and Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
The Security Council first met to address President Trump’s announcement on 8 December 2017, after eight council members—Bolivia, Egypt, France, Italy, Senegal, Sweden, the UK and Uruguay—called for an emergency meeting when the announcement was made. Briefing the Council, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov warned that the move could present a serious risk of sparking “a chain of unilateral actions, which can only undermine the achievement of our shared goal”, and reiterated that the position of the UN on Jerusalem was that the city remained a final-status issue to be determined through a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to be negotiated between the two sides.
At the briefing, US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley defended the decision, asserting that the US had not taken a position on boundaries or borders, and that the decision did not predetermine final-status issues. All 14 other Council members expressed dismay at the decision, with most asserting that it contravened international law and Council resolutions and reiterating that Jerusalem is a final-status issue, with its sovereignty to be determined through negotiations between the parties.
On 18 December, Mladenov briefed the Council on the fourth report on the implementation of resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements. He said housing construction in occupied Palestinian territory has continued, with significantly more units advanced and approved in 2017. Overall, he said that the conflict has not seen significant positive moves towards peace during the reporting period, 20 September to 18 December 2017. He added that the security situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory has become more tense in the wake of Trump’s announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, citing an increase in incidents, notably rockets fired from Gaza and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 27 October 2017, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, presented his report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly (A/72/556). The report addresses a number of concerns pertaining to the situation of human rights in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in Gaza. It finds that “in the 50th year of Israel’s occupation, the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is in a state of severe deterioration”. The report also presents a detailed analysis of the international legal framework of the occupation.
Key Issues and Options
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 and reversing further negative trends that have emerged in recent weeks. Given the increasingly confrontational Council dynamics on this issue and the objection of the US administration to the Council’s engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any Council outcome is unlikely.
The US under its current administration has made it known that it plans to staunchly defend Israel at the UN—including through its unwavering opposition to resolution 2334, which was adopted with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention—but tensions within the Council reached a crescendo in December following Trump’s 6 December 2017 proclamation concerning Jerusalem. All other Council members voted in favour of a resolution that reaffirmed that any decisions and actions that purport to have altered the status of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded. US representative Haley called the matter “an insult” that wouldn’t be forgotten. It is likely that tensions over this issue will persist, and that the US will continue to prevent any outcome in the Security Council and elsewhere in the UN system that it feels challenges Israel.
Israel remains staunchly opposed to international initiatives on the issue, including involvement by the Council, while the Palestinian Authority favours international participation.
UN DOCUMENTS ON ISRAEL/PALESTINE
|Security Council Resolutions|
|14 December 2016 S/RES/2324||This was a resolution paying tribute to outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.|
|20 August 1980 S/RES/478||This resolution censured Israeli enactment of the “basic law” on Jerusalem.|
|30 June 1980 S/RES/476||This resolution reconfirmed the illegality of Israeli actions to change the character and status of Jerusalem.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|18 December 2017 S/PV.8139||This was the vote on a draft resolution on Jerusalem that was vetoed by the US.|
|18 December 2017 S/PV.8138||This was the fourth report by Mladenov on the implementation of resolution 2334.|
|8 December 2017 S/PV.8128||This was a briefing by Mladenov requested by eight Council members in response to the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcement that it would move its embassy there from Tel Aviv.|
|General Assembly Documents|
|16 January 2009 A/RES/ES-10/18||This resolution decided to temporarily adjourn the tenth emergency special session.|
|18 December 2017 S/2017/1060||This was a draft resolution tabled by Egypt on the status of Jerusalem that received 14 affirmative votes but was vetoed by the US.|