Expected Council Action
In April, 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
Negative trends on the ground and political tensions continue to characterise developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Israeli officials, a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli security guard to death in Jerusalem’s Old City on 18 March before being shot dead by a police officer. Two days earlier, a car-ramming by a Palestinian near Jenin in the northern West Bank killed two Israeli soldiers and wounded two others. The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas had called for a day of rage that day to mark the 100th day since US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on 6 December 2017.
On 26 March, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov presented the fifth report on the implementation of resolution 2334, covering the period from 18 December last year to 25 March, to the Council. During the reporting period, Israel advanced 22 plans for some 1,500 housing units in Area C settlements and around a dozen units were approved for construction. The reporting period was also characterised by continuing demonstrations and clashes following the US announcement on 6 December recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to growing tensions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and along the Gaza fence. He stressed that developments on the ground cannot be divorced from the broader context of continued military occupation of Palestinian territory, uncertainties about the future of the peace process and the two-state solution, unilateral actions that undermine peace efforts, and continued turmoil in the wider region. He also expressed his continued concern over the UN Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) $446 million funding gap.
On 18 March, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said they had destroyed a tunnel in the Gaza Strip dug by Hamas militants to mount cross-border attacks. An IDF spokesman claimed that the tunnel had been cut off during the 2014 Gaza war and that Hamas had tried to put it back into operation. A Hamas spokesman said that the Israeli claims about destroying tunnels referred to old structures used by the Palestinian resistance during the Israeli offensive against civilians in the Gaza Strip in 2014.
On 13 March, a roadside bomb struck a convoy carrying Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, in what has been deemed a failed assassination attempt. Hamdallah was unharmed. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s office issued a statement accusing Hamas of perpetrating the “cowardly attack”. No group claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Meanwhile, there has been no progress on the stalled Fatah-Hamas reconciliation process following the signing of a reconciliation agreement between the two parties in October 2017. Reports indicate that Hamas is refusing the Palestinian Authority’s demand that it subordinate its military units and weapons to the Authority’s command.
In a 20 February Council briefing, Mladenov repeated his warning that the current situation in Gaza is unsustainable. He reported that continuing power cuts of up to 20 hours per day severely undermined the provision of basic services and that the situation could deteriorate with dramatic consequences.
On 14 March, the White House hosted a conference with representatives from 20 countries, including Israel and many Arab states, to discuss potential solutions for the worsening humanitarian and economic conditions in Gaza. There was no Palestinian delegation present, and reports indicate that the Palestinian Authority chose not to attend amid deteriorating relations with the US following the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. According to a White House readout, the conference built upon a meeting held in Cairo a week earlier and will carry ideas forward to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in Brussels at the end of March. The readout noted that the US administration believes that deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Gaza require immediate attention and must be solved for humanitarian reasons and for ensuring the security of Egypt and Israel. The statement stressed that addressing the humanitarian situation is also a necessary step toward reaching a comprehensive peace agreement.
The US administration announced on 23 February that it would accelerate its timeline for opening an embassy in Jerusalem, originally envisioned for 2019, to take place on 14 May in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel. This day is known to Palestinians as Yom al-Nakba, or day of the catastrophe, marking the mass displacement that preceded and followed Israel’s establishment.
Abbas addressed the Council during its 20 February meeting on the issue, saying that he would redouble efforts to seek full UN membership for Palestine, and calling for an international peace conference by mid-2018 that would include the participation of both parties, the permanent members of the Security Council and the Middle East Quartet—comprised of the EU, UN, US and Russia. In the consultations after the meeting, US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, a senior advisor to US President Donald Trump, interacted with Council members. They reportedly emphasised the US administration’s commitment to resolve the Israel/Palestine conflict and said they were working on a peace plan that would be presented in due course. Since then, White House senior officials have said that the plan is almost ready, but no release date has been given.
On 22 February, Bolivia, France, Kuwait and Sweden hosted an Arria-formula meeting titled “Prospects for the two-State solution for peace”. A statement was delivered on behalf of former US President Jimmy Carter, followed by briefings by former UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, former Commissioner-General of UNRWA Karen AbuZayd, and Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 37th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on 19 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/37/75). The report, which focused on the right to health, concluded that Israel has been in “profound breach” of that right in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). It highlighted that Israel’s “avaricious occupation… has had a highly disruptive impact upon health care and the broader social determinants for health for the Palestinians”.
The HRC also considered several other reports on the issue during its 37th session. The High Commissioner’s report on the human rights situation in the OPT, including East Jerusalem (covering 1 November 2016 to 31 October 2017), emphasised the high risk of arbitrary detention and concluded that a persistent lack of accountability and shrinking space for media and human rights defenders was of particular concern (A/HRC/37/42). Covering the same period, the High Commissioner’s report on Israeli settlements in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan concluded that a significant increase in settlement activity had taken place (A/HRC/37/43). It also emphasised that settlements are prohibited under international humanitarian law and amount to a war crime, and called on Israeli authorities to immediately halt and reverse all settlement development in compliance with the relevant Security Council resolutions. The HRC also considered the High Commissioner’s reports on the implementation of HRC resolutions S-9/1 and S-12/1 (A/HRC/37/38) on the human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories; on the implications of Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people (A/HRC/37/39); and on accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the OPT (A/HRC/37/41).
Key Issues and Options
The overarching issue is determining how the Council can encourage the resumption of peace talks between the parties to achieve a two-state solution, including promoting a reversal of further negative trends on the ground—continuing settlement expansion, the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, and continued incitement to violence and terrorist attacks. Given the confrontational Council dynamics on this issue and the objection of the US administration to the Council’s engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Council options for involvement appear increasingly limited.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Tensions within the Council on this conflict reached a peak in recent months following Trump’s 6 December 2017 proclamation concerning Jerusalem. All other Council members voted in favour of a proposed resolution reaffirming 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. After vetoing the draft, US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley called the matter “an insult” that would not 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.
The Palestinian Authority has in turn rejected the US as a mediator and is seeking international initiatives to bring the parties together. The US and Israel, however, remain staunchly opposed to international initiatives on the issue, including any meaningful involvement of the Council.
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|
|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/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.|