July 2018 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 June 2018
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MIDDLE EAST

Israel/Palestine

Expected Council Action

In July, the Council will 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

Violence on the ground and political tensions continue to characterise developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At press time, 135 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza protests by Israeli security forces using live fire, rubber bullets and tear gas since 30 March. At least 60 Palestinians were killed along the Gaza fence on 14 May alone, the day the US held a public event to open its new embassy in Jerusalem.  In his recent briefings to the Council, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov has said that Israel must exercise restraint and use lethal force only as a last resort “under imminent threat of death or serious injury”, while Hamas and other militants must refrain from committing acts of violence and creating provocations.

Tensions have been exacerbated by recent exchanges of mortar and rocket fire between Gaza and Israel and the use of incendiary balloons by Gazan militants. On 29 May, Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched nearly 200 mortars and rockets into Israel, which prompted Israel to attack targets belonging to the two groups in Gaza. On 19 June, Hamas launched 45 missiles into Israel in retaliation for Israeli strikes on Hamas facilities, reportedly prompted by the dispatch of flammable balloons into Israel by Hamas.

In recent months, the Council has been actively engaged on Israel-Palestine issues. Mladenov briefed the Council on 15 and 23 May regarding violence along the Gaza fence. On 30 May, he briefed on mortar and rocket attacks on Israel the day before. On 19 June, he presented to the Council the sixth quarterly report on the implementation of resolution 2334, covering the period from 26 March to 12 June. (Resolution 2334 called for an end to all Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory and for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror.) 

Mladenov’s 19 June briefing represented the first time that a written report served as a basis for the briefing, as all previous reports had been provided orally. In his briefing, Mladenov indicated that no steps had been taken by Israel during the reporting period to cease settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

On 1 June, the Council voted on but failed to adopt two competing draft resolutions offering starkly contrasting views of the situation in Gaza and how to protect Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The first, a Kuwaiti draft, contained three main elements: the protection of Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, immediate steps to end restrictions imposed by Israel on movement and access into and out of Gaza, and engagement by the Secretary-General and Mladenov to assist in immediate efforts to de-escalate the situation and address urgent infrastructure, humanitarian and economic development needs in Gaza. The US vetoed the text, which received ten affirmative votes and four abstentions (Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK).    

The second, a US draft, sought to focus responsibility for the violence in Gaza “on terrorist organizations such as Hamas”. This initially took the form of a text containing 31 proposed amendments to the Kuwaiti draft resolution, which the US agreed to convert into a draft resolution following consultations among members. The Council voted on the US draft following the vote on the Kuwaiti draft. The US cast the sole affirmative vote for its resolution; three members (Bolivia, Kuwait and Russia) voted against the draft, while the remaining members abstained.  

On 13 June, Kuwait tabled a draft resolution in the General Assembly identical to the one vetoed in the Council. The General Assembly adopted the resolution by a vote of 120 to 8 with 45 abstentions. A US amendment that would have condemned Hamas for firing rockets into Israel and for inciting violence along the Gaza fence failed to pass: 59 member states supported the amendment, 78 voted against, and 26 abstained.

On 19 June, the US withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, citing anti-Israel bias.

A pledging conference was held for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in New York on 25 June. The precise amount pledged had yet to be determined at press time. UNWRA currently faces a significant funding gap.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 18 May, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held a special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. At the special session, the HRC adopted resolution S-28/1 by 29 votes to two, with 14 abstentions. The resolution demanded that Israel “immediately and fully end its illegal closure of the occupied Gaza Strip” and decided to dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry “to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory…to establish the facts and circumstances…of the alleged violations and abuses, including those that may amount to war crimes; to identify those responsible; [and] to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures”. The resolution further requested the commission to present an oral update at the HRC’s 39th session in September and a final, written report at its 40th session in March 2019. (Of the six Security Council members on the HRC at the time of the vote, China, Côte d’Ivoire, and Peru voted yes; Ethiopia and the UK abstained; and the US voted no. Incoming Security Council members in 2019 Belgium and South Africa voted yes, and Germany abstained.)

Key Issues and Options

The overarching issue is determining what role the Council can play in de-escalating tensions and encouraging the resumption of peace talks between the parties in an increasingly difficult political and security context, defined by inflammatory rhetoric, heightened violence, mistrust, ongoing settlement activities, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Five failed press statements and two failed draft resolutions on this issue since 30 March reflect longstanding gridlock, limiting options for Council action. Since all of these documents were proposed by either Kuwait or the US—which hold strongly contrasting views on Israel/Palestine—one possible option is for other members to take the lead in drafting outcomes, perhaps contributing to the perception that initial versions of drafts serve as a more balanced, objective basis for negotiation.   

Council Dynamics

It is likely that tensions over Israel/Palestine will persist and that the US will continue to prevent any outcome in the Security Council that it believes challenges Israel. While there is a strong contrast in the views of the US and Kuwait on this issue, most members express viewpoints somewhere in between these two positions. One notable aspect of the recent discussions on Israel-Palestine is the differences among EU members with regard to the recent developments in Gaza. France and Sweden voted in favour of the Kuwaiti draft in the Security Council, while the Netherlands, Poland, and the UK abstained.    

UN DOCUMENTS ON ISRAEL/PALESTINE
Secretary-General’s Report
18 June 2018 S/2018/614 This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 2334, relating to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Other
1 June 2018 S/2018/520 This was the US draft resolution that received only one vote.
1 June 2018 S/2018/516 This was the Kuwaiti draft resolution vetoed by the US.