January 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 27 December 2018
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MIDDLE EAST

Middle East (Israel/Palestine)

Expected Council Action

In January 2019, the Security Council is expected to hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East, focusing on Israel/Palestine. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov will likely brief.

Key Recent Developments

On 6 December 2018, the General Assembly voted down a draft resolution titled “Activities of Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza” proposed by the US that would have condemned Hamas “for repeatedly firing rockets into Israel and for inciting violence”, demanded that “Hamas and other militant actors, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, cease all provocative actions and violent activity”, and encouraged “tangible steps towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation”. The draft received 87 votes in favour, 57 against, and 33 abstentions, failing to garner the two-thirds majority needed for adoption as an “important matter” under article 18 (2) of the UN Charter. Prior to the vote on the text itself, the General Assembly voted that the issue was an “important matter” (75 in favour, 72 against, and 26 abstentions).

Violence and tensions rose on the West Bank in December. On 9 December 2018, a Palestinian opened fire on Israelis near Ofra, a West Bank settlement, wounding seven. One of the victims was a pregnant woman, whose baby was delivered but later died. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. On 13 December, an unidentified assailant shot and killed two Israeli soldiers near Ramallah. During the ensuing days, over 130 suspects were arrested in an effort to find the assailant, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on 18 December. Israeli settlers demonstrating on the West Bank vandalised cars belonging to Palestinians.

On 15 December, Australia recognised West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, although it said it would not move its embassy to the city until there was agreement on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. In a statement, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the decision “a step in the right direction”. Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian Liberation Organization official, released a statement referring to the “Australian government’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as one wherein petty domestic politics steer irresponsible policies that contradict world peace and security”.

The Council held its monthly meeting on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine) on 18 December 2018. Mladenov said that settlement activity had continued in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, reiterating that this is a major obstacle to peace and a violation of international law. In this regard, he noted that Israel has announced that it will retroactively legalise the construction of 2,000 homes “built on private Palestinian land in settlements” and that measures have been pursued to move forward with the construction of 82 new homes in Ofra settlement and two industrial zones in other settlements. Mladenov further “warn[ed] of the dangerous escalation of terrorist attacks, clashes, and violence in the West Bank”.

Key Issues and Options

Key issues that the Council continues to face regarding the Israel/Palestinian situation include:

  • recurring violations of resolution 2334, including ongoing settlement activity, violence against civilians (including terrorism), provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric;
  • the need to promote intra-Palestinian reconciliation; and
  • the humanitarian needs of Gaza.

In the coming months, the Council will also have to consider how it will respond to the US peace plan if it is made public in early 2019.

Given the strongly contrasting views on this issue held by Kuwait and the US—which have unsuccessfully tried to draft outcomes in 2018—one possible option is for other members to take the lead in drafting outcomes, perhaps contributing to a perception that initial versions of drafts may serve as a more balanced, objective basis for negotiation among the members.

Council Dynamics

There is a stark contrast between the views of the US and other members on Israel/Palestine. Under the Trump administration, the US delegation has often focused its remarks during these monthly meetings on other issues in the Middle East, such as Iran or Syria, rather than addressing Israel/Palestine. It has maintained that the UN is biased against Israel and spends too much time discussing Israel/Palestine. Other members tend to condemn continued Israeli settlement activity, which they maintain is making the prospects of a two-state solution more remote.

At the 18 December meeting, Ambassador Nikki Haley (US) said that the peace plan that the US was preparing would present “the choice between a hopeful future that sheds the tired, old and unrealistic demands of the past or a darker future that sticks with the proven failed talking points of the past”. This view would seem to be at odds with the 18 December statement of the EU8 (France, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, the UK, Belgium, Germany and Italy), which affirmed the “internationally agreed parameters” for peace in the Middle East, including “a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of both States”. At the time of the statement, the EU8 consisted of seven current and incoming Council members, as well as Italy, which in 2017 served the first year of a split term with the Netherlands.

Several Council members continue to reiterate their desire to receive written reports in advance of the quarterly briefing on the implementation of resolution 2334. With the exception of the written report produced in June 2018, these reports have only been conveyed orally. The Secretariat’s decision to produce a written report in June was prompted by a letter submitted by ten Council members—Bolivia, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru and Sweden—on 14 May 2018 requesting the quarterly reports to be in writing.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE MIDDLE EAST (ISRAEL/PALESTINE)

Security Council Resolution
23 December 2016S/RES/2334 This was a resolution that condemned Israeli settlements and was adopted with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention.
Secretary-General’s Report
18 June 2018S/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.
Security Council Letter
14 May 2018S/2018/454 This was a letter from 10 members of the Council requesting the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on Israel/Palestine to be provided in written form, rather than orally.