Middle East (Israel/Palestine)
Expected Council Action
In April, 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. There may also be a briefer from civil society.
Key Recent Developments
On 7 February, Council members were briefed under “any other business” regarding Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH). Several members of the international community, including those countries whose citizens acted as observers, were surprised at the decision and shared their disapproval. During the meeting, the US supported the action as the sovereign right of Israel. The US blocked adoption of a Council press statement condemning Israel’s action, proposed by Indonesia and Kuwait, which had also requested the meeting. The rest of the Council was ready to adopt some press elements.
On 20 February the Council held its monthly meeting on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine). Along with the usual participation of Mladenov, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller briefed the Council for the first time on Israel/Palestine since 2016. In the public session, Mladenov condemned unilateral moves by both sides that are undermining peace efforts, urged donors to continue their support for civil society, and regretted Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of TIPH. On Palestinian reconciliation, Mladenov said elections might be the only way out of the current impasse.
Mueller said the situation remains, at its core, a protection crisis. She noted that funding continues to decrease while needs grow. She particularly stressed the impact on children, noting that 40 children have been killed in the “march to return” protests since they began in March 2018. She said that on multiple occasions over the past year, Gaza health services were at the risk of shutting down because of a lack of electricity. While the humanitarian situation in the West Bank is less acute, she noted the growing pressures faced by families in Area C, an administrative division of the West Bank. Mueller said that the ability to provide humanitarian assistance is increasingly constrained because of record low funding.
On 8 March, Council members met under “any other business” to discuss an ongoing disagreement between Israel and Palestine on tax collection, as requested by Indonesia and Kuwait. Mladenov took part in the meeting. On 17 February the Israeli government’s security cabinet announced plans to implement a law adopted by the Knesset in 2018 to withhold approximately $139 million in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority (PA), citing payments made by the PA to Palestinians involved in attacks against Israelis using the tax money. Israel says the payments encourage further violence and are used to finance terrorism. Palestinian authorities argue the money is an essential welfare policy that takes care of its citizens. According to a 1994 economic agreement, Israel collects money on behalf of the PA and then transfers it. On 20 February it was reported that the PA returned the entirety of collected tax revenue to Israel in protest of the change in procedure.
Mladenov stressed on 8 March that these actions could have economic and security implications as well as an effect on any political dialogue. He again urged the Council to engage constructively. Most members expressed concerns about the impact of this disagreement on the humanitarian, security, and economic situation, recalling the Oslo Accords and urging the parties to restrain from unilateral action. However, one member argued that the money goes to terrorists, saying that it is the Palestinian Authority’s actions that were putting their people at risk.
A surprise participant was Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special envoy and Special Representative for International Negotiations. Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, have reportedly been developing Trump’s peace plan for Israel and Palestine. Greenblatt delivered the US statement on the tax issue and after those discussions spoke briefly about the peace plan. Earlier in the week, in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Greenblatt said: “It really is up to the Israelis and the Palestinians; they’re the ones who will have to live with the consequences of the plan… [he hopes external stakeholders] will focus on the good and see the possibilities of a brighter future. And if the two sides are willing to engage, they will be the ones to work through the tough issues.”
After the meeting some Council members said that Greenblatt had not provided any details about the peace plan. Apparently, several Council members asked Greenblatt specific questions, but he repeatedly said he could not give details.
On 15 March, two rockets were fired from Gaza into Tel Aviv. On 17 March, a Palestinian killed an Israeli soldier and civilian in the West Bank. On 21 March, Trump announced via Twitter that it was time for the US to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and officially did so in a presidential proclamation on 25 March. Israel took control of the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967. In May 1974, the UN Disengagement Observer Force was established through resolution 350 (1974) after increased tensions and an agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan. Since then, the situation has been in a relative stand-off. In response, the UN and many other countries, including all European members of the Council, have said that they continue not to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967, including the Golan Heights. Additionally, on 25 March a rocket was fired from Gaza into a village north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven people. In response, Israel struck what it said were Hamas targets in Gaza. More rockets came into Israel from Gaza, but since then there has been relative calm.
On 26 March, Mladenov presented his ninth report on implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) to the Council. He presented a written report, S/2019/251; the first since June 2018. Mladenov said Israel has taken no steps to follow the provisions laid out in the resolution. Several members publically thanked the Secretariat for the second written report.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 40th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on 18 March with the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, and considered his report (A/HRC/40/73). The HRC also held an interactive dialogue with the 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, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018, whether before, during or after, and considered the commission’s final report (A/HRC/40/74).
The HRC also considered the reports of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of HRC resolutions S-9/1 and S-12/1 (A/HRC/40/39); the implementation of HRC resolution 37/36 (A/HRC/40/42); and HRC resolution 37/37 (A/HRC/40/43). Furthermore, it considered the report of the High Commissioner on the database of all business enterprises involved in the activities detailed in paragraph 96 of the report of the independent international fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem (A/HRC/40/40).
On 22 March, the HRC adopted the following four resolutions submitted by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation: “Ensuring accountability and justice for all violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” (A/HRC/40/L.25), by 23 to 8 votes with 15 abstentions; “Right of the Palestinian people to self-determination” (A/HRC/40/L.26), by 41 to 3 votes with 2 abstentions; “Human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem” (A/HRC/40/L.27), by 39 to 3 votes, with 5 abstentions; and “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan” (A/HRC/40/L.28), by 32 to 5 votes, with 10 abstentions.
Key Issues and Options
There has been little progress on this file and, in fact, Mladenov has warned the Council every month that there could be serious repercussions because of the lack of Council unity and action. Each month, the Council is faced with recurring issues, including repeated violations of resolution 2334, violence against civilians, provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric, the difficult promotion of intra-Palestinian reconciliation, and the humanitarian needs of Gaza.
It seems unlikely that any outcome will be decided, given the inability to adopt an outcome on 7 February regarding the TIPH mandate. Nevertheless Kuwait, before it leaves the Council at the end of the year, may continue to push for various outcomes. For example, after the 7 February meeting, Kuwait said it would explore having a Council mission to the region. Other members had suggested this in the past. This proposal is expected to face heavy resistance from the US.
Another issue for Council members is the continued silence by the US on its peace plan. Depending on the US timetable, the peace plan could be announced before the Council’s open debate in April, though it will more likely be announced around June. Council members, and the wider UN community, may need to be ready to address it.
After US Ambassador Nikki Haley left her post at the end of 2018, there were questions as to how her departure would affect US statements on this matter. Would the US return to addressing Israel/Palestine during the quarterly open debates as was done during the Obama administration or would it continue to use the meetings to focus on what it views as Iran’s destabilising influence in the region? As most countries expected, the practice of focusing on Iran and terrorism in the Middle East continues. January’s open debate once again highlighted the stark differences between the US and other members on this file.
Indonesia and South Africa, who joined the Council in 2019, have been active on this file. Kuwait and Indonesia have jointly called for both meetings and products on Israel/Palestine. During the meeting in February, Kuwait, Indonesia and South Africa spoke in the open chamber (along with Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea), while Kuwait and South Africa took the opportunity to call again for at least two written reports on the status of the implementation of resolution 2334. Indonesia, Kuwait, and South Africa also spoke out against the decision of Israel to not renew TIPH’s mandate.
Several Council members continue to call for written reports in advance of the quarterly briefing on the implementation of resolution 2334. Apart from one written report produced in June 2018, these reports have only been conveyed orally. The sole written report 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. This call was repeated in another letter on 21 December signed by 13 members, including both outgoing and incoming elected members; Germany and the Dominican Republic were not signatories, however.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE MIDDLE EAST (ISRAEL/PALESTINE)
|Security Council Resolutions|
|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.|
|20 March 2019S/2019/251||This was the second written Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2334, relating to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.|
|Security Council Letters|
|21 December 2018S/2018/1150||A letter from 13 members of the Council, including outgoing and incoming elected members, reiterating the request that the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on Israel/Palestine be provided in written form, rather than orally.|