July 2019 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 June 2019
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MIDDLE EAST

Middle East (Israel/Palestine)

Expected Council Action

In July, 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 is likely to brief. There may also be a briefer from civil society.

Key Recent Developments

The Council discussed the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, during its regular monthly meetings in May and June. During this period there was also an Arria-formula meeting entitled “Israeli Settlements and Settlers: Core of the Occupation, Protection Crisis and Obstruction of Peace” held on 9 May to discuss Israel’s construction of settlements. Indonesia, Kuwait, and South Africa co-sponsored the meeting.

A US-led “Peace for Prosperity” workshop was held in Bahrain on 25-26 June. It was intended to unveil the economic portion of the American peace plan for Israel-Palestine by raising tens of billions of dollars in pledges from the international community to help the Palestinian economy. The political question was not on the agenda. Many countries in the region sent delegations to the conference: Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia (Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan), and United Arab Emirates. China, Russia, and the EU were also represented. From the UN, deputy Middle East envoy Jamie McGoldrick was present. Additional guests included Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. There was no official Palestinian delegation, however: they refused to take part, angered by US President Donald Trump’s recent actions, including ending aid to the Palestinian Authority, closing the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s office in Washington, eliminating financial support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and endorsing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. On the day of the conference, there were protests across the West Bank and a general strike in Gaza. Israel, too, had no official government representation: according to the US, since the Palestinian Authority did not attend, Israeli officials did not do so either.

On 23 June, two days before the Bahrain “Peace to Prosperity” conference, the US posted portions of the economic plan on the White House website. The website says that “with the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over ten years, Peace to Prosperity represents the most ambitious and comprehensive international effort for the Palestinian people to date”. It continues by highlighting that “Peace to Prosperity will establish a new foundation for the Palestinian economy, generating rapid economic growth and job creation”. It seems that the main pillars of the economic plan are opening the West Bank and Gaza, constructing essential infrastructure, promoting private sector growth, and strengthening regional development and integration. This will reportedly involve the creation of a $50 billion global investment fund. At the conference, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner gave opening remarks, calling the Peace to Prosperity plan a “modern framework” for Palestinian development. He reminded participants that the goal of the workshop is not to discuss political issues, saying “we will get to those at the right time.” He did not indicate when that time would be.

In response to the conference, one of Saudi Arabia’s representative said that “there is hope of peace” with the inclusion of the private sector. Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa called the conference “an opportunity not to be missed”. He reiterated Bahrain’s support for a two-state solution. Meanwhile, Oman, while not in attendance, announced that it will be opening an embassy in Ramallah, West Bank.

UNRWA held a donor conference in New York on 25 June. Secretary-General António Guterres attended and President of the General Assembly María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés presided. Ahead of the conference, Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, stated at a meeting in New York that UNRWA remains a crucial contributor to regional stability. He thanked member states for their significant contributions in 2018, when UNRWA “was confronted with its most severe funding crisis ever.” Krähenbühl noted that UNRWA itself took measures to reduce expenditure by $92 million. However, as of 22 May, UNRWA had funding to run operations only until mid-June. Further donations would be crucial to continue supplying food and reopening schools in August. Overall for 2019 UNRWA requires $1.2 billion for all operations, and ahead of the conference Krähenbühl called for those who assisted in 2018 to donate again.

At the conference, those in attendance heard from two Palestine student parliamentarians who stressed the critical role UNRWA schools play in their lives. Afterwards, close to 40 member states took the floor to announce their donations and support for UNRWA’s continued existence. For example, the EU announced an additional contribution of 21 million euros, bringing their total contribution to 107 million euros in 2019. China also said it would increase its assistance to UNRWA in 2019. Others reiterated that they will stand by their 2019 commitments. Krähenbühl welcomed all the statements of support to UNRWA and reported that announcements of support during and in the run-up to the conference totalled just over $110 million, which he described as a step towards avoiding a summer funding crisis. He urged early disbursement of the funds. When asked, Krähenbühl said that there was no competition between the UNRWA and Bahrain conferences and that he is not worried that the Bahrain conference will impede UNRWA’s ability to raise the necessary funds.

Israel will hold its second election in less than six months on 17 September, due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inability to form a governing coalition. This may be cited as a reason for further delay in the presentation of the political part of the US peace plan for Israel-Palestine.

At the Council’s June meeting on the issue, Mladenov gave his tenth report on the implementation of resolution 2334, which called on Israel to end its settlement activity, which constitutes a “flagrant violation under international law”. It was an oral presentation only, which remains a contentious issue for member states. Mladenov shared his fears about the fiscal viability of the Palestinian Authority under the continued withholding of tax revenue by Israel, as well as UNRWA’s severe financial problems. If these financial problems are not resolved, 25 years of international assistance to the Palestinians could be undone, he said. He noted serious movement and access constraints in Gaza on the staff of UN agencies and NGOs. Hundreds have been prohibited from obtaining travel documents, which is a marked escalation from 2017 when 40 individuals faced such restrictions.

On settlements, Mladenov said that Israel had taken no steps to comply with resolution 2334 in the reporting period. Instead, the largest settlement advancement in two years has taken place. Demolitions and seizures of Palestinian property also continued: according to his report, 92 Palestinian-owned structures were recently demolished or seized. The 58 such cases in April was, according to Mladenov, the highest monthly number since OCHA started monitoring in 2009.

In his conclusion, Mladenov noted in connection with the Bahrain workshop that humanitarian and economic support are crucial to creating the environment for negotiations. He said that no amount of humanitarian or economic support will resolve the conflict: these can only be complementary to a legitimate political process in line with UN and other international frameworks. In that vein, he remained deeply concerned about the weakening of international consensus and efforts on this issue.

Human Rights-Related Developments

On 20 June, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 said in a press release that “statements by senior Israeli political leaders and US diplomats in support of the annexation of parts or all of the occupied West Bank by Israel fly in the face of the absolute prohibition against the annexation of occupied territories”. He added that “annexation and territorial conquest are forbidden by the Charter of the United Nations…[and] the Security Council, beginning with resolution 242 in November 1967, has expressly affirmed the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war or force on eight occasions, most recently in 2016”. He also warned that “[i]f annexation proceeds, the chances for a genuine and just peace in the foreseeable future will have gone from implausible to unimaginable”. 

Key Issues and Options

The Council has been in a holding pattern while awaiting the details of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan. Long-held positions continue to be voiced, which for many members include calls to lift the blockade on Gaza, concern about the humanitarian situation there, and the desire to see progress on intra-Palestinian reconciliation process steered by Egypt. Recently, the financial struggles of UNRWA have been a topic of discussion at the Council. During the Council’s 22 May meeting, Jason Greenblatt, co-architect of the Trump peace plan and special representative for international negotiations who represented the US at the meeting, responded to the briefing by UNRWA’s Secretary-General by strongly suggesting that it was time to close UNRWA. The US believes that UNRWA’s operations have failed the Palestinians. This was a clear red line for other members, who expressed their support for UNRWA’s actions and existence in their statements. UNRWA is expected to be a continued topic of divergence for the Council.

It seems unlikely that any outcome will be forthcoming from the open debate. Russia, Kuwait, and others have suggested a Council mission to the region, but nothing concrete has been explored. Such a proposal is expected to face heavy resistance from the US.

Council and Wider Dynamics

The quarterly open debates always highlight the stark differences between the US and the other UN member states on this file, which continue to cause tension. It is expected that in July, many speeches will focus on the outcomes of the Bahrain and UNRWA conferences. Many Council members are likely to bring up the need to continue on the path toward a two-state solution in line with international frameworks. Some may criticise the US approach to pursuing an economic plan before a political one; some have already commented that the order should be reversed.

At the Council’s June meeting ahead of the Bahrain and UNRWA conferences, the US representative urged member states to keep an open mind about upcoming proposals. He said that a full plan would address all final status issues, but that Bahrain would be an important opportunity to share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanise support for economic initiatives to develop human capital. However, many members indicated that economic policies alone would not bring peace. France said it would be dangerous to see the current stalemate as the time to move away from international parameters to a unilateral solution, adding that such actions are doomed to failure.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE MIDDLE EAST (ISRAEL/PALESTINE)

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 Reports
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 Meeting Records
20 June 2019S/PV.8557 S/PV.8557 (20 June 2019) contained the most recent oral report on the implementation of resolution 2334 by Mladenov.