October 2019 Monthly Forecast

MIDDLE EAST

Middle East (Israel/Palestine)

Expected Council Action

In October, 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.

Key Recent Developments

On 28 August, Jason Greenblatt, co-architect of the US peace plan and the US special representative for international negotiations, said on Twitter that “we have decided that we will not be releasing the peace vision (or parts of it) prior to the Israeli election”. There has been little public follow-up to the Bahrain “Peace to Prosperity” Conference held in June. On 5 September, Greenblatt announced his resignation. Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, will reportedly continue with negotiations, assisted by his adviser Avi Berkowitz, and Brian H. Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran.

On 17 September, Israel held its second election in less than six months after current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government following the April elections, and dissolved the Knesset. Netanyahu’s Likud party was engaged in a very tight race with the Blue and White Alliance, led by Benny Gantz, former Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and a former Netanyahu ally, who in December 2018 established a new political party, Israel Resilience. Israel Resilience, along with the Blue and White Alliance in which it plays a leading role, is considered a more centrist option to the right-leaning Likud. It has suggested reforms such as term limits for the post of Prime Minister and various anti-corruption measures. Gantz himself has not explicitly stated his position on a two-state solution with Palestine. In terms of international relations, he has taken a firm line against Iran and Hamas.

Earlier this year, Netanyahu took several steps aimed at shoring up conservative and right-wing support. In January, he announced Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, an intergovernmental civilian observer mission which, on and off since 1994 but consistently since 1997, helped with conflict resolution between the Israeli and Palestinian communities in the city, as well as reporting on what it viewed as violations of international law and human rights abuses. On 7 April Netanyahu announced that he would annex all Israeli settlements located in Palestinian territories if he won the election, a promise he restated on the eve of the elections, on 16 September. On 10 September he stated that he would annex the occupied Jordan Valley in the West Bank.

Early results released on 19 September showed the Blue and White alliance with a very slim lead over Likud. Negotiations over a coalition to lead the government, anticipated to be difficult and possibly acrimonious, are likely to take several weeks. Gantz has heavily criticised Netanyahu’s role in three separate corruption cases and on 19 September seemingly turned down any possibility that Blue and White would serve in a coalition with Netanyahu, though the Blue and White alliance has left open the possibility of a secular unity government with Likud but without Netanyahu. On 22 September, the Arab Joint List –an alliance that includes 13 incoming Knesset members—chose for the first time in 27 years to speak out in favour of Gantz to be the first to attempt to form a coalition. Critically, though, the Arab Joint List said it would not enter into a government coalition with Gantz’s Blue and White alliance. On 25 September, President Reuven Rivlin announced that Netanyahu will have 28 days to attempt to form a majority coalition to lead the government.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) came under fire for allegedly corrupt practices with reports of past and ongoing investigations by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, which was looking into accusations of widespread corruption and unethical operations. Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland have suspended their funding pending further investigation. Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, has called on the international community to completely defund UNRWA. The UN investigation into the alleged misconduct is expected to be completed in November.

The Council discussed the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, during its regular monthly meetings in August and September. On 27 August, Mladenov emphasised the complete political deadlock and the threat of escalating violence. He cited several examples of violent incidents.

During the 27 August briefing, Mladenov also discussed recent developments regarding Palestinian tax revenues. He informed the Council that the Palestinian Authority and Israel came to an agreement on 22 August that Israel would turn over a portion of the approximately $568 million that it had collected. Israel had held the money, claiming that the Palestinians’ practice of giving money to the families of those killed or imprisoned during conflicts with Israel rewards violence. The Palestinian authorities argue that this is an essential welfare policy that takes care of its citizens. The August agreement is a temporary solution, however; the fundamental disagreement regarding the recipients of the money remains.

In September, the Council received its quarterly report on the implementation of resolution 2334 of December 2016, which condemned Israeli settlements. While several Council members had requested that the September report be written like the March report, it was oral and delivered by Mladenov during the monthly briefing on Israel/Palestine issues. Mladenov said that no steps had been taken to cease settlement activity.

Human Rights-Related Developments

In her opening statement at the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on 9 September, “The continued expansion of settlements across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, and has severe impact on the human rights of Palestinians”. She also expressed concern over “very high levels of settler violence”, the increased demolition of homes and “reports of unlawful killings and injuries of Palestinians by Israeli security forces”, as well as increased “targeting of human rights defenders…by Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the de facto authorities in Gaza”. In a 12 September statement, the special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, denounced comments by Netanyahu that he would order the annexation of the Jordan Valley if re-elected prime minister. “Annexation is strictly prohibited under international law under any circumstances, let alone for political or electoral considerations,” he said in the statement. “[I]f realized, [it] will effectively end the illusion of a meaningful two-state solution, and will instead further entrench a one-state reality of separate and vastly unequal legal systems, political rights and social opportunities”.

Key Issues and Options

Key issues that continue to face the Council include the blockade on Gaza, worries about the Gaza humanitarian situation, the importance of progress on the intra-Palestinian reconciliation process, and the viability of the two-state solution in the current political and security context. In the near future, other issues will include the impact of the Israeli elections on the political dynamics between Israel and the Palestinians and how to respond to the US peace plan when it is released.

It seems unlikely that any outcome will be forthcoming from the open debate. Council members could choose to hold an Arria-formula meeting or an informal interactive dialogue to highlight specific issues facing the region. A recent Arria-formula meeting was held in May 2019 on Israel’s construction of settlements. Additionally, a civil society representative could be invited to brief at the open debate, as was the case in April under the German presidency. Finally, Russia and Kuwait could once more propose a Council mission to the region, but it would likely face heavy resistance from the US. During the meeting on 20 September, South Africa suggested a mini-Security Council Mission to the region comprised of those members that wish to join. It said that such a trip would show that the Council remains engaged on the issue.

Council and Wider Dynamics

In the past few months, Indonesia, Kuwait and South Africa have emerged as a coalition to push for increased discussion and outcomes on this issue, focusing especially on promoting Palestinian rights. The three members have co-chaired meetings on the subject and proposed outcomes. The overall divergences within the Council were illustrated when these three members co-sponsored a draft press statement in July. While two drafts were proposed and most of the Council agreed in principle that demolitions of Palestinian residences should be addressed, the US refused to consider any statement. Since President Trump assumed office in early 2017, the US has been unwilling to consider any Council product critical of Israel.

Meetings may be held on the margins of the General Assembly to reaffirm adherence to previously agreed-upon international parameters on how to create peace between Israel and Palestine. Council members and other member states may reiterate their commitment to these during the open debate.

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.
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 September 2019S/PV.8625 This meeting included the 11th report on the implementation of resolution 2334. The report was delivered orally.
27 August 2019S/PV.8604 The meeting record for the monthly briefing of Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.