Update Report No.2: Israel/Palestine
Expected Council Action
Indonesia circulated on 9 January a draft presidential statement on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Initially it seemed the draft would meet the same fate as many other draft statements and resolutions on this subject. But there are signs that an important breakthrough is possible.
After consultations among experts on 10 and 11 January, it seems possible that the Council will adopt a final version of the statement before the end of the week. But given past history and other contentious issues currently in play, a successful outcome is not assured.
Key Recent Developments
On 23 December 2006, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. They discussed the reviving of the peace process and how to achieve a two-state solution based on the Road Map. They agreed to take a series of concrete steps:
Olmert agreed to transfer the frozen tax revenues to the Palestinian hospitals and other medical facilities, and to remove several roadblocks in the West Bank.
They discussed ways of reinforcing the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and how to extend it to the West Bank.
They agreed to reactivate a joint committee charged with freeing Palestinian prisoners.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Olmert met in Sharm el-Sheikh on 4 January, also with the view to revive the peace process. Although they failed to reach agreement on some issues, they agreed to organize a four-way summit between Mubarak, Abbas, Olmert and Jordanian King Abdullah II. The summit would be hosted by Mubarak at Sharm el-Sheik.
Political tensions between the two Palestinian rival factions, Hamas and Fatah, turned violent in early January after President Abbas announced plans to call early elections following the collapse of unity government talks with Hamas. President Abbas (on behalf of Fatah) and Prime Minister Ismail Haniya (on behalf of Hamas) agreed to call for calm and withdraw gunmen from their rival factions from Gaza’s streets after clashes killed eight people. Haniya announced that he would set up a commission of inquiry to look into the recent inter-Palestinian clashes.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is shortly to visit the Middle East. The US said it would provide $86 million to boost Abbas’s security forces.
An international Conference on Financial Assistance to Lebanon is scheduled in Paris on 25 January and it seems there may be prospects for a meeting in the margins of the conference of the Middle East Quartet comprising the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN.
The Indonesian Approach to the Draft Presidential Statement
The issue of whether, when and how to re-engage the Security Council in response to growing levels of violence and apparent collapse of the Middle East peace process has been the most divisive issue in the Council for some time. The divisions sharpened in 2006. Numerous efforts to persuade the Council to address the issue failed. Draft presidential statements were blocked and a resolution was vetoed. Growing levels of fallout in the General Assembly became apparent.
The fact that the issue has now been able to be taken up in a constructive and seemingly successful manner is due to the initiative undertaken by Indonesia. Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country. But it is one with the benefit of a geographical location far from the Middle East and with strong regional and other ties in the Asia Pacific region (including with the US). It joined the Council on 1 January and seems to have come to the Council with a quiet determination that the situation in the Middle East should constitute one of its priorities. But it has also brought to the Council the political willingness to assume leadership and negotiate with flexibility as well as firmness.
Its desire to achieve a positive concrete outcome meant that not only did it seek to express concern at the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Territories, especially after the recent Israeli raid in Ramallah, but also it was interested in a balanced approach which would recognise positive achievements and provide some impulse to the peace process by welcoming the Olmert/Abbas and Olmert/Mubarak agreements.
Initially, some Council members, including the US and some European delegations, felt that the timing was not ripe for Council action. They seemed to prefer to wait for the possible Quartet meeting. The US may also have been concerned not to undercut prospect for Rice’s visit to the region. Indonesia had significant support however for the view that it was important to send a strong signal to the international community that the Council in 2007 would take a new approach to addressing the issue of Israel/Palestine.
It seems that a consensus emerged on the value of a presidential statement at this point, in part because of the flexible approach taken by Indonesia to the negotiation of language all members could support. But an important factor may also have been that, on reflection, all Council members considered that this may indeed be a propitious time to gently explore a new approach.
Most Council members also seemed eager to highlight that the Olmert/Abbas agreement is a positive step.
An important new dynamic was the willingness of the US to actively enter into negotiations on a text. This marked an important change from many similar situations in the past. The Europeans also participated actively, seeking to include references to Council support for President Abbas’s efforts towards national reconciliation and to the role of key regional actors. The UK also supported inclusion in the text of a reference to the November mutual ceasefire agreement in Gaza and its extension to the West Bank.
Welcome the agreements between Olmert and Abbas and Olmert and Mubarak and stress the importance of their implementation;
Call on the parties to extend the November ceasefire to other parts of the Occupied Territories and the West Bank;
Underline the importance of exercising restraint and avoid actions that endanger civilians;
Refer to the importance of negotiations as opposed to military solution;
Refer to the vital role of the Quartet;
Refer to landmark Council resolutions and peace initiatives including the Madrid Terms of Reference, the Arab Peace Initiative and the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side.
At press time it seems that a final version was about to be circulated under a “silence procedure” and could be adopted before the end of the week.