Middle East Debate and Consultations
On Monday (24 October) the Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East following a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe. It seems Pascoe is expected to focus on the recent diplomatic activity by the Quartet to break the stalemate in the Israel/Palestine peace process, developments in the occupied territories, including the issue of Israeli settlements, and the recent prisoner swap agreement between Israel and Hamas. Other issues that are likely to be raised are Palestine’s bid for UN membership and the situation in Syria.
Council members appear interested in an assessment of whether the 12 October deal between Israel and Hamas where 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were freed in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit may have introduced a new dynamic, potentially making it more difficult for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to direct negotiations.
There is also interest in hearing more on any developments with regard to the peace process. Quartet envoys will meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Jerusalem on 26 October as part of ongoing efforts to keep the timeline set out in the 23 September Quartet statement, which called for a preparatory meeting within a month and a final agreement by the end of 2012. It was originally envisioned that the parties would meet directly. However, the Israeli position on negotiations without preconditions and the Palestinian position on cessation of Israeli settlement activity have not yet softened sufficiently to allow the parties to sit at the same table.
On Palestine’s bid for UN membership, it is likely that Council members supportive of the application will address the issue during Monday’s open debate. The standing Committee on Admission of New Members met at permanent-representative level on 18 October and decided that the Committee would convey its views in a report to the Council on 11 November. It is unlikely that Council members will take any steps in the interim which may inadvertently preempt the outcome of either the 26 October indirect talks or the Arab League meeting on this issue currently slated for early November.
It also seems likely that Pascoe may devote a portion of his briefing to the ongoing violence in Syria which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 14 October said had now claimed over 3,000 lives since March. It also appears possible that the EU members of the Council and the US will highlight the Syrian situation during the open debate. China and Russia vetoed a draft resolution on the Syrian situation on 4 October but there is some sense among Council members that if the situation continues to deteriorate there may be a need to revisit the idea of Council action. However, the Council appears unlikely to take up Syria directly until after the deadline set by the Arab League on 16 October for the Syrian regime and opposition to meet in Cairo within 15 days.