Middle East Briefing and Consultations
On Monday (21 November) Council members will meet in informal consultations following a briefing by Robert Serry, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. Serry is expected to focus on the recent activity by the Quartet, developments in the occupied territories including the issue of Israeli settlements, increasing tension between Gaza and Israel, and the reemergence of a possible Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. Other issues that may be raised are Palestine’s bid for UN membership and the situation in Syria.
In the briefing, Serry is likely to provide an assessment of Quartet activities since its initiative on 23 September to restart direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Quartet mediators met separately with Israeli and Palestinian officials on 14 November in Jerusalem. The next round of indirect talks is expected in December when both parties are to propose border and security arrangements. However, continued Israeli settlement activity remains an obstacle to direct negotiations. (On 1 November, following Palestine’s admission to UNESCO, Israel announced accelerated construction of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank which drew international criticism from France, Germany, the UK, the US, the EU and the Secretary-General.)
On Palestine’s bid for UN membership, it is possible that Council members supportive of the application will address the issue in consultations. On 11 November, the Admissions Committee transmitted its report to the Security Council (S/2011/705), which stated that the Committee had concluded its work but was unable to reach a unanimous recommendation on Palestine’s application. The report details the exchange of views, without specific attribution, on whether Palestine meets the requirements for membership.
There is no expectation that Monday’s meeting will spur any Council decisions on Palestine’s application. Most Council members seem to be waiting for a clear signal from Ramallah which is unlikely to be given ahead of the Arab League meeting on the admissions issue. (This meeting had been provisionally scheduled for 16 and then 20 November but the situation in Syria appears to have taken precedence.)
It is also likely that some Council members may raise the issue of Syria in Monday’s consultations. Council members are likely to be interested in the increasing death toll in Syria (which the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates has exceeded 3,500 since the beginning of the crisis in March) and recent reports of clashes between Syrian security forces and defectors from the Syrian military.
Council members are also closely following the Arab League’s response to the Syrian situation. On 16 November the Arab League formally suspended Syria and gave the regime three days to implement its commitments under the Arab League initiative or face economic and political sanctions. (In particular, the Arab League has called for the immediate cessation of all violence, withdrawal of the military from the streets and permission for an Arab observer mission in key cities across Syria.) The Arab League decision to suspend Syria has sparked attacks by regime supporters on several embassies in Syria. The Security Council condemned the attacks in a press statement on 15 November (SC/10448). It is unclear how the Arab League’s action may influence the Council’s own approach to the Syrian situation or whether it may lead more cautious Council members to recalibrate their positions.