What's In Blue

Posted Fri 20 Jan 2012

Middle East Debate

Next Tuesday (24 January) the Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández-Taranco will brief. It seems his main focus will be the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He is also likely to touch upon developments in Syria and the Secretary-General’s recent visit to Lebanon.

Council members will likely be interested in an assessment of Israeli and Palestinian efforts to renew direct negotiations and adhere to the timeline proposed by the Quartet (comprised of the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US) on 23 September 2011. The Quartet had set a 26 January deadline for parties to be in direct negotiations and to exchange proposals for border and security arrangements. However, other than a series of recent exploratory talks hosted by Jordan, there has been little progress.

Fernández-Taranco is also likely to reiterate that the issue of settlements continues to be a significant obstacle to the resumption of direct negotiations. Recently both the Secretary-General and the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, highlighted the problems related to the settlements issue. (On 18 January Amos briefed Council members in informal consultations on the humanitarian impact of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.) Council members are aware that in the absence of substantial talks, the question of whether the Council should take on a more robust role on the issue of a peaceful, political settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may resurface.

Council members will also likely be interested in an update on the Syrian crisis, particularly the outcome of the Arab League’s expected meeting this weekend in Cairo. The Arab League is scheduled to discuss the report of the observer mission and possible renewal of its activities for a further month.

There has been some expert-level Council activity on the Russian draft resolution on Syria with discussions held on 17 and 18 January. It appears progress has been made on the characterisation of the conflict, endorsement of all aspects of the Arab League initiative, and a regular reporting mechanism. However, divisions remain over any reference to an arms embargo or targeted sanctions and access for the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry.

While there is broad support among members for the resolution to clarify that no military intervention is envisaged, it seems it has been difficult to find agreed language to express that consensus. Another unresolved issue is that of sanctions. Russia has publicly stated that it will not accept sanctions. It is unclear if the EU members of the Council and the US will be able to accept a resolution that does not include at least the threat of future measures if the Syrian regime does not end the violence.

At press time, Council members were awaiting Moscow’s reaction to the revised draft. While there has been some movement on areas that had been contentious, the process is unlikely to move forward without approval from Moscow. At press time there was no indication of when Russia might circulate a revised draft for further negotiation.

It also seems that Fernández-Taranco may give Council members a read-out on the Secretary-General’s mid-January visit to Beirut where he gave the key note address at a high-level meeting on Reform and Transitions to Democracy. Ban also visited UNIFIL headquarters and consulted with Beirut on the extension of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s mandate which expires in March.

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