Open Debate on the Middle East
Tomorrow (21 October), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East with Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefing*. The main focus is expected to be Gaza and reconstruction efforts there following the devastation wrought by the 50-day conflict with Israel last summer. Feltman is also expected to update Council members on the clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces last week in the Old City area of East Jerusalem over fears that Israel planned to restrict access for Muslims to the Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound, site of the Al-Aqsa mosque. Jordan, as the historic custodian of the compound, may raise questions about Israel’s intentions with regard to the compound. Feltman may also elaborate on the clashes between protestors and Israeli forces near the separation wall in the West Bank town of Beit Liqya.
Council members are likely to be most interested in information that might be relevant to the current negotiations on a draft resolution on Israel/Palestine. An earlier draft resolution presented by Jordan on behalf of the Arab League focused on the Gaza conflict was put in blue in early August, before the 26 August ceasefire agreement, and is still on the table (S/2014/568). However, a new draft resolution, reflecting new developments and addressing the wider conflict, was circulated on 30 September by Jordan on behalf of Palestine and the Arab Group. This new text was apparently drafted by the Palestinians and sets a timeframe for a comprehensive, just, lasting and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It calls for the full withdrawal of Israel from all of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 by November 2016. In addition, the draft calls for an independent Palestinian state, a resolution of the status of Jerusalem as the capital of two states, and a resolution of the problem of the Palestine refugees in accordance with General Assembly resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948.
Members may be looking for information on continuing Israeli settlement activity as the draft also demands the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities. It also demands the full lifting of the Israeli blockade, citing resolution 1860 of January 2009 it demands the opening of all the Gaza Strip’s border crossings, and for the immediate and expanded provision of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population, particularly in the Gaza Strip. It also calls for the deployment of an international presence to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but does not prescribe what such a presence may entail. Council members are likely to be interested in any reactions from the ground to the demands made in the draft resolution.
Council members held their first expert level consultations on the draft last week to exchange initial reactions on the draft. It appears that while there are some members—including Argentina, Chad, Chile, China, Jordan and Russia—that support the text as is, it would not at this point garner the nine positive votes needed to be adopted, even without a veto. Several other Council members believe that the text would need substantial revision in order to be acceptable, but are willing to engage on the resolution in hopes of achieving an agreeable text. Some of these members also stress that any resolution adopted ought to be acceptable to both parties to be fruitful. However, much of the current draft would likely be unacceptable to the US, which has indicated that any negotiations on the text would necessitate capital-level involvement. Some members believe that the draft tries to tackle too many sensitive issues. In addition there are concerns that it lacks balance and does not address Israeli concerns. While it is possible that with changes, the text may gain support of at least nine members, the general sense is that it would still probably be vetoed by the US. When asked about the proposed resolution earlier this month, US Ambassador Samantha Power said that the US believes the only solution to the conflict is through negotiations between the two parties. At press time it was unclear how negotiations on the text would proceed, but it appeared that it was likely to be a slow-moving process.
Council members are also likely to be interested in hearing from Feltman about efforts to rebuild Gaza after last summer’s devastating conflict with Israel and may be looking for an update on the implementation of the trilateral agreement among Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the UN, brokered by Special Coordinator Robert Serry on the reconstruction of Gaza. This agreement gave the PA a lead role in the effort while providing security assurances through UN monitoring, that construction materials will not be diverted from their civilian purposes.
Information on a Gaza reconstruction conference organised by Egypt and Norway held in Cairo on 12 October to raise funds is also likely to be of interest. Participating countries pledged $5.4 billion to the Palestinian people, with half that amount allocated for the reconstruction of Gaza. Addressing the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed that the successful reconstruction of Gaza requires a strong political foundation and that the comprehensive reconciliation agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo on 25 September was a promising first step. Ban pledged UN support for the Government of National Consensus as it manages Gaza’s reconstruction needs and added that promoting an environment conducive to peace must include an investigation into possible violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. Two days later, Ban visited Gaza where he characterised the destruction from the recent conflict as “beyond description” and a source of “shame to the international community”.
*While Feltman was originally scheduled to brief, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed the Council instead, following his recent trip to the region and discussed the Gaza reconstruction efforts, Israeli settlement expansion and current tensions in Jerusalem, as well as addressing the situations in Syria and Lebanon.