Middle East Open Debate
Tomorrow (15 January), the Security Council will convene for its first Middle East quarterly open debate of the year, with a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General of Political Affairs Jens Toyberg-Frandzen. Interventions by the new Council members – Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela – will likely outline their respective positions on the current state of the Middle East peace process and signal their views as to what role the Council ought to play in advancing prospects for a negotiated settlement of the conflict.
The Council last met on Israel/Palestine on 30 December 2014 after Jordan, the Arab Group representative in the Council, requested a same-day vote on a draft resolution calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories by the end of 2017. The draft incorporated amendments by the Arab Group to a draft resolution that had been put in blue by Jordan on 17 December (S/2014/916). The resolution did not receive the nine affirmative votes necessary for adoption. Eight Council members voted in favour—Argentina, Chad, Chile, China, France, Jordan, Luxembourg and Russia. The US and Australia voted against and the remaining five members—Lithuania, Nigeria, the Republic of Korea, Rwanda and the UK—abstained. (It appeared that when the vote was called, the draft was expected to garner the nine votes necessary for passage, thus forcing a US veto, as Nigeria, which ended up abstaining, had been expected to cast an affirmative vote.) There was a great deal of unhappiness with the process. The vote had been called abruptly and Council members did not hold negotiations on the text. In their interventions following the vote, several members expressed displeasure with the rushed nature of the process and the exclusion of the majority of members from the drafting and negotiating process.
The following day, 31 December, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made good on a promise to accede to the International Criminal Court’s(ICC) Rome Statute if the resolution failed to pass in the Council, paving the way for Palestine to bring claims of war crimes against Israel to the ICC. Following the move, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would stop transferring customs revenue to the Palestinian Authority. However, the Arab League has agreed to provide emergency funds to cover the transfers frozen by Israel. On 5 January Palestine sent a letter of complaint to the president of the Council, saying that Israel had “resumed the theft of Palestinian tax revenues in direct retaliation for the legitimate, peaceful steps taken by the Palestinian leadership in the pursuit of justice and for the purpose of protecting the Palestinian people” (S/2015/4).
At tomorrow’s open debate, participants are likely to present their positions on the ICC move and its potential repercussions for the peace process. The US has long dissuaded Palestine from joining the ICC, and during a State Department briefing on 7 January, a spokesman said that the “step is counter-productive, will damage the atmosphere with the very people with whom Palestinians ultimately need to make peace, and will do nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign and independent state”. He furthermore made clear that the US’s view is that the Palestinians have not yet established a state and as such are ineligible to become party to the Rome Statute or any of the other treaties.
Tomorrow, Council members, particularly the incoming five, may choose to express their views on the role of the Council going forward, following the failed resolution initiative and the continuing deterioration of relations between the parties.
Speaking in the West Bank on 4 January, Abbas indicated his intentions to resubmit a resolution to the Council, saying the Palestinians would study the possibility with its allies, particularly Jordan, “to submit the resolution again, a third time or even a fourth time.” Also tomorrow, Arab League foreign ministers will convene in Cairo to discuss the possibility of resubmitting the resolution and devise a strategy for going forward in the Council. While resubmitting the resolution, or a similar draft, may lead to a slightly better outcome given the change in the Council’s composition, such a move has virtually no chance of success given the position of the veto-wielding US. .