Middle East Briefing and Draft Press Statement
Tomorrow (18 February), Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman will provide a briefing, followed by consultations, during the Council’s regular monthly meeting on the Middle East. There has been an increase in Council activity on Israel/Palestine under Venezuela’s presidency. Tomorrow’s briefing follows discussions on Israel/Palestine held on 5 February and yesterday (16 February), both under “any other business”. After the 5 February discussion, Venezuela circulated a draft press statement expressing concern regarding home demolitions and settlement activity, among other issues, which it withdrew because consensus could not be achieved.
Tomorrow Feltman is expected to brief on the continuing violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Violence by Palestinians has killed at least 26 Israelis since October. Israeli forces have killed at least 160 Palestinians, most of whom Israel claims are assailants, amidst allegations of excessive use of force by Israeli forces. Feltman is also expected to touch on several issues that have been discussed by the Council recently, including Israeli settlement expansion, home demolitions, and the possibility of providing international protection to Palestinians, as well as on the peace process more broadly. Members may also be interested in an update on the possible formation of a Palestinian unity government, and Feltman’s views on whether the Council do anything to steer the parties towards dialogue.
Yesterday (16 February), at the request of Venezuela, Feltman briefed Council members under “any other business” on the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and international protection to Palestinian people there, as has been called for by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
During the meeting, Feltman briefly reported on the continuing violence and on settlements and home demolitions, before focusing on the issue of protection. He referred to the Secretary-General’s letter dated 21 October 2015 (S/2015/809), transmitting an internal review of historical precedents for regimes that have been devised to provide varying forms of protection for areas of territory and their inhabitants. This review was undertaken in response to a July 2014 letter from Abbas, in which he requested that “the territory of the State of Palestine be placed under an international protection system by the United Nations”, with the central aim of “ensuring the protection of the Palestinian people” (S/2014/514). Feltman stressed that there are many forms of protection, including monitoring and reporting, legal assistance, and support of child victims. He added that many of these are currently being undertaken by the UN. He acknowledged that more needs to be done, but did not offer prescriptive recommendations.
Following yesterday’s briefing, many Council members voiced support for the Council’s pursuit of ways to enhance the provision of protection, and the need for the Council to consult further on the matter to explore all avenues. Venezuela expressed the desire to see a Council resolution on the issue. Other countries seemed hesitant, as it is unclear what form such an initiative would take thus far no concrete proposals have been made. These members also demonstrated a reluctance to pursue any action that could further jeopardize negotiations.
Yesterday’s briefing was the second on Israel/Palestine held under “any other business” this month. A 5 February briefing on illegal settlements and the demolition of Palestinian houses by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenca, also requested by Venezuela, was held under “any other business”. During his briefing, Jenca reported on continuing Israeli settlement expansion, which he stressed violates international humanitarian law, and called the 2 February demolition of Palestinian houses that left over 100 Palestinians displaced a violation of international human rights law. He warned that such moves are aggravating an already tense environment and rendering return to dialogue increasingly difficult.
Negotiations on the Draft Press Statement
Following the 5 February meeting, Venezuela circulated a draft press statement to Council members. The initial draft expressed concern about the recent home demolitions and the expulsion of Palestinians by Israeli authorities; rejected the appropriation of 370 acres of land in the area of Jericho, in the West Bank, as “State property”, and rejected the policies of establishment and expansion of illegal settlements in Palestinian territories. The draft statement also unequivocally condemned all acts of violence related to the conflict, independently of their origin; expressed concern at the stalemate in the negotiation process; and called on the parties to overcome their differences and resume talks as soon as possible. It expressed support for efforts to resolve the conflict, including those of the Quartet and the Arab Peace Initiative, the proposal of France to promote an International Conference on peace talks, and any international effort to contribute to creating a political horizon to recover the spirit of the Madrid Conference.
Several Council members expressed their support for the Venezuelan initiative. New Zealand, supported by Egypt and Malaysia, suggested that a press statement may be too weak an outcome on such weighty issues, and suggested that a presidential statement or resolution might be more appropriate. Egypt proposed strong language reaffirming the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force and reiterating that Israel’s appropriation of land in the Palestinian and other Arab territories has no legal validity. Malaysia, Spain and Russia provided comments. The US, which often does not engage on outcomes concerning Israel, requested two extensions of the deadline for comments.
Following the second deadline extension, Venezuela circulated a revised draft statement on the evening of 9 February, which it put under silence procedure. Silence was broken by the US, which proposed extensive changes to the original text. The US amendments expressed concern over recent developments on the ground, including home demolitions by Israeli authorities and appropriation of over 370 acres of land near the West Bank city of Jericho. However, they referred to continuing settlement expansion as “illegitimate and counterproductive”, rather than illegal. Whereas the Venezuelan draft condemned all acts of violence, the US proposal “expressed deep concern about the ongoing violence, strongly condemned terrorist attacks that have injured and killed innocent Israeli civilians, and unequivocally reaffirmed that there is no justification for terrorism.” It further “expressed deep concern over the deaths and injuries of Palestinians and urged steps to prevent an escalation of violence and guard against unnecessary loss of life.” The US version called on the parties to create a climate in which meaningful talks may resume and expressed support for the Quartet’s ongoing efforts and noted the importance of initiatives, such as the Arab Peace Initiative; however, it omitted specific references to the Madrid Conference and France’s proposal of an international conference on peace talks in the Middle East, which were in the Venezuelan draft.
Following the US amendments, Venezuela withdrew the draft, stating that consensus could not be reached on the statement.