What's In Blue

Middle East Open Debate

Tomorrow (20 April), the Security Council will convene its regular quarterly open debate under the agenda item, “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.” Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov will brief.

The US, as Council president this month, has opted to circulate a concept note ahead of the debate. The quarterly debate is generally focused on the issue of Israel/Palestine, but also provides a forum for briefings and discussion on other regional issues. US Ambassador Nikki Haley has expressed displeasure with what the US administration deems to be a disproportionate focus on and bias against Israel in the UN system. The concept note proposes focusing the debate on other issues.

The concept note highlights for discussion such issues as the cross-border influx of foreign terrorist fighters and networks of “terror groups with ever-shifting alliances that threaten peace and security in the region.” It refers to the situations in several countries on the Council’s agenda—Iraq, where the government battles ISIS around Mosul; Lebanon, where Hezbollah “undermines Lebanon’s security” and plays a key role in the Syrian conflict; and Libya, where factions are struggling to reach a political solution. The note encourages member states to think about key questions such as who are the regional players that benefit most from chaos, and what connections exist between terrorists and these states; what steps can be taken to identify and address threats to international peace and security arising from these situations; and how the international community can work to ensure that “bad actors” do not benefit from post-conflict reconstruction efforts.

While the countries cited in the note are all considered by the Council under their own agenda items, “the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question” is the only agenda item under which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is considered. Terrorism is more broadly addressed as a thematic issue under the agenda item “Threats to Peace and Security related to Terrorist Acts”.

Despite the emphasis of the concept note, Council members and other member states are free to focus their interventions on whichever Middle East situations or issues that they choose and many are expected to proceed as they usually do in the debate, with a focus on the Middle East Peace Process. A Middle East country-specific agenda item not mentioned in the concept note, Yemen, may also be addressed.

Special Coordinator Mladenov’s briefing is unlikely to deviate from regular practice, whereby he reports on issues pertaining to Israeli settlement activity, the security situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territory, Gaza reconstruction and prospects for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Other regional issues are at times raised in the Secretariat briefings, however, with less prominence.

As early as the year 2000, all agenda items relating to Palestinian issues have been titled “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.” By August 2002, the Council began a practice of holding a regular monthly public meeting on this issue at which the Secretariat briefing would take place.

As Lorraine Sievers and Sam Daws have noted in The Procedure of the UN Security Council, Qatar contributed to the establishment of the quarterly open debate format during its 2006-7 term on the Council. Prior to this, frequent crises in the region prompted member states to often request open debates so that non-Council members could express their positions. To meet the desire of member states to pronounce themselves on Middle East issues while avoiding having too many such debates, Qatar proposed the holding of regular quarterly open debates. Since these debates became regular fixtures in 2010, they have focused on Israel/Palestine.

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