What's In Blue

Middle East Briefing

Tomorrow (20 June), the Council will hold its monthly briefing under the agenda item, “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is expected to brief and will report on the implementation of resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements, adopted on 23 December 2016, which requested the Secretary-General to report on its implementation every three months.

Council president Bolivia has invited three other briefers, in commemoration of this month being the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. They include Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit; Lakhdar Brahimi, who will be representing the Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights; and Michael Doran, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Tomorrow’s briefing will be Mladenov’s second report to the Council on the implementation of resolution 2334. The resolution condemned Israeli settlement building and reaffirmed that the establishment of settlements in Palestinian territory that Israel has occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.

In the first oral report on 24 March, Mladenov said that there had been a notable increase in statements, announcements and decisions by the Israeli government to increase settlement expansion, as well as large-scale demolitions of Palestinian and Bedouin structures in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He reported that no steps were taken to comply with the resolution and that the rate of settlement activity during the reporting period was far higher than in the year preceding it. Mladenov also addressed compliance with other aspects of resolution 2334, including the call on both parties to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric, reporting that leaders on both sides were found to be in violation.

Council members will be interested in hearing whether these negative trends have continued during the reporting period, and if any steps have been taken by the parties to comply with the stipulations of the resolution. In his March briefing, Mladenov noted that there had been no significant developments pertaining to the resolution’s call on all states to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between Israeli territory and the territories occupied since 1967. Council members will want to hear whether that continues to be the case.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit may echo aspects of the Arab League’s communiqué adopted following its 29 March Summit in Jordan, relevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the communiqué, the Arab League representatives “reiterate[d] our continuous efforts to relaunch serious and effective peace negotiations that can end the political deadlock…on the basis of two states, ensuring the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the June 4, 1967, borders with East Jerusalem as its capital”, which the communiqué asserted is “the only way to reach peace and stability.” The Arab leaders further reiterated their support for the 2002 Beirut Summit Arab Peace Initiative, which called for the normalisation of relations between Arab countries and Israel, in exchange for a full withdrawal by Israel from the occupied territories and a just settlement of the Palestinian refugee question. Gheit may elaborate on the role that the League and Arab countries can play in the achievement of a resolution to the conflict.

Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, conflict mediator, and UN diplomat, will be briefing the Council on behalf of the Elders. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a top priority of the Elders since the group was founded in 2007. The group strongly believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must not be forgotten amongst other currently bloodier conflicts in the region, and that that there will be no lasting peace in the region without a just and peaceful resolution of that conflict. While they do not act as mediators, the Elders aim to offer advice where helpful and build popular support for a just and secure peace.

In his briefing, Brahimi may elaborate on the group’s views on how a solution to the conflict can be found and address how the Council can play a constructive role in securing peace. The Elders assert that a resolution to the conflict must be based on respect for universal human rights and international humanitarian law, and that boundaries between Israel and a viable Palestinian state should be defined based on pre-1967 borders, with a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. The group further stresses that any resolution must address the core issues of the conflict, including the questions of Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlement building and annexation, mutual security arrangements, and the division of water and other natural resources. The Elders also call for the permanent lifting of the siege on Gaza and the consolidation of Palestinian political, economic and social unity. They fully support the Arab Peace Initiative. Brahimi may advocate action by the Council, and the wider international community, to pursue these elements.

The final briefer, Michael Doran, is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC. Doran specialises in Middle East security issues, and served in the administration of former US President George W. Bush as a senior director in the National Security Council, where he was responsible for helping to devise and coordinate US strategies on a variety of Middle East issues, including with regard to Arab-Israeli relations. It appears that the US proposed Doran’s participation as a briefer.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a contentious issue in the Council due to the US objecting to outcomes that are critical of Israel. Resolution 2334, which was adopted with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention under the outgoing Obama administration, is fiercely opposed by the administration of Donald Trump. US Ambassador Nikki Haley has vowed to fight perceived anti-Israel bias at the UN. When the US held the presidency of the Council in April, it circulated a concept note prior to the quarterly debate on “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question,” in an effort to broaden the debate beyond its traditional focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by highlighting such issues as the cross-border influx of foreign terrorist fighters and networks of “terror groups…that threaten peace and security in the region”. During the debate, Haley expressed the view that these “meetings routinely turn into Israel-bashing sessions.”

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