Middle East Open Debate
Tomorrow (25 January), the Council will convene its 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 is expected to brief via video teleconference. Tomorrow’s debate will be the first meeting focusing on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict since the six new elected members joined the Council for 2018, and the meeting will provide a forum for these and other members to pronounce themselves on the issue. It will also be the first meeting of the Council on this issue since December’s vote on a resolution on the status of Jerusalem.
Council members are likely to be interested in hearing Mladenov’s assessment of the situation following the Trump administration’s 6 December announcement that it would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, which triggered an increase in violence as well as heightened political tensions. Earlier this week, US Vice President Mike Pence, during a visit to Israel, told the Knesset that the embassy would open in Jerusalem before the end of 2019.
Mladenov may give his assessment on the way forward on the peace process in light of the recent tensions between the Palestinians and the US administration. In a lengthy 14 January speech before the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas vowed to reject US involvement in any peace talks and harshly criticised Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. Abbas said that Israel has killed the Oslo accords and called on members of the Central Council to review its agreements with Israel. At the end of the Central Council’s two-day meeting, the body released a statement declaring that it should no longer be bound by the 1993 Oslo peace accords and that its leaders will never recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
The Trump administration also announced on 16 January that it would cut $65 million of $125 million that it had planned to send the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) this year. UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl called the cut severe, abrupt and harmful and warned that the move would impact regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiple risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization. More than half of the two million people in Gaza rely on support from UNRWA and other humanitarian agencies; approximately 525,000 boys and girls in 700 UNRWA schools could be affected by the US funding cut, and access to primary health care could also be impacted. Council members are likely to be interested in more details on the humanitarian consequences of the US move, and some may use the opportunity to call upon member states to contribute financially to the agency.
Other issues that may be covered in Mladenov’s briefing, or by Council members and members states in their interventions, include continuing Israeli settlement expansion, the stalled intra-Palestinian reconciliation process, and an upcoming meeting this week of the Quartet on the Middle East Peace Process, comprised of the UN, US, Russia and EU.
Tomorrow’s open debate will take place in an atmosphere of heightened tensions in the Council on this issue following the Council’s 18 December 2017 vote on a draft resolution on the status of Jerusalem that was vetoed by the US. All other Council members voted in favour of the resolution that reaffirmed that any decisions and actions that purport to have altered the status of Jerusalem are null and void and must be rescinded. US representative Haley called the matter “an insult” that would not be forgotten. Following the US veto, Yemen and Turkey requested the resumption of the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly on “Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory” under “Uniting for Peace”. The session was held on 21 December, where Yemen presented a resolution that was very similar to the draft vetoed by the US. The General Assembly adopted the resolution with 128 votes in favour, 9 votes against, 35 abstentions and 21 absences. Two incoming Council members, Equatorial Guinea and Poland, were among those who abstained.