What's In Blue

Posted Mon 19 Feb 2018

Middle East (Israel/Palestine): Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (20 February), the Security Council will convene for its monthly meeting 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 Secretary-General António Guterres may participate. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to address the Council.

Special Coordinator Mladenov will most likely reiterate his concern and provide an update regarding the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. This was the focus of his 14 February briefing to members under “any other business”, which had been requested by Bolivia and Kuwait. Briefing via video teleconference from Jerusalem, Mladenov reported that the UN emergency fuel for critical services was set to run out in mid-February. He welcomed recent financial contributions made by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to help alleviate the crisis, while stating that these were insufficient and appealing for additional funding to ensure access to life-saving health, water and sanitation services. He also warned that Gaza’s sole functioning power plant would likely close soon due to technical and fuel issues. Members will be interested in learning about any new developments on the humanitarian front during the past week.

Mladenov will most likely also give an update on Israeli settlement construction and the intra-Palestinian agreement. In his briefing to the Council last month, he referred to plans by the Israeli government to approve construction of additional settlements, while stating that “[s]ettlement construction is illegal under international law and is one of the major obstacles to peace” (S/PV.8167). With regard to the intra-Palestinian agreement, in last week’s “any other business” session, Mladenov called on the Council to support the agreement before it collapses entirely, noting that the agreement had stalled due to an inability of the parties to agree on certain key matters, such as the payment of salaries to public sector employees.

Abbas’ visit to the Council comes amid heightened tensions inside and outside of the Council on Israel/Palestine following the decision of the US administration to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the Council’s subsequent 18 December vote on a draft resolution reaffirming that any decisions and actions that purport to have altered the status of Jerusalem are null and void. The text was vetoed by the US. US Ambassador Nikki Haley called the matter “an insult” that would not be forgotten. Following the US veto, a nearly identical text was adopted in the General Assembly with 128 votes in favour, 9 votes against, 35 abstentions and 21 absences.

In a lengthy 14 January speech before the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Council, President Abbas vowed to reject US involvement in any peace talks and harshly criticised US President Trump and Ambassador Haley. Two days later, the Trump administration announced that it would cut $65 million of $125 million that it had planned to provide to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) this year. During the Council’s 25 January quarterly open debate on the issue, Haley harshly criticised Abbas, questioning his will to pursue peace. In remarks to the media earlier this month, Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Haley had in her speech essentially “called for overthrowing the democratically elected Palestinian president”.

Even though consultations are scheduled to follow tomorrow’s briefing, it appears that Council members will make statements in the open chamber. They may reiterate some of the points made in last month’s meeting, including criticising settlement expansion; acknowledging the indispensable role of UNRWA, particularly in Gaza; and noting their commitment to a two-state solution.

Tomorrow’s meeting comes in the midst of significant activity on Israel/Palestine among Council members. On Thursday (22 February), Council president Kuwait, joined by Bolivia, France and Sweden, will host an Arria-formula meeting entitled, “Prospects for the two-state solution for peace”. The meeting will be open to attendance by other UN member states and observers, and accredited NGOs and media, without the right to make interventions.

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