What's In Blue

Posted Fri 1 Jun 2018

Middle East (Israel/Palestine): Vote Today on Draft Resolution*

Today (1 June), the Security Council is expected to meet to vote on a draft resolution proposed by Kuwait focusing on the protection of civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Gaza. Prior to this vote, there may be a vote on US amendments to the Kuwaiti text condemning “terrorist organizations such as Hamas” for the recent violence in Gaza.

Members have been negotiating the Kuwaiti draft for about two weeks. It appears that efforts were made by Kuwait to calibrate the language in this text in order to garner as much support as possible while also striving to maintain the substance of the original draft. The draft resolution was put into blue yesterday, and it was initially unclear whether the vote would take place yesterday afternoon or today. The US proposed significant amendments after the draft had been put into blue that sought to focus attention on the role of Hamas in the recent unrest in Gaza and remove language related to Israel’s involvement. Kuwait found it difficult to accept these amendments as it would have significantly altered the substance of their draft. It seems that yesterday evening, the US asked for its 31 amendments to be put into blue as an “amended text” to be voted on prior to the Kuwaiti draft.

Voting on amendments to a text is governed by Rule 33 of the provisional rules of procedure, which states that amendments “shall have precedence in the order named over all principal motions and draft resolutions”. Thus, according to this rule, the US amendments would need to be voted on before a vote on the Kuwaiti draft. Votes on amendments are considered non-procedural matters, meaning that they require nine or more votes, without a veto, to be approved.

In the case of the US amendments to this draft text, Rule 36 would also come into play. This rule states that if two or more amendments are proposed, “the President shall rule on the order in which they are to be voted upon” and provides guidance on which amendment should be voted on first. The most recent example of an application of Rule 36 was on a vote on a draft resolution on 3 March 1991 on the situation between Iraq and Kuwait. Cuba submitted 18 amendments on this draft resolution and Austria, which was president of the Council at the time, proposed an ordering of the amendments, following which each of the amendments was voted on in turn according to that order.

What is unclear today is how the president of the Council (Russia) and other Council members will handle the US amendments having been put in blue as a Council document to be voted on. It appears that the US would like the vote to be on this draft document rather than on each amendment, but it is possible that some members may object to this somewhat unusual interpretation of Rule 36. In the past, when there have been questions raised about the interpretation of Rules 33 and 36, the Council president has played a key role in deciding how to proceed.

In general, amendments that are adopted would then be incorporated into the original (i.e., Kuwaiti) text that would then be voted upon by the Council. In the case of the US amendments today, it is unclear if the US amendments would receive enough support to be incorporated into Kuwait’s draft in blue.

The US has already indicated that it will veto Kuwait’s draft, and some abstentions are anticipated. In a statement released yesterday evening, US Ambassador Nikki Haley called the draft “a grossly one-sided approach that is morally bankrupt,” noting among other criticisms that it does not mention Hamas. She added in the statement that: “Those who choose to vote in favor of this resolution will clarify their own lack of fitness to take part in any credible negotiations between the two parties.” Members are expected to make statements explaining their votes at the meeting.

The draft resolution initiated by Kuwait was produced in response to the violence along the Gaza fence, where over 100 Palestinians have lost their lives at the hands of Israeli security forces using live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas in protests that have lasted several weeks. According to various sources, 60 Palestinians were killed on 14 May alone, coinciding with the day that the US carried out its controversial decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Addressing the Council on 15 May, Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov said that “Israel has a responsibility to calibrate its use of force and not to use lethal force except as a last resort under the imminent threat of death or serious injury”. At the same time, he stated that “Hamas…must not use the protests as cover in an attempt to place bombs at the fence and create provocations” and that its “operatives must not hide among the demonstrators and risk the lives of civilians” (S/PV.8256).

The draft resolution initiated by Kuwait “deplores the use of any excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force by the Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and particularly in the Gaza Strip”. It calls for the consideration of measures to “guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in the Gaza Strip”. It further calls for “immediate steps towards ending the closure and the restrictions imposed by Israel on movement and access into and out of the Gaza Strip”. This draft also welcomes and urges further engagement by the Secretary-General and Mladenov to assist in immediate efforts to de-escalate the situation and address urgent infrastructure, humanitarian and economic development needs.

The initial version of the draft proposed by Kuwait was circulated on 17 May. Two rounds of negotiations were held last week, the first on 21 May (Monday) and the second on 25 May (Friday). Some Council members felt that the initial draft needed to be more balanced in its assessment of Israel’s responsibility for the violence in Gaza. During the second round of negotiations, which was based on a revised text, some members noted that progress had been made in moderating the language, although some issues still had to be addressed. A third draft was circulated on 29 May (Tuesday), following bilateral exchanges with some members. Further amendments were proposed by several European members of the Council yesterday. Many of these were taken on board by Kuwait.

A number of changes to the Kuwaiti draft that softened criticism of Israel were incorporated in an effort to gain widespread support for the document. A paragraph “condemning the use of force by the Israeli occupying forces” was replaced by one “condemning all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction.” In another instance, language was added calling for “all actors to ensure that protests remain peaceful.” This complemented other language in the text reaffirming the right of peaceful assembly and protest.

Another issue of concern to a number of members was how the draft initiated by Kuwait described the means by which Palestinians would be protected in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Gaza. The initial version called for the “dispatch of an international protection mission.” Questions were raised by some members about how such a mission would operate, especially given that it would most likely not have the consent of Israel. The notion of a “protection” mission also aroused concern among some members about the potential use of force by such an operation. The final version of the draft proposed by Kuwait calls for “recommendations [from the Secretary-General] regarding an international protection mechanism” in the context of a report to be submitted to the Council within 60 days, rather than the dispatch of a protection mission.

One aspect of the negotiations was the different views among the European members. While it appears that the Council’s five European members are divided on the Kuwaiti draft, amendments were made with a view to gaining greater support among them. One of these changes was substituting the term “mechanism” for “mission” with regard to the “international protection mechanism.” Another amendment that was proposed by these members and accepted was a reference to the rocket attacks on Israel on 29 May. This addition to the text “deplores the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilian areas.”

Today’s vote takes place at a time of considerable unrest between the Israelis and Palestinians, which has in turn been reflected in heightened tensions over Israel/Palestine in the Council. In response to the 29 May rocket attacks, the US called for an emergency meeting of the Council under the agenda item “threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.” Kuwait, supported by Bolivia, expressed a preference for the meeting to be held under the agenda item “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. The meeting was ultimately held on Wednesday (30 May) under the generic agenda item: “threats to international peace and security” (S/PV.8272), which was accepted by the US. Nonetheless, US Ambassador Nikki Haley noted with displeasure during the meeting that a reference to terrorism was not included in the agenda item. Special Coordinator Mladenov briefed members during the meeting. Calling the attacks on Israel unacceptable, he emphasised the need to prevent another war in Gaza, to improve the humanitarian situation there, and to support intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

In advance of Wednesday’s ’s meeting the US circulated a draft press statement condemning the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel by Palestinian militants and calling on them to cease violent activity and provocative actions. The statement was not issued, with Kuwait reportedly breaking silence to say that it could not agree to the text while the Council was considering the draft resolution on protection of civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Gaza. This was the fifth failed press statement attempted by Council members on Israel/Palestine since the end of March.

* Post-script: Members gathered in the chamber for the vote at 3 pm on Friday but eventually decided to hold consultations on how to proceed on the 31 US amendments. The US said that it wanted its amendments to be voted on as one single amendment, rather than individually as separate amendments. Russia and the UK noted that that this could set an unfortunate precedent. In particular, putting forward multiple amendments as a single amendment, and presenting as an amendment what was essentially a draft resolution, could prove problematic in the future. The US agreed to the suggestion that its amendment(s) be converted into a draft resolution, which would be voted on after the Kuwaiti draft. The Kuwaiti draft was vetoed by the US; it also received 10 affirmative votes, and 4 abstentions (Ethiopia, the Netherlands Poland and the UK). The US cast the sole affirmative vote on its own draft resolution; three members (Bolivia, Kuwait and Russia) voted against the draft, while the remaining members abstained. This marked the first time since February 1961 that only one vote was cast supporting a draft resolution. More than 57 years ago, the Soviet Union cast the sole vote on a draft resolution calling for an end to the UN Operation in the Congo and deeming it essential that Dag Hammarkjöld be dismissed as Secretary-General and that Belgium be sanctioned for its actions in the Congo, among other points (S/4706).

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