Middle East (Israel/Palestine) Open Debate
On Tuesday (22 January), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine). Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is expected to brief via video-teleconference.
The meeting was originally planned for last Tuesday, 15 January. However, it was rescheduled because it clashed with a ceremony related to Palestine’s assumption of the 2019 chair of the G77 and China, a bloc of 134 countries focused on economic development.
Mladenov and several member states are likely to reiterate that settlement activity is a major obstacle to peace and a violation of international law. In this connection, he may update members on the latest developments following Israel’s decision in late 2018 to build new homes in the Ofra, Arnei Hefetz and Beitar Illit settlements. Mladenov and member states may also reiterate concerns about the planned demolition by Israeli authorities of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village of 180 people in the West Bank.
The spike in violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank in December 2018, as well as ongoing violence associated with protests along the Gaza fence, may be raised in the debate by Mladenov and some member states. On 21 January, based on preliminary information, OCHA estimated that 254 Palestinians and two Israelis had died as a result of violence resulting from the “March of Return” protests in Gaza between 30 March and 31 December 2018. On 18 January, several Palestinian protestors were reportedly wounded by Israeli gunfire during protests in Gaza.
Mladenov and others are also likely to address the regional security implications of recent developments in Lebanon, the Golan Heights and across the Israel-Syria border more generally. The discovery of four tunnels along the Blue Line separating Israel and Lebanon, including two crossing the Blue Line, raised tensions between the countries in late 2018. With regard to the Golan Heights, Mladenov may note violations of the ceasefire line and areas of separation and limitation between Israel and Syria that have occurred in recent months. No military forces other than those of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) are allowed in these areas. Adding to tensions along the Syria-Israel border, the Israeli Defense Forces said that it had struck Iranian military targets yesterday in Syria—including what it identified as a training camp, an intelligence site, a military site at the Damascus International Airport, and munitions storage sites—after Iran fired a surface-to-surface missile from Syria toward the Golan Heights. Under the Trump administration, the US in particular has often used Council meetings on the Middle East to highlight Iran’s destabilising activities in the region and may emphasise this perspective again tomorrow. In this context, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that Iran’s negative role in the region would be a theme of the “Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” that the US is cohosting with fellow Council member Poland in Warsaw on 13-14 February and that is expected to bring together representatives from a regionally diverse group of countries.
In the debate, some Council members may reiterate their desire to receive written reports in advance of the quarterly briefing on the implementation of resolution 2334, even though the next such briefing is not until March 2019. Resolution 2334 demanded an end to Israeli settlement activities and called for “immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror”. These reports have been conveyed orally, with the exception of the written report produced in June 2018, following a 14 May 2018 letter requesting written reports on this issue from ten Council members—Bolivia, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, France, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru and Sweden. On 21 December 2018, a second letter was submitted to the Secretary-General signed by two permanent members (China and France); elected members Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Kuwait, Peru, Bolivia, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands and Sweden; and incoming members Belgium, Indonesia, and South Africa, saying that the “circulation of written reports to the Council is standard practice” and expressing their expectation “to receive written reports at least every second reporting occasion” (S/2018/1150).
Council members and others participating in the open debate may also discuss the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Following the decision of UNRWA’s single largest donor, the US, to stop funding the agency, other donors managed to largely fill the funding gap for 2018. Some member states may note the importance of raising sufficient funds for UNRWA’s operations in 2019.
Tomorrow’s meeting takes place against the backdrop of recent signals from the Palestinian Authority leadership that Palestine would seek UN member state status in the coming weeks. Some speakers may express their views on this issue. A series of rules and procedures govern membership applications, notably Article 4 (2) of the UN Charter, which says that a state may accede to membership “by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” Applications for admission to the UN are submitted to the Secretary-General, who is required to “immediately place the application” before the Security Council (rule 59 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council) and to send a copy of the application to the General Assembly “for information” (rule 135 of the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly). A standing Security Council Committee on Admission of New Members (comprised of all 15 members) reports its conclusions to the Council proper, which then decides on whether to make a recommendation to the General Assembly. In the General Assembly, under rule 83 of its Rules of Procedure, the admission of a new member is an “important question”, which requires a two-thirds majority. Palestine submitted an application for UN membership on 23 September 2011, but this effort was unsuccessful after the Council’s Admission Committee reported that it was unable to reach a unanimous recommendation on Palestine’s bid. An alternative to going through the Committee would have been for a Council member to table a resolution in the Council, thus bypassing the Committee, but this was not pursued and almost assuredly would have been vetoed. (For further analysis on the rules of procedure governing the member state application process, including how it pertains to Palestine, see our Update Report No. 2: Palestine’s Application for Admission to the UN, 21 September 2011, and Loraine Sievers and Sam Daws, Update Website, The Procedure of the UN Security Council, 4th edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2014, updated on 17 January 2019.)
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the first opportunity for the new members (Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia, and South Africa) to speak in the open chamber on Israel/Palestine since the start of their 2019-2020 Council tenures. Indonesia is expected to take an especially keen interest in this issue. Indonesia’s Vice President, Mohammed Jusuf Kalla, emphasised at the opening of the General Assembly on 27 September 2018 that the current situation destroys the Palestinians’ desire for an independent state and that the international community needs to call for immediate negotiations for a two-state solution. Historically, South Africa has also been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause and can be expected to give a statement in that vein.