Middle East (Israel/Palestine) Open Debate
On Monday (29 April), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine). Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief. Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process—the customary briefer—will not be participating, as he will be in Brussels for the Palestinian donor conference. Gideon Bromberg and Nada Majdalani, the Israeli and Palestinian co-Directors of the non-governmental organisation EcoPeace Middle East, are expected to brief as well.
There is unlikely to be significant change in members’ positions or the topics discussed. Several recurring issues are likely to be addressed: repeated violations of resolution 2334 on Israeli settlements, violence against civilians, provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric by the parties, efforts to promote intra-Palestinian reconciliation, and the humanitarian needs of Gaza. Resolution 2334 requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council every three months “on the implementation of the provisions of the present resolution”. In the 26 March meeting, Mladenov presented his ninth report to the Council on the implementation of Resolution 2334, in written form (S/2019/251). This was the second written report on this issue, the first having been submitted in June 2018. Several members publicly thanked the Secretariat for the second written report, and the call for quarterly written reports may be continued this month.
On 21 March, President Trump announced via Twitter that it was time for the US to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and did so officially in a presidential proclamation on 25 March. Israel took control of the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967. An agreed disengagement of the Israeli and Syrian forces in the Golan eventually led to the May 1974 establishment of the UN Disengagement Observer Force. The situation has been in a relative stand-off since. Trump’s announcement has increased international attention to the Golan. The UN and many member states, including all European members of the Council, responded to his announcement by noting their continued position of non-recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories.
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won his fifth term as prime minister. In the lead-up to the election, Netanyahu said that there would not be a Palestinian state under his leadership and that Israel would annex West Bank settlements if he were re-elected. Several member states are likely to emphasise significant concerns about the prospects of a two-state solution, given continued settlement activity and the recent statements by Netanyahu.
March also saw some acts of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. On 15 March, two rockets were fired from Gaza into Tel Aviv. On 17 March, a Palestinian killed an Israeli soldier and civilian in the West Bank. On 25 March a rocket was fired from Gaza into a village north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven people. In response, Israel struck what it said were Hamas targets in Gaza. While there has been relative calm in recent weeks, concerns about rocket fire may be expressed in the meeting.
There continues to be disagreement between Israel and Palestine on tax collection. The Council met to discuss this issue on 8 March, at the request of Indonesia and Kuwait. On 17 February, the Israeli government’s security cabinet announced plans to implement a law adopted by the Knesset in 2018 to withhold approximately $139 million in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority (PA), citing payments made by the PA to Palestinians imprisoned for attacks against Israelis and their family members using the tax money. Israel says the payments encourage further violence and are used to finance terrorism. The PA argues that the money is an essential welfare policy that takes care of its citizens. According to a 1994 economic agreement, Israel collects money on behalf of the PA and then transfers it. On 20 February, it was reported that the PA returned the entirety of collected tax revenue to Israel in protest at the change in procedure. The PA is now paying civil servants only part of their salaries. In April, the Arab League pledged hundreds of millions of US dollars to fill the financial gap. Also in April, France sent an official letter to Israel requesting the release of the money, but Israel refused. At this writing, the funds remain frozen.
Mladenov stressed during his 20 February briefing to the Council that this withholding of funds could have economic and security implications as well as an effect on any political dialogue. During the March meeting, most members expressed concerns about the impact of this disagreement on the humanitarian, security, and economic situation, recalling the Oslo Accords and urging the parties to refrain from unilateral action.
The US position in recent years has made it difficult for Council members to issue press statements, let alone formal products, on Israel/Palestine. In February, the US blocked the issuance of a press statement proposed by Indonesia and Kuwait condemning Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate of Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH). There has also been no progress on Kuwait’s suggestion for a Council visiting mission to the region. DiCarlo may warn the Council that there could be serious repercussions due to the lack of Council unity and action.
The representatives of EcoPeace Middle East may brief on the relationship between the protection of the environment and sustainable peace in the region. In this regard, they might focus their remarks on water scarcity in Gaza and the West Bank. According to its website, EcoPeace Middle East “brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists [to promote] cooperative efforts to protect… [their] shared environmental heritage.”
There is no certainty over when the US peace plan for Israel and Palestine will be released. Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special envoy and Special Representative for International Negotiations, attended Council consultations, but it seems that he did not provide any details about the peace plan, which Jared Kushner, senior advisor to Trump, has said will not be released until after Ramadan (5 May to 4 June). On 16 April, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority, said that any peace plan must be based on a two-state solution with a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, amidst concerns that the plan will deviate from this formula.