Israel/Palestine Open Debate
On Monday (28 October), the Security Council is expected to hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East, focusing on Israel/Palestine. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is likely to brief. There may be a civil society briefer as well, but this was unconfirmed at press time.
Kelly Knight Craft, the new US Ambassador to the UN, attended her first meeting on the Israel-Palestine issue on 20 September. Her statement was, as she explained, an attempt to share with the Council how she plans to address the file during her tenure. Craft said, “Israel will have no better friend than Kelly Craft”, and that “on matters related to Israel at the United Nations, many Member States do not play fair”. This has been common messaging since the beginning of US President Donald Trump’s administration. She cited what she believes is the pervasiveness of anti-Israel bias at the UN. Craft praised what she called “Israel’s astonishing record of achievements” in democracy, human rights, and as a strong and important economic power. There was no mention of the long-awaited US peace plan for Israel and Palestine.
The ongoing rift between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which controls Gaza, remains a concern to a number of Council members and Special Coordinator Mladenov. Calls from Mladenov and some member states for intra-Palestinian reconciliation may be reiterated at the meeting. At his 20 September briefing to the Council, Mladenov said, “Gaza is and must remain an integral part of a future Palestinian State as part of the two-State solution”.
Israel remains without a government since elections were held on 17 September. This was the second election in less than six months after current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a government following the April elections, and dissolved the Knesset. The September election was similarly inconclusive, and negotiations over a coalition to lead the government have been difficult. Netanyahu was given the first chance to form a government under his leadership; although he called for cooperation with main rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Alliance, Gantz–who has criticised Netanyahu’s role in three separate corruption cases–refuses to be part of a coalition government with him. After several weeks, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin turned to Gantz on 23 October, giving him 28 days to form a government. Gantz has not stated his position explicitly on a two-state solution and, if he is able to form a government, it is not clear how Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians might change.
Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo visited the region from 5 to 11 October, stopping in Jerusalem, Jordan, and Lebanon. During the trip, she met with the Office of the Special Coordinator, Force Commander Major General Stefano Del Col of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Syrian refugees in Lebanon, various government officials, and several civil society and non-governmental organisations. She spoke about the importance of restarting dialogue to ensure a two-state solution. DiCarlo briefed Council members on her visit during consultations on 18 October. It is possible that the Special Coordinator will refer to DiCarlo’s visit in Monday’s open debate.
During the August and September Middle East briefings, Council members discussed recent developments regarding Palestinian tax revenues, implementation of resolution 2334 of December 2016, lack of progress on the intra-Palestinian reconciliation process, the ongoing humanitarian challenges in Gaza, and the viability of the two-state solution in the current political and security context. These issues are expected to recur in Monday’s open debate. Some members may touch on the importance of the upcoming General Assembly vote in November to renew the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
There may be more calls from some member states for a Council visit to the region. During the meeting on 20 September, South Africa suggested a Security Council mini-mission to the region comprised of those members that wish to join, saying that such a trip would show that the Council remains engaged on the issue. Russia and Kuwait have previously suggested a full Council mission to the region.