posted on MON 26 NOV 2012 4:13 PM
Middle East Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (27 November) the Council is scheduled to receive a regular monthly briefing from Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. Serry is likely to focus on the impact of the recent violence between Gaza and Israel, the stalled Middle East peace process and events since a ceasefire was declared between Israel and Hamas on 21 November. Consultations between Council members will follow the briefing.

The Council last met on the Middle East on 21 November, following a week of conflict between Israel and Hamas, which killed at least 150 people in Gaza and six in Israel. In a press statement (SC/10829) that afternoon, the Council welcomed the ceasefire agreement reached between the two sides and called on the parties to uphold the agreement and “implement its provisions in good faith.” The statement also called on the international community to “contribute to improving the living conditions” of those in Gaza and deplored the loss of civilian life resulting from the conflict. (In the days following, the ceasefire appeared to be largely holding.)

Council members will be interested in hearing about whether the ceasefire will continue to hold, how the provisions of the ceasefire will affect the Israeli blockade of Gaza and how this recent round of violence will impact the peace process. Events in the wider Middle East will likely only be touched on in passing by Serry, as the Council has additional briefings and consultations on Syria and Lebanon scheduled for Thursday (29 November).

Events outside of the Council scheduled for Thursday will also be on Council members’ minds during tomorrow’s consultations, specifically the vote scheduled on a draft resolution in the General Assembly that would upgrade the status of Palestine at the UN from permanent observer to non-member observer state. Such a change in status would seem to constitute further recognition by member states of the inevitability of a Palestinian state and reinforce the commitment of the UN to a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. In his last briefing to the Council, on 17 September, Serry had made clear that the “very viability of the two-state solution” was at risk given the lack of progress on the political track.

Council members may take the opportunity during consultations to elaborate upon their positions regarding the resolution in the General Assembly and its possible repercussions for the peace process. While the US has been critical of the Palestinian effort and characterised it as a unilateral action and, as such, counterproductive to direct negotiations, other states have made clear that they support the bid in the General Assembly. In the past there have been some differences among the current EU Council members, with at least one being more sympathetic to the US position whereas others have been more supportive of Palestine’s bid. Speaking on behalf of the IBSA countries (India, Brazil and South Africa—India and South Africa are also Council members), Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri (India) included support for the resolution as part of remarks to the press regarding the conflict in Gaza prior to the ceasefire on 21 November.

Many countries have made clear that upgraded status should not replace direct negotiations, but do not see the two tracks as mutually exclusive. Of the 132 UN member states who recognise the State of Palestine, eight are current members of the Security Council: Azerbaijan, China, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa and Togo.

The current effort towards upgraded status follows Palestine’s application for full membership in the UN in September 2011. That application remains “on the shelf” in the Security Council following the report of the Committee on the Admission of New Members (S/2011/705) last November that it was unable to reach a unanimous recommendation.

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