posted on Mon 28 Jul 2014 6:13 PM
Adoption of a Presidential Statement on Gaza

At 12 am this morning (28 July), the Security Council held an urgent meeting to adopt its first formal outcome on the situation in Israel/Palestine—a presidential statement—since the onset of the latest outbreak of violence in Gaza.

The presidential statement adopted this morning calls for full respect of international humanitarian law; expresses strong support for the call by international partners and the Secretary-General for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire into the Eid al-Fitr period and beyond; calls on parties to engage in efforts to achieve a durable ceasefire, based on the Egyptian initiative and welcomes the convening of the international meeting to support the ceasefire held in Paris on 26 July; emphasises that civilian and humanitarian facilities, including those of the UN, must be respected and protected; calls for the full implementation of resolution 1860 (2009); stresses the need for immediate provision of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population; and urges the parties and the international community to achieve a comprehensive peace based on a two state solution.

The adoption of the presidential statement comes five days after a more comprehensive draft resolution on the situation, presented by Jordan on behalf of the Arab league, was circulated to Council members. The draft resolution called for an immediate ceasefire, and for renewed efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace based on the vision of two states based on pre-1967 borders. It called upon all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law; for the lifting of Israeli restrictions on the movement of persons and goods; for the cessation of military reprisals, collective punishment and excessive use of force against Palestinians; and for the full implementation of resolution 1860 (2009). The draft also welcomed the 14 July ceasefire initiative of Egypt and urged all concerned parties to support these efforts.

After the draft resolution was circulated on 22 July, following the regular quarterly debate on the Middle East, consultations were held at expert level to discuss the text. Most Council members were supportive of the initiative and engaged on the text, although it seems that the US, one of the key players on this issue, did not have any comments at this stage. Some members proposed substantive amendments, including on the need to establish a monitoring mechanism to ensure implementation of any agreed upon ceasefire, and to ensure that attacks on UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools in contravention of humanitarian law be investigated and prosecuted. Many of these suggestions were incorporated into a revised draft that was circulated on 25 July. Other members, however, questioned the timing of the draft resolution given the extensive ceasefire negotiations being undertaken in the region. These members anticipated that a breakthrough in ceasefire talks would be made late last week or into the weekend and subsequently preferred to hold off on pursuing on a Council resolution. At the end of last week, it seemed that there was not going to be a strong push to put the draft resolution to a vote.

As it became clear that the various attempts to negotiate a ceasefire were unlikely to be successful, Jordan engaged Council members over the weekend, with the aim of uniting the Council in a strong humanitarian appeal for a ceasefire before the start of the Muslim celebrations of Eid al-Fitr. The change in focus from a resolution to a presidential statement may be partially attributed to the US showing signs of being open to a presidential statement at this point. (While a presidential statement is a formal UN document, unlike a resolution it is not legally binding.) However, in order to get consensus, the draft presidential statement had to contain neutral language that would be acceptable to all members, particularly the US. Following a short period of silence, which was briefly broken by the US, an emergency meeting was called for late Sunday night in order to adopt the presidential statement.

While many issues addressed by the draft resolution being negotiated were not reflected in this morning’s presidential statement, the adoption does mark the first formal outcome of the Security Council on the issue of Israel/Palestine since it adopted resolution 1860 on 8 January 2009, which called for an immediate, durable ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza following 13 days of armed conflict. Although at that time both Hamas and Israel rejected resolution 1860, it was noteworthy in that it was the first time in many years that the US—then under an outgoing George W. Bush administration—refrained from blocking Council action that might constrain Israel’s options and allowed the resolution to be adopted with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention. Today’s presidential statement marks the first substantive Council decision on Israel/Palestine under the administration of President Barack Obama. The ability of the Council to adopt a formal outcome at this time may be reflective of a growing weariness among all members of the Council at the parties’ unwillingness to forge a cessation of hostilities agreement, even in light of a disastrous civilian death toll among Gazans.

A 12-hour humanitarian pause on 26 July notwithstanding, intense diplomatic efforts involving all relevant international actors have failed to yield a durable ceasefire. US Secretary of State John Kerry has just returned from a diplomatic tour of the region where he held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others. Having left the region on 25 July without securing a ceasefire agreement, Kerry traveled to Paris for talks with the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey-major supporters of Hamas- as well as France, Germany and the UK. US diplomatic efforts continue, and yesterday evening in a call with Netanyahu, Obama stressed the need for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, according to the White House. Earlier today however, Netanyahu said that Israel needed to be prepared for a “protracted campaign” and that Israeli troops would not leave Gaza until they had destroyed Hamas’s tunnel network. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri was quoted as saying that Netanyahu’s comments were an “expression of his defeat at the hands of the resistance.”

The Secretary-General, speaking this morning on the heels of a diplomatic tour of the region, described scenes of “indiscriminate destruction” in Gaza and stressed that the fighting had claimed well over 1,000 Palestinian lives—most of them civilians, hundreds of them children, and that Hamas rocket fire had claimed the lives of three Israeli civilians. He reported that currently more than 173,000 Gazans—about 10 per cent of the population—are seeking protection in UNRWA facilities. He also stated that at least 16 Palestinian civilians were killed and more than 200 injured as a result of an “appalling assault” on a UN school in Beit Hanoun where families – women and children -had sought refuge and called for accountability for this “outrageous crime”.

Amidst mounting concerns that war crimes are being committed in Gaza, the Human Rights Council on 23 July held a Special Session on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. A resolution was passed, which condemned in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations carried out since 13 June and established an independent, international commission of inquiry mandated to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 29 in favour, with the US voting against, and 17 abstentions, including Council members France, the Republic of Korea and the UK.

Events since the presidential statement was adopted indicate the Council’s calls for an immediate ceasefire have not been heeded. While Palestine has made clear that they want to continue to push for a Council resolution, it seems unlikely that a resolution at this point would not be vetoed and most Council members are united in not wanting a veto. Any next steps will depend largely on the trajectory of the armed conflict, the humanitarian situation and whether or not diplomatic efforts outside of New York can stem the violence. While it is possible that a resolution may be adopted if the situation continues to deteriorate, for now it seems there is acceptance that coming to agreement on any formal outcome constitutes progress for the Council, whose members are often at an impasse on the issue of Israel/Palestine.