posted on Thu 16 Jul 2015 1:54 PM
Arria-Formula Meeting on Gaza

On Monday morning (20 July), Security Council members Jordan and Malaysia are convening an Arria-formula meeting on Gaza. The meeting is intended to draw attention to the fact that since the 51-day Israeli offensive “Operation Protective Edge” against Gaza one year ago, little or no recovery or reconstruction has taken place, and that the situation of civilians in Gaza is unsustainable.

Operation Protective Edge was the third Israeli military operation against Gaza in the past six years. It significantly exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation that existed as a result of the blockade imposed by Israel in 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza from Fatah. The meeting will allow Council members to hear about the current humanitarian situation in Gaza one year on, the urgent need to lift the blockade, the need to solidify the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, and the need for the international community to take concrete measures to facilitate reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas as a crucial step towards reaching a comprehensive and permanent peace between Israel and Palestine.

Another objective of the Arria-formula meeting is to move Council members away from the Security Council’s almost pro-forma treatment of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and encourage Council members to explore new options to address the crisis. To that end, Malaysia and Jordan have asked Council members to refrain from coming with statements that reiterate well-known positions, but rather to engage in a frank exchange with the speakers. However, it does not seem that many Council members are prepared for such an open conversation given the political sensitivity and most will probably read out statements.

The speakers are Vance Culbert (in person) and Wafaa Karfana (via a pre-recorded video message) of the Norwegian Refugee Council, an organisation that works on community protection in Gaza; Tania Hary (in person) from Gisha, an Israeli organisation focused on protecting the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents; and Ardi Imseis (via pre-recorded video message) who is speaking as an independent expert on accountability issues and was formerly a legal officer for UNRWA—the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. UNRWA Spokesman Christopher Gunness was also invited to speak, but was apparently advised against participating by senior UN leadership.

At press time, the US was the only Council member to have registered concern with the organisers over the need for a meeting on Gaza. Given the well-known US position that the Security Council is not the appropriate venue to address Israel/Palestine issues, many Council members are curious at what level the US will be represented. (The US has publicly stated that it is reviewing its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pre-election comments against a two-state solution. However, it is unlikely there will be a significant shift in the US position in the UN more broadly, and the Security Council in particular, until that review is completed.)

Culbert of the Norwegian Refugee Council is expected to focus his comments on the overwhelming need for reconstruction efforts in Gaza. (The Norwegian Refugee Council leads Shelter Cluster, a group of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations working on housing in Gaza.) He may also address the extremely limited ability of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (or GRM, a trilateral agreement between Israel, Palestine and the UN) to meet those needs. He is likely to share the startling statistic that it would take 76 years to rebuild housing and infrastructure at the rate building materials are now entering Gaza. He may echo a recommendation by the Association of International Development Agencies that the international community, including the UN Security Council, should support a time-bound plan to end the Israeli blockade which can be monitored through relevant UN mechanisms.

His colleague, Wafaa Karfana, is a resident of Gaza. She will deliver a first-hand testimony of the experience of her child living through last year’s military confrontation. In that context, some Council members may reiterate their disappointment that neither Israel nor Hamas were included in the annex of the Secretary-General’s 2015 annual report on children and armed conflict despite its findings that the number of children killed in 2014 in Palestine was the third highest after Afghanistan and Iraq, and ahead of Syria and Darfur—largely as a result of Operation Protective Edge (S/2015/409). (The annex lists parties that, among other crimes, kill or maim children or attack schools or hospitals in situations of armed conflict.)

Ardi Imseis will discuss accountability issues and the violations of international humanitarian law that have been documented in recently released reports on last year’s conflict. The Human Rights Council’s Independent Commission of Inquiry found that the scale of the devastation in Gaza was unprecedented, with substantial evidence pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by Israel and Palestinian armed groups, which in some cases may amount to war crimes (A/HRC/29/52). A total of 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 Palestinian civilians. In Israel, six civilians and 67 soldiers were killed. Israel condemned the Inquiry as biased and released its own report on the conflict, concluding that its military acted lawfully and that 761 Palestinian civilians were killed in Gaza. The Secretary-General’s Board of Inquiry on incidents affecting UNWRA schools found that, as a result of Israeli actions, at least 44 Palestinians were killed and 227 injured at seven UNWRA schools that were used as emergency shelters. The report also found that Hamas had endangered UN facilities by storing weapons in three empty schools (S/2015/286). It is also likely the ICC may be raised by Imseis in light of Palestine’s recent submission of reports to the ICC Prosecutor on the 2014 hostilities in Gaza, Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, and treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody. (In January, the Office of the ICC Prosecutor opened a preliminary inquiry into last year’s Gaza conflict.)

Tania Hary from Gisha is expected to convey to Council members the broader effects of Israel’s blockade that has devastated Gaza’s economy and isolated Hamas-run Gaza territorially, socially, politically and economically from the West Bank, which is governed by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority. Hary will likely convey Gisha’s findings that Gaza’s reconstruction and economic recovery requires a connection between Palestine’s two territorial parts. This may prompt some Council members to raise issues related to political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and how to ensure that Gaza is more than a footnote in the Council’s approach to the broader Middle East Peace Process.

Monday’s Arria-formula meeting comes at a critical juncture in the Council’s consideration of Israel/Palestine issues. While some Council members, such as France, Jordan and the UK, have been involved since late last year in efforts to negotiate a resolution that sets parameters for a final status agreement, they have faced resistance from the US, which argued that the Council should not act until after Israel’s election in March and until after the conclusion of the Iran nuclear deal. With the Israeli elections now over and the Iran nuclear deal concluded, it seems France may be looking to revive its draft resolution on parameters in the next few months, after the Iran deal has been considered by the US Congress.

Looking ahead, the next quarterly open debate on the Middle East will take place on 23 July. Council members expect that Gaza and the Iran nuclear deal will both be prominent issues at this meeting.