posted on Fri 15 Apr 2016 4:15 PM
Middle East Open Debate and Briefing by Secretary-General

On Monday (18 April), the Security Council will hold its regular quarterly open debate on the Middle East. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to brief the Council on prospects for a political solution to the conflict, and may elaborate on the tense situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel’s continued settlement expansion, and the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The Secretary-General is also expected to cover his recent visit to Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan. While in Jordan he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Council members will be interested in Ban’s views on the six-month-long surge in violence, which seems to be waning. During this period, according to media reports, Palestinians have killed 28 Israelis and two US citizens in knife, car-ramming and gun attacks, and Israeli forces have killed at least 190 Palestinians, 129 of whom Israel says were assailants. Violent incidents, which had been occurring almost daily, have become more sporadic in recent weeks, with the last fatal incident taking place on 9 March. Israeli military sources have attributed the reduction in the number of attacks to the activity of both the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian security branches.

On 13 April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon approved plans for more than 200 new settler homes in the West Bank. In response, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that this latest approval and the significant increase in Israeli settlement activity during 2016, “should serve as a reminder to the international community of its responsibility to put an end to such crimes, and the importance of utilising all avenues, including the United Nations Security Council, to hold Israel accountable.”

Erekat was alluding to a resolution on Israeli settlements drafted by the Palestinian Authority. The draft, which has not been officially circulated to Council members, reaffirms that Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 are illegal and constitute an obstacle to the achievement of a two-State solution; demands that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activity; calls for the prevention of all acts of terror, violence, destruction, harassment and provocation by Israeli settlers; and calls for accountability for perpetrators. The draft calls on both parties to act on the basis of human rights and humanitarian law and to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric, with the aim of deescalating the situation on the ground, rebuilding trust and confidence and demonstrating a commitment to a two-State solution. The draft also calls upon all parties to continue to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final status issues within the timeframe specified by the Middle East Quartet in its 21 September 2010 statement, and urges the acceleration of international and regional diplomatic efforts aimed at achieving an end to the Israeli occupation that began in 1967.

The draft has been discussed among members of the Arab Group as well as at the 10 April Summit of senior officials of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. It is reportedly slated to be discussed at a special meeting of the Arab League on 20 April. The draft text has also apparently been discussed bilaterally with some members of the Council, but it appears that several members of the Arab Group, fearing a US veto, have discouraged pushing the draft forward at this point.

The draft bears great similarity to a draft settlements resolution that was put to a vote on 18 February 2011. That resolution was supported by 14 Council members, but was vetoed by the US, marking the first US veto since 2006, and the only time it has so far been used by the Obama administration. The US has declined to comment publicly on whether or not it would support the current draft. Yesterday, State Department spokesman John Kirby acknowledged the draft but said he would not comment, noting that nothing has been formally introduced or circulated to the Security Council.

Several other members of the Council have expressed their desire to see an outcome from the Council on Israel/Palestine, particularly on the issue of settlements. In February, Venezuela requested three meetings on Israel/Palestine under ‘any other business’ and circulated a draft press statement to Council members. Among other things, this initial draft rejected Israel’s appropriation of 370 acres in the area of Jericho, in the West Bank, as “state property”, as well as the policies of establishment and expansion of illegal settlements in Palestinian territories. Several Council members expressed their support for the initiative. New Zealand, supported by Egypt and Malaysia, suggested that a press statement might be too weak an outcome on such major issues and suggested that a presidential statement or resolution might be more appropriate. Egypt proposed strong language reaffirming the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force and reiterating that Israel’s appropriation of land in Palestinian and other Arab territories has no legal validity. Malaysia, Spain and Russia provided comments. However, after the US proposed extensive changes, Venezuela withdrew the draft, saying that consensus could not be reached.

It also remains possible that New Zealand, which had been working in 2015 on a resolution on parameters for a potential peace deal that was subsequently withdrawn due to lack of US support, may be interested in presenting an initiative.

Meanwhile, P5 member France is planning to convene an international peace summit in an attempt to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. While Abbas welcomed the initiative, Netanyahu has voiced opposition, insisting on direct talks between the parties without pre-conditions and preferring less international involvement.