posted on Mon 11 Jul 2016 5:24 PM
Middle East Debate and Draft Presidential Statement on Quartet Report

Tomorrow (12 July), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East. The 1 July report of the Quartet, comprised of the UN, Russia, US and EU, is expected to feature prominently in the discussion. Council members are currently negotiating a draft presidential statement related to the report. The Quartet report will also be a topic of discussion between Council members and the Secretary-General, who recently visited the region, at his monthly luncheon tomorrow.

The report analyses the impediments to a lasting resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and offers recommendations on the way forward. It identifies three trends that the Quartet deems to be severely undermining hopes for peace. The first is continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians, and incitement to violence that are exacerbating mistrust and are fundamentally incompatible with a peaceful resolution. The second trend is the continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development. The third trend is the illicit arms build-up and militant activity, continuing absence of Palestinian unity, and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Among its recommendations, the Quartet report calls on both sides to work to de-escalate tensions; on the Palestinian Authority to take all steps within its capacity to cease incitement to violence; and on Israel to cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion. Additionally, it calls on Israel to implement positive and significant policy shifts, including transferring powers and responsibilities in Area C as defined in prior agreements. Further, it states that all sides must continue to respect the ceasefire in Gaza, and the illicit arms buildup and militant activities must be terminated; that Israel should accelerate the lifting of movement and access restrictions to and from Gaza; and that Gaza and the West Bank should be reunified under a single, legitimate and democratic Palestinian authority.

Reactions from the parties have been mixed. A 1 July statement from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the Quartet’s recognition of “the centrality of Palestinian incitement and violence to the perpetuation of the conflict”, but lamented that the report also “perpetuates the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace”. On 6 July, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Security Council should reject the Quartet report. The Palestinian Authority has expressed disappointment with the document, which it had hoped would blame the frozen peace process on settlement construction and which does not call on Israel to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders.

Following the release of the report, the US circulated a draft presidential statement on 1 July to Council members requesting that it be put under silence until 7 July, without any discussion. (The long silence period is related to two public holidays over that period.) The brief draft statement had the Council welcoming the report; pledging its support for a comprehensive, just, and lasting resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; underscoring that the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a two-state solution; expressing its serious concern that current trends on the ground are imperiling the viability of the two-state solution; calling on each side to independently demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution; and encouraging the Quartet’s ongoing work. A senior US State Department official was quoted in media reports on 1 July as saying that the US was open to having the Security Council welcome the report but is “not looking for serious, substantive, UN Security Council action on this report”.

Later that day, New Zealand requested a meeting under ‘any other business’ in order to allow Council members to discuss the report behind closed doors before the open debate. That meeting was held earlier today. Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov briefed Council members via video-teleconference. It seems that Mladenov elaborated on the content of the report, which he described as a snapshot of the current situation, rather than a historical review of the conflict. He addressed criticism that the report drew equivalency between the actions of the occupier and occupied. He urged the Council to welcome the report and warned that remaining silent would give the message that the Council had lost interest in the issue.

The draft presidential statement was referred to in the discussion that followed, with several members urging swift adoption of the US draft text. It appears that New Zealand suggested that the Council should receive regular briefings on the implementation of the report, which was supported by several members. Many members, including Egypt, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela, raised concerns that the severity of Israel’s settlement activity was not adequately addressed in the report, which only referred to outposts, and not to settlements, as illegal. These countries also took issue with the report’s silence on the need for Israel to end the occupation, and thus its failure to address the root cause of conflict. Egypt advocated a press statement instead of a presidential statement, and expressed the view that the Council should ‘take note’ of the report of the Quartet instead of welcoming it. It also suggested that the statement welcome the complementary role of the Arab Peace Initiative and the communiqué issued following the Paris summit in June. It seems these proposals were supported by Angola, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela. At press time, a revised statement had not yet been circulated to Council members.