posted on Tue 17 Oct 2017 8:07 PM
Middle East Open Debate

Tomorrow (18 October), the Council will hold its quarterly open debate under the agenda item “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča is expected to brief on recent developments with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and may touch on other regional issues.

The briefing and interventions by Council members and other member states are expected to focus on the unity agreement signed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on 12 October in Cairo, a deal brokered by Egyptian government mediators in an effort to end a decade of hostile relations between the Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamist Hamas movement that has controlled Gaza since June 2007. According to Palestinian officials, the deal stipulates that a unity government will run the Gaza Strip until a new administration is formed before the end of the year. The agreement provides for the return of control of the Gaza crossings to the Palestinian Authority by 1 November. Obstacles to reconciliation however remain, including the issue of whether Hamas will dismantle its armed wing, which was not dealt with in the agreement.

Council members may be interested in hearing how the UN is working with the parties towards the objective of intra-Palestinian unity. They will also be interested in receiving an update on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, including how recent political developments can help to facilitate a more robust humanitarian response, and the latest situation with regard to settlements on the West Bank. There will most likely be discussion of the Israeli government’s recent decision to approve the building of new settlement houses in Hebron.

Jenča may discuss the recent efforts of UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, who has focused significant attention in recent days on the 12 October unity agreement. On 12 October, Mladenov met with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to discuss the implementation of the agreement. On 16 October, Mladenov issued a statement that said the timely and effective implementation of the agreement and concrete steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis will be critical for effectively empowering the Palestinian Government in Gaza. He noted that the agreement is an important step towards achieving the goal of Palestinian unity under a single, democratic and legitimate Palestinian national authority. Mladenov further added that the UN will continue working with the Palestinian leadership, Egypt and the region in support of this process, “which is critical for reaching a negotiated two-state solution and sustainable peace.”

Council members will most likely give their views on the new agreement. Of particular interest will be the intervention of Egypt, given that it brokered the deal. Egypt has indicated that the parties agreed that the Palestinian Authority would assume control of Gaza by 1 December. In reaction to the agreement, the US recently welcomed the creation of “conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume responsibilities in Gaza” through State Department spokesman Heather Nauert. Meanwhile, fellow permanent member Russia–a member of the Middle East Quartet along with the US, the UN and the EU–welcomed the agreement in a 13 October statement by the Foreign Ministry, maintaining that it was “in line with legal national aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

Israel will most likely address the Council. In a 12 October statement reacting to the agreement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that any reconciliation deal “must include honoring international agreements and the Quartet condition, first and foremost among them, recognizing Israel and disarming Hamas”. He further stated that “Israel insists that the PA not allow any base whatsoever for Hamas terrorist actions from PA areas in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] or from Gaza” and that “Israel will monitor developments on the ground and act accordingly”. Earlier today, Netanyahu said that Israel “will not conduct diplomatic negotiations with a Palestinian government that relies on Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel”, as long as it does not fulfil several conditions, including that Hamas recognise Israel and disarm, sever its ties with Iran, and return bodies of Israeli soldiers and civilians Israel believes are being held in Gaza, and that the Palestinian Authority assume full security control of Gaza.