posted on Thu 7 Dec 2017 4:30 PM
Briefing on Israel/Palestine

Tomorrow morning (8 December), the Security Council will hold a briefing on the situation in Israel/Palestine following yesterday’s announcement by US President Donald Trump that the US would officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that he would be directing the State Department to begin preparations to move the American embassy to Jerusalem from its current location in Tel Aviv. In light of Trump’s announcement, eight council members—Bolivia, Egypt, France, Italy, Senegal, Sweden, the UK and Uruguay—called for an emergency meeting with the Secretary-General briefing in the open chamber before the end of the week. Today, the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General said that Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov will brief.

At press time, it does not appear that any member(s) will attempt to pursue an outcome. An Arab League Ministerial meeting is planned for Saturday (9 December), and it seems that Council members will wait to see what transpires in this meeting before determining whether an outcome might be pursued in the Council.

Trump’s decision breaks with longstanding US policy. However, he maintained that it represents “recognition of reality” and “the right thing to do”. He further stated that the decision did not “reflect a departure from our strong commitment to facilitate a lasting peace agreement” and said that the US was “not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”. Russia is the only other Council member to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a decision it took in April 2017, although it was careful to specify that its recognition extended only to West Jerusalem and to reaffirm its commitment to the UN-approved principles for a Palestinian-Israeli settlement “which include the status of East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state”. Following Trump’s announcement, the Czech Republic stated that it currently recognises Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel in the borders of the demarcation line from 1967, though it is not considering relocating its embassy at this time.

Trump’s announcement was swiftly met with widespread criticism both in the Middle East and internationally, as East Jerusalem has been under Israeli occupation since 1967 and would likely be the capital of a Palestinian capital if a two-state solution were to come to fruition. Palestinian leaders have said that the US has forfeited its credibility to be a broker in peace negotiations. In a prepared statement read out at the media stakeout yesterday, Secretary-General Guterres likewise underscored the need for a two-state solution, saying that “Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved directly through negotiations between the two parties on the basis of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions”. Among the critics of Trump’s decision were close US allies. UK Prime Minister Theresa May called it “unhelpful”. French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron said that his country “does not approve” of the decision, while underscoring France’s support for the two-state solution with “Israel and Palestine, living in peace and security, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States”.

The Israeli government praised the move, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an “important step towards peace” stating that “there is no peace that doesn’t include Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel”. Netanyahu called on other nations to follow Trump’s lead, and stated that Israel is in contact with other states that will issue similar recognitions. He vowed there would be no change with regard to the city’s many holy sites.

On 6 December, the Palestinian Observer Mission forwarded a letter to the president of the Security Council (S/2017/1029) referring to Trump’s “extremely regrettable decision” and calling on the Council to address the matter without delay. The letter recalled numerous resolutions of the Council that address the status of Jerusalem (in particular resolutions 476 and 478 of 1980) and the Council’s determination in resolution 476 that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of the [Fourth] Geneva Convention”.

In the wake of Israel’s enactment of its 1980 “basic law” determining that Jerusalem, “complete and united”, is the capital of Israel, the Council adopted resolution 478, which decided not to recognise the law, called on all member states to accept this decision, and called on “those states that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City”. Fourteen Council members voted in favour of resolutions 476 and 478, while the US abstained in both cases.

The Palestinian Observer Mission’s 6 December letter further cites the Council’s most recent resolution on the conflict, resolution 2334 of December 2016 on Israeli settlements, which affirmed that “it will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations“. Resolution 2334 also reaffirmed that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution, and bearing this in mind, called upon all states to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967. Fourteen Council members voted in favour of the resolution and the US abstained. The Palestinian Observer Mission’s letter “looks to the Council to firmly uphold its resolutions and to restore the primacy of international law to the efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers today in Jerusalem, Ramallah and other places in the West Bank and Gaza, with dozens of people reportedly injured in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas called today for a new “intifada”, or uprising, asserting that the whole of Palestine and the whole of Jerusalem are the property of the Palestinian people and that Trump’s announcement had left the decades-long peace process “buried forever”. Protests were also reported in Jordan, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey and elsewhere.