posted on Fri 15 Dec 2017 4:28 PM
Middle East: Briefing and Discussions on a Palestinian Draft Resolution

On Monday (18 December), the Council will hold its regular monthly briefing on the Middle East, with a focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov will brief. The briefing comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity following the decision by the US administration on 6 December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, including discussions on a Palestinian draft resolution.

In response to the US declaration, which has received a critical reception from even the country’s closest allies, the Palestinian delegation has been meeting bilaterally with members of the Council to discuss the contours of a Security Council resolution that is likely to be circulated in the coming days. Such a resolution would most likely be vetoed by the US, even if it merely reasserted the Council’s previously expressed positions on the status of Jerusalem, but would demonstrate the lack of international support for the unilateral US action. It appears that the Palestinian delegation is seeking a text that would be broadly acceptable to all Council members besides the US and would garner fourteen affirmative votes. The text is therefore unlikely to introduce much new language or harsh and direct criticism of the US move, which may be unacceptable for some members. The Palestinians might also pursue action in the General Assembly after a veto in the Security Council.

The Council has already met to address US President Donald Trump’s 6 December announcement. Eight council members—Bolivia, Egypt, France, Italy, Senegal, Sweden, the UK and Uruguay—called for an emergency meeting after the announcement was made, with the hope that the Secretary-General would brief in the open chamber. On 8 December, the meeting was held, with Mladenov briefing. He warned that the move could present a serious risk of sparking “a chain of unilateral actions, which can only undermine the achievement of our shared goal”, and reiterated that the position of the UN on Jerusalem was that the city remained a final status issue to be determined through a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to be negotiated between the two sides.
US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley, in defending the decision, asserted that the US had not taken a position on boundaries or borders, which would still be decided by Israel and the Palestinians, and that the decision did not predetermine final status issues. All fourteen other Council members expressed dismay with the decision, with most asserting that the US decision contravened international law and Security Council resolutions, and reiterating that Jerusalem is a final status issue and that its sovereignty must be determined through negotiations between the parties.

Several members referenced in particular resolutions 476 and 478 of 1980 and 2334 of 2016. Resolution 476 stated 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.” Resolution 478 was adopted in the wake of Israel’s enactment of its 1980 “basic law”, which declared that Jerusalem, “complete and united”, is the capital of Israel. The resolution 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”. Resolution 2334 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 violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution. All three of these resolutions were adopted with 14 affirmative votes and a US abstention.

On 9 December, the League of Arab States held an emergency session in Cairo called by members Jordan and Palestine, after which Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit called the US decision “dangerous and unacceptable” and a “flagrant attack on a political solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On 13 December, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation met for an extraordinary session in Istanbul to address the crisis. In a communiqué following the session, the OIC rejected Trump’s move as “null and void” and said his “dangerous declaration” marked the US withdrawal from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Meanwhile, protests in response to the US move in both the West Bank and Gaza have continued for a second week, and members will likely be interested in hearing Mladenov’s assessment of increased tensions on the ground.

Postscript: Following the Middle East briefing and consultations on 18 December, the Council voted on a draft resolution (S/2017/1060) tabled by Egypt that reaffirmed that any decisions and actions that purport to have altered the status of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded. The text received 14 affirmative votes, but was not adopted owing to a veto by the US.