posted on Mon 22 Jul 2019 5:12 PM
Middle East (Israel/Palestine) Open Debate

On Tuesday (23 July), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine). Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, will brief the Council.

This substance of the debate will at least in part be coloured by the US-led “Peace to Prosperity” workshop held in Bahrain on 25-26 June. As announced two days before the conference, the US believes that its plan has “the potential to facilitate more than $50 billion in new investment over ten years” through a global investment fund, and that “Peace to Prosperity will establish a new foundation for the Palestinian economy, generating rapid economic growth and job creation”. At the conference, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner called the plan a “modern framework” for Palestinian development. On political issues, he said “we will get to those at the right time.” He did not indicate when that time would be, and many believe that that part of the plan will not be revealed until after Israeli elections in the fall. (Israel will hold its second election in less than six months on 17 September, as a result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inability to form a governing coalition.) The delay seems to focus around the need to include Israeli buy-in for the plan, which is problematic as long as the nature of the Israeli government is undetermined.

This open debate will allow Council members and the wider UN community to respond to the conference and comment on the way forward. Members may use this meeting to reiterate their belief, especially after Bahrain, that economic plans are not sufficient for solving the Israel-Palestine crisis. Several members that are anticipated to speak at the open debate had some participation at the conference, including Egypt, the EU, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The region’s immediate response to the conference was mixed. One of Saudi Arabia’s representatives said that “there is hope of peace” with the inclusion of the private sector. Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa called the conference “an opportunity not to be missed”, while reiterating Bahrain’s support for a two-state solution. Meanwhile, Oman, while not in attendance, announced that it will be opening an embassy in Ramallah, West Bank. A spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the conference a “stunning failure”. At press time, there have been no pledges to the global investment fund.

The US is likely to use this debate to give its interpretation of what the Bahrain conference accomplished. Beyond that, UN members may look for indications of US views of the role for previously agreed international parameters. Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special envoy and Special Representative for International Negotiations, appears to have told Council members in closed consultations that interpretations differ on the meaning of these parameters. (Greenblatt may be present at the open debate on Tuesday). Other members can be expected to reiterate the need to continue to work toward a two-state solution in line with international parameters, and that these cannot be changed or reinterpreted.

The work and the financial status of UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) will probably be a topic of discussion.  During the Council’s 22 May meeting, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl spoke of the educational, health care, and food services provided by the agency and expressed concern about its funding shortfall.  In contrast, Greenblatt strongly suggested that it was time to close UNRWA, saying that Palestinians living in refugee camps had been “misled and used as political pawns and commodities”. Other Council members expressed sharp disagreement, reiterating their support for UNRWA’s actions and existence.  After the UNRWA donor conference on 25 June, Krähenbühl stated that announcements of support during and in the run-up to the conference totalled just over $110 million. Statements of support for UNRWA’s work may be made again during tomorrow’s open debate.

DiCarlo is likely to address the demolitions of buildings located in Area A of the Palestinian Authority-held West Bank, specifically the village of Sur Baher. Last month, Israel’s High Court of Justice dismissed a Palestinian petition requesting the cancellation of a military order prohibiting construction in the area. Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick, Director of West Bank Operations for UNRWA Gwyn Lewis, and Head of OHCHR in the Occupied Palestinian territory James Heenan called on Israeli authorities to halt demolitions, and a number of member states will probably express their concerns about the demolitions. On 22 July, Israel demolished the Sur Baher buildings despite the widespread calls not to do so.

The security and human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza is expected to be discussed in the meeting. In recent weeks clashes have increased in the West Bank, although there have been fewer rocket launches from Gaza into Israel. DiCarlo may highlight this as a positive outcome from the Egypt, Qatar, and UN mediation efforts.

It seems unlikely that any outcome will be forthcoming from the open debate. Russia, Kuwait, and others have suggested a Council visiting mission to the region, but nothing concrete has been explored. Such a proposal can be expected to face resistance from the US.