posted on Mon 10 Feb 2020 6:51 PM
Security Council to Meet to Discuss US Middle East Peace Plan

Tomorrow (11 February) the Security Council will hold a briefing on the agenda item “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. This is not the scheduled monthly meeting on the topic; rather, this meeting was requested by Tunisia and Indonesia, and is expected to focus on the recently released US peace plan for the Middle East. Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to make introductory remarks, and Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov will brief the Council. It appears that Israel and the Observer State of Palestine have requested to make statements at the meeting; in this regard, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority is expected to speak. It is anticipated that Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, will make a statement as well.

Tunisia and Indonesia proposed a draft resolution critical of the US peace plan early this month. While the initial text has been revised following negotiations with Council members, it seems that it will not be formally tabled for a vote tomorrow, apparently to allow for more time for consultations.

Background

On 28 January, US President Trump held a press conference at the White House to announce his plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan is officially titled: “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People”. Trump also acknowledged the presence of representatives from Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates at the press conference. Trump said, “My vision presents a win-win opportunity for both sides, a realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security”. Trump thanked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for agreeing to have the plan as the basis for direct negotiations, which have not occurred for some time. Trump said that the plan could be the last opportunity for peace for the Palestinians.” Netanyahu stood by Trump’s side during the announcement of the plan and made a statement following Trump.

The plan is outlined in a document on the White House’s government website. Notable elements include:

• the incorporation of existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and East Jerusalem into the state of Israel;
• Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel;
• Palestinian statehood contingent upon the fulfilment of several conditions determined by Israel, such as the renunciation of violence and the disbandment of militant groups like Hamas;
• the territory of the future Palestinian state to include the Gaza strip, parts of the West Bank, and some neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Jerusalem;
• the linking of these different parts of a Palestinian state though new roads, bridges and tunnels;
• a Palestinian capital located “in the section of East Jerusalem…in all areas east and north of the existing security barrier”;
• a minimum four-year freeze in Israeli settlement construction, with settlements that exist already allowed to remain;
• $50 billion in international investment, supplied by international donors that mostly come from Arab nations, to build a new Palestinian state;
• a US embassy in the new Palestinian state; and
• a preservation of the status quo of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

The Palestinian Authority has said that it was not consulted before the plan was announced, and strongly opposes it. In a statement shortly after the plan was released, Abbas said that in his actions Trump has cast aside Security Council resolution 2334, which reaffirmed that the establishment by Israeli of settlements in the “Palestinian territory occupied since 1967…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 a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” Additionally, on 1 February, the Arab League met in Cairo to discuss the proposed plan at the request of the Palestinians. In a communiqué released afterwards, the Arab League rejected the plan. Similarly, during remarks at the AU Summit in Addis Ababa on 9 February, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the AU Commission, said that the plan violated UN and AU resolutions.

Tomorrow’s Meeting

In tomorrow’s meeting, the Secretary-General and Special Envoy Mladenov are likely to reiterate the UN’s long-standing position, as reflected in Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, calling for a two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 borders. In his 28 January “Note to correspondents: In response to questions on the Middle East”, the Secretary-General expressed the UN’s position, which is incompatible with the plan put forth by the US.

In his statement tomorrow, President Abbas is likely to reiterate his rejection of the plan. In a television interview on 9 February on CNN, the chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Saeb Erakat, said that Abbas would also call on the international community to convene an international conference that could relaunch negotiations on the basis of a two-state solution. |

In keeping with Netanyahu’s statement at the White House on 28 January, Israel is likely to express strong support for the plan as a basis for negotiation with the Palestinians. In his statement, Netanyahu said that the current plan offers a “realistic path to a durable peace”, meeting Israel’s security and national interests while addressing the desire of Palestinians for self-determination.

Many Council members are likely to reiterate the need to follow Council resolutions and international law, and to emphasise upholding the two-state solution with no decision on territorial issues until so decided in a negotiation process. In this regard, several members are unlikely to be receptive to the US plan. Unlike several other Council members, the UK has offered encouragement for the plan. While it has been criticised by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking in the House of Commons on 5 February, said that the plan “has the merit of a two-state solution”, and on 28 January, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab welcomed its release, calling it “a serious proposal, reflecting extensive time and effort”.

On 6 February, Security Council members held a private lunch at the permanent representative level at the US mission to hear a briefing from Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the President and Trump’s son-in-law, on the US plan. There were reportedly substantive discussions on the plan, and it seems that Kushner appealed to Council members to encourage the Palestinians to use the plan as a basis for negotiation. However, several members apparently noted that it was difficult to envision how the plan could serve as a basis for negotiation, since it strongly favoured one side (Israel), and that any deal put forth should be based on consultation with the two parties. This view may be reiterated by some at the Council meeting tomorrow.

Draft Resolution

On 4 February, Indonesia and Tunisia circulated a draft resolution that would have reiterated the Council’s support for international parameters to solve the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Negotiations began on 6 February. It seems likely that the initial draft would have been vetoed by the US. It strongly regretted “that the plan presented on 28 January 2020 by the United States and Israel breaches international law and the internationally-endorsed terms of reference for the achievement of a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”. In addition, it reiterated the various UN resolutions and initiatives that called for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders. The draft was revised, following input from some members. It was put under silence until this morning (February 10), but the US broke silence with a number of amendments. The UK also reportedly proposed further consultations on the draft. Subsequently, the penholders decided to postpone the vote to allow more time for consultations.