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I have the honour to transmit herewith an assessment of the work of the Security Council for the month of October 2015 under the presidency of Spain (see annex). This assessment was prepared under my supervision, after consultation with the other members of the Council.
I should be grateful if you would have the present letter and its annex circulated as a document of the Security Council.
Under the presidency of Spain in October 2015, the Security Council held 20 public meetings and 10 consultations of the whole. During the closed consultations, four additional substantive items were discussed under the item entitled “Other matters”.
The Council adopted five resolutions, agreed on three statements by the President and issued five press statements.
Among the public meetings there were three open debates. On 13 October 2015, the Security Council held an open debate at the ministerial level, entitled “High-level review of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000): from rhetoric to effective results” chaired by the Prime Minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy. On 20 October, the Council held an open debate on working methods, and on 22 October, the Council convened its quarterly open debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, José Manuel García-Margallo.
The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
On 16 October, the Security Council held an urgent briefing on the situation in the Middle East. The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, briefed Council members on the situation on the ground owing to the violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. He stressed that the crisis sparked by fresh violence in the three locations could not be stopped by security measures alone, urging Palestinians and Israelis to respect decades-old status quo arrangements around holy sites, and called for political leaders on all sides to calm their language in a joint effort to de-escalate the situation. The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs said that the fire set by a group of Palestinians at the holy site of Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus was particularly troubling, in the light of its religious dimension. He welcomed President Mahmoud Abbas’ condemnation of the attack and announcement that a committee had been formed to investigate the crime. All sides had to respect all holy sites and reject the extremist elements pushing a political agenda that sought to transform the current situation from a national to a religious struggle. The Assistant Secretary-General stressed that the incident followed a deadly week in the West Bank, citing 11 reported attacks against Israelis and Israeli security forces that had left four Israelis and nine Palestinians dead, and 16 Israelis and four Palestinians wounded. In Gaza, 7 Israelis and 32 Palestinians had been killed, while 124 Israelis and more than 1,110 Palestinians had been injured since 1 October. In this regard, he highlighted that, since then, the Israeli Defense Forces had significantly bolstered their presence in Israeli cities, while many Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem had been surrounded, with access roads blocked and checkpoints established. Movement restrictions in the West Bank had been reinstated and ad hoc checkpoints erected at more than 100 sites in the area. He recalled that the United Nations had maintained a consistent position on those issues. Collective punishment, including house demolitions, contravened international law and he urged Israel to cease that practice.
In accordance with the provisional rules of procedure of the Security Council and previous practice in this regard, the Permanent Observer of the observer State of Palestine participated in the briefing and stated that he had asked the Council to urgently intervene to end aggression by settlers and extremists towards Palestinian people and shrines. The Holy Shrine and the Al-Aqsa mosque had been subjected to continued aggression by extremists, wh`o wanted to impose a change from the present situation, threatening to turn the conflict into a religious one. He asked the Council to force Israel to withdraw its armed formations immediately, especially in occupied East Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque, and to provide protection for the Palestinian people until occupation was over.
In accordance with rule 37 of the Security Council’s provisional rules of procedure, Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative said his country was facing an onslaught of terrorism where men, women and children were stabbed daily, with no call from the Council for the Palestinian leadership to end incitement. He mentioned that Israel was taking all steps necessary to defend its people, and that the violence had begun with lies about the Temple Mount. He announced that the Israeli Prime Minister was willing to meet with Palestinian leadership to bring calm to the region, while recalling that the Council must insist that Mr. Abbas come to the table, as only direct negotiations could lead to peace, he added.
Security Council members condemned in the strongest terms all violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere, stressing the importance of preventing inflammatory rhetoric or actions that fed violence, asking both parties to stop the violence and ensure measures were taken to de-escalate the situation and to uphold the historic status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.
On 21 October, Security Council members held urgent closed consultations, as requested by the Secretary-General, to give an update on the situation in the Middle East. The Secretary-General briefed the Council via videoconference from Amman, in the framework of his visit to the region, during which he met, among others, the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, as well as the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. A representative from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was present in the room in order to report on the escalation of events and the protection issues. The Secretary-General showed great concern for the increase of violence and urged the Security Council to keep taking measures to restore calm and security. He reiterated the need to preserve the two-State solution as well as to respect the status quo within Haram al-Sharif/ Temple Mount, calling for the cessation of violence and for parties to reject its incitement. He encouraged Israel and Jordan to work together to restore calm in Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and welcomed a visit of the Quartet to the region.
During the consultations, Security Council members were informed that the Secretariat had already distributed to the Council a letter from the Secretary-General with a summary of historical precedents compiled by the Office of Legal Affairs for the purpose of assisting and informing any future work that might take place within the Secretariat on the issue of protection of civilians (S/2015/809). In this regard, the Secretary-General stated that the State of Palestine strongly asked for measures to be taken to protect its population, as well as for a United Nations presence.
Security Council members expressed concern about the increase of violence in Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and showed support for the role of the Secretary-General and his trip to the region. Some Council members mentioned the need for an active role of the Quartet. Some members also mentioned the need for further engagement of the Council, as well as a greater role of other partners and regional actors.
On 22 October, the Security Council convened its quarterly open debate on the situation in the Middle East, at the ministerial level. The meeting was chaired by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, José Manuel García-Margallo. In his briefing to the Council, the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, told the Council that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had entered a dangerous phase amid a fresh wave of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza; he pressed leaders from both sides to publicly take a stand against extremism and incitement, as failure to do so left the door open to promote destructive extremist agendas. He said that 47 Palestinians and seven Israelis had been killed, and more than 5,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis had been injured, since the beginning of October. He recalled that the recent visit of the Secretary-General to Israel, Palestine and Jordan had one goal: to support collective efforts to stop the violence and to begin to draw a political horizon that would lead to lasting peace. There was no justification whatsoever for murder, he said. He went on to state that the crisis would not have erupted if Palestinians had had hope about a viable State of their own, an economy that offered jobs and the ability to emerge from a stifling and humiliating occupation. Likewise, he said the situation had sharpened a sense of fear among Israelis who felt that their personal security had been threatened and saw signs of growing anti-Semitism around the world and attempts that they believed aimed to delegitimize their country. Taken together, the failed peace initiatives and leaders’ reluctance to make progress had created a highly combustible reality in a region plagued by violent religious extremism. He added that the vitriolic nature of the public discourse was alarming, calling on all stakeholders, including the Palestinian leadership, to condemn the violence.
In accordance with the provisional rules of procedure of the Security Council and previous practice in this regard, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine, Riad Malki, said Palestinians were under lockdown and assault by Israel, adding that the Council could not justify remaining on the sidelines while the violence risked spiralling into a religious conflict fomented by the extremist Israeli Government. In addition, he said that a time frame must be set to end the occupation and options considered for the protection of Palestinians. Equally urgent was the dangerous situation in occupied East Jerusalem and ensuring that Israel complied with its obligation to preserve the status quo.
Speaking under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure, the Permanent Representative of Israel said the streets of his country had been swept by a savage tide of terror where attacks against Israelis were provoked for no reason other than that they were Jews living in their historic homeland. He added that Israel, like any country, was obliged to defend its citizens. He recalled that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had repeatedly accused Israel of trying to change the status quo, which in his view was absolutely false, stressing that Palestinians were trying to score easy victories without having to negotiate or recognize the Jewish State. He went on to say that the best way to reduce tensions was to urge President Abbas to accept the Israeli Prime Minister’s call to meet with him.
Mr. García-Margallo expressed concern about the risk that the two-State solution, first minted in the Madrid Peace Conference, held in 1991, and later embodied in the Oslo Accords, would become unviable due to the exhaustion of the negotiating track and the escalating violence. In order to prevent this from happening, and therefore to rekindle the dialogue and stop the violence and terrorism, he announced that Spain had offered to host the dialogue in a new peace conference, under the name Madrid II. Explaining in further detail, he stressed that Madrid II would be a relaunch of the peace process, combining direct dialogue between the parties to the multilateral track, with an international architecture acceptable to all parties and involving the countries of the region. In this context, the Security Council should go beyond the declaratory policy and play a key role in designing the road map and calendar for negotiations, culminating in the new international peace conference.
Throughout the day, speakers condemned the violence, urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to stop incitement, reduce tensions and restore calm. Some expressed hope that the Secretary-General’s visit and the upcoming meeting of the Quartet in Vienna, would attenuate the situation. While prospects for a two-State solution appeared to be diminishing, many advocated it as the only path to peace.
Member States also discussed during the debate the importance of the political solution for Syria and the dire humanitarian situation in the country, the situation in Yemen and the situation in Lebanon.