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Developments in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, as well as the ongoing effects of the Arab Spring, remained prominent on the Council’s agenda. The Council closely followed developments in Iraq, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen.
One of the main issues in November was the application of Palestine for admission to membership in the United Nations.
The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
The Council was briefed in consultations of the whole on 19 August 2011 by the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, on the situation following a series of terrorist attacks in southern Israel.
On 25 August, the Council was briefed on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who noted that differences between Israelis and Palestinians remained profound and expressed the hope that the international community would be able to shape a legitimate and balanced way forward to help the parties to resume meaningful negotiations that would realize the two-State solution. He also noted that the achievements of the Palestinian Authority in terms of State-building and security and economic improvement must be consolidated and bolstered. He pointed out that Israel had announced a series of new settlement expansions in the West Bank, with some 5,200 units planned in East Jerusalem and 277 units approved for the Ariel settlement. Turning to Gaza, he said that the living conditions of the population there remained a priority for the United Nations. In the consultations of the whole that followed, Council members called on the Palestinian and Israeli sides to refrain from taking unilateral actions that might jeopardize the peace process.
On 27 September, the Council heard a briefing by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Najib Mikati, presided over the meeting and made brief introductory remarks in his national capacity. He stated that the “winds of change” in the Middle East had ushered in a “Palestinian spring” that had led to the formal submission by Palestine of an application for membership in the United Nations. He called for an Israeli withdrawal from all Arab lands, as laid out in the Arab Peace Initiative. The Under-Secretary-General stated that it was not easy to chart a way forward, as the Palestinian and Israeli positions remained far apart. He added that the efforts of the Quartet and the expected proposals of the parties could help to resume negotiations. He summarized the Quartet statement of 23 September, explaining that the goals would be to make substantial progress within six months, to convene an international conference in Moscow at the appropriate time, and to reach an agreement no later than the end of 2012. The Under-Secretary-General referred to the Palestinian application for membership in the United Nations, and noted that the matter was before the Council. He underlined the institutional readiness of the Palestinian Authority to run a State. In the consultations of the whole that followed, Council members called on the Palestinian and Israeli sides to refrain from taking unilateral actions that might jeopardize the peace process. Some Council members supported the application of Palestine for full membership in the United Nations, and stressed the need to stop all settlement activities and resume negotiations, while other members voiced their opposition to the application of Palestine, and stressed that the two-State solution could be achieved only through direct negotiations.
On 24 October, the Council held an open debate on the situation in the Middle East, during which it heard a briefing by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who told the Council that the recent exchange of prisoners between the Israelis and the Palestinians marked a significant humanitarian breakthrough. He encouraged the parties to display equal determination in the search for a lasting solution to the Middle East problem. Noting the Quartet statement of 23 September, he urged the parties to refrain from provocations and to be ready to offer serious proposals on borders and security for negotiation in order to avoid the deepening of the impasse. Statements were made by the Permanent Representative of Israel and the Permanent Observer for Palestine. Several Member States expressed views on the Palestinian application for admission to United Nations membership which was under consideration by the Council.
On 21 November, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, Robert Serry, briefed the Council. He noted that provocations continued to damage confidence, making resuming negotiations very difficult. He stressed the need to find a meaningful diplomatic way forward, including in the framework of the Quartet’s statement of 23 September, stating that both parties would have to show flexibility and responsibility. He also referred to the situation in Gaza and southern Israel, which had once again witnessed dangerous violence after rocket fire by militants and Israeli strikes, and noted that preserving calm in Gaza and southern Israel continued to be crucial for improvements there and for the overall political atmosphere.
In consultations of the whole Council members expressed both their support for the efforts of the Quartet and their concern over the lack of progress in negotiations and the troubling developments on the ground, in particular Israel’s continued settlement activity and decision to withhold payments of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority. They supported the Special Coordinator’s appeal for a de-escalation of the situation and reiterated the need for all parties to abstain from provocative actions and to resume meaningful direct negotiations. Some delegations reaffirmed their support for Palestine’s admission to the United Nations, while others recalled the lack of unanimity on the issue and proposed an intermediate step by upgrading the status of Palestine in the General Assembly to that of an observer State. Some members opined that there were no alternatives to direct negotiations between the parties.
On 29 November, the President delivered a statement on behalf of Council members on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
On 12 December, the Council was briefed in closed consultations by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic and the Palestinian territory.
On 20 December, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs delivered a briefing on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. He stressed that the realization of a two-State solution had not advanced, and that violent incidents were erupting at a worrisome rate. He outlined the efforts undertaken by the Quartet to help the parties to resume direct talks. At the consultations of the whole that followed, members of the Council stressed the importance of resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and condemned unilateral actions, in particular the construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, which undermined the Quartet’s efforts towards a negotiable solution of the conflict.
On 18 January 2012, in consultations of the whole, the Council received a briefing on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory from the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. She highlighted the humanitarian impact of all settlement activity, as well as the escalation of violence by settlers, and the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.
On 24 January, the Council held an open debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, and was briefed by the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs on the latest developments with regard to the peace talks between Palestine and Israel, and specifically the recent meetings between the parties as facilitated by Jordan. Following the briefing, the Permanent Observer of Palestine and the Permanent Representative of Israel addressed the Council. All Council members, 24 representatives of non-member States and the representative of the European Union made statements. Statements were also made on behalf of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, the Non-Aligned Movement, the European Union, the Group of African States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
On 8 February, the Secretary-General briefed the Council in consultations of the whole on his visit to the Middle East and among other things the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. He said that he had urged the parties to remain engaged and to submit comprehensive proposals on territory and security to create an environment conducive to negotiations. He recalled the recent Palestinian reconciliation efforts through the Fatah-Hamas agreement, and said that the two tracks — reconciliation and negotiations with Israel — need not be mutually exclusive. He stated that while in the West Bank he noticed concrete signs of institutional development fundamental for the functioning of a future State, but opined that the situation in Gaza was unsustainable.
On 28 February, the Council received a briefing by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. He said that talks between the parties that had started in Amman on 3 January had stalled and that the United Nations believed that the framework set by the Quartet in its statement of 23 September 2011 remained relevant. The Under-Secretary-General referred to the Palestinian requirements for restarting the negotiations. He called on the parties to use the coming period to refocus on the need to exchange proposals on territory and security.
On 12 March, the Council held a ministerial-level open debate on the item entitled “The situation in the Middle East”. The debate was chaired by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, and was attended by the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, Guatemala, Portugal, the Russian Federation and the United States of America. The Secretary-General briefed the Council. He highlighted the remarkable changes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen, and stressed the need for dialogue in Bahrain. Transformation had been spontaneous and home-grown, but it involved a great deal of human suffering and loss of life. He set out five principles concerning the Arab Spring, namely, (i) the implementation of meaningful reform; (ii) plural societies that protected the rights of minorities; (iii) women’s right to make decisions about the political future; (iv) opportunities for youth; and (v) peace between Israel and Palestine. The region would also benefit from an end to tensions rooted in concerns over the nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic of Iran. On the Syrian Arab Republic, the Secretary-General noted that what began as a peaceful call for freedom had descended into a spiral of violence and uncertainty.
On the Arab Spring, most Council members welcomed positive and home-grown change in the region and stressed the importance of appropriate international assistance to countries in transition. Most members stressed the importance of national ownership of change; that change could not be dictated or imposed from the outside; and that economic and political reform had to go hand in hand. Many Council members said that progress in the region would be incomplete without a sustainable solution to the Palestinian question. On the Syrian Arab Republic, most Council members expressed deep concern at the deteriorating situation and said that the time had come for the Council to speak with one voice on the issue.
On 27 March, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process briefed the Council at a public meeting. Council members then discussed the matter further in consultations of the whole. The Special Coordinator noted that there was a dangerous combination of lack of political progress, instability and violence on the ground, and an increasingly precarious situation for the Palestinian Authority. The parties, he said, had not found sufficient common ground to resume direct negotiations. He noted that it was essential for the Quartet to assume its responsibilities when it met on 11 April, and that it needed to direct collective efforts towards overcoming gaps.
During the consultations of the whole, the Special Coordinator pointed out that very little was happening and uncertainty was growing, and that the positions of the parties were far apart. He said that Israel was very unlikely to present proposals on borders and security, and that there was no prospect of serious talks until the end of the year. The challenge for the Quartet on 11 April, he said, was to chart a way forward that kept the prospect of a two-State solution alive. He expressed concern that the principles underlying the two-State solution were being eroded. Some members said that the Council should encourage the parties to resume dialogue and to take tangible steps to improve the climate, and suggested that a visit by the Security Council to both Palestine and Israel could be of value.
During the Council’s open debate on the item on 23 April, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs said that achieving peace for Israelis and Palestinians was “an undiminished priority”. He highlighted the Quartet meeting in Washington on 11 April and noted that the delivery of a letter from the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, to the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, on 17 April was a positive step.
On 29 May, the Council received a briefing at an open meeting from the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, followed by consultations of the whole. He warned that if current opportunities were not seized, a dangerous “one-State” solution could result. He expressed hope that the parties would find a way forward to substantive talks in the coming months. Turning to Gaza, he stressed that the reconstruction and economic growth in the Gaza Strip remained fundamental objectives of the United Nations.
On 19 June, during a briefing on developments in the Middle East, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs stressed that sporadic clashes, military operations and announcements of settlement construction in the West Bank by Israel were challenging the positive environment created by recent fragile forward steps in the Israeli-Palestinian talks. He noted that Quartet envoys, after meeting in Brussels on 15 June, agreed that there was an urgent need for the parties to continue to pursue the present efforts towards resumed dialogue and substantive negotiations, adding that it was time for them to take the necessary steps towards that goal. During consultations of the whole that followed, members of the Council stressed the importance of resuming Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and encouraged both sides to keep direct contact so as to maintain the positive momentum for the resumed dialogue and negotiations.
The question of the Palestinian invitation to the Security Council to undertake a mission to the region was considered under “Other matters” in consultations of the whole on 11 and 29 June.
On 2 July, the Council held consultations of the whole and was briefed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in the Palestinian territory. She mentioned that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip was causing severe limitations on basic rights, and had nearly eliminated prospects for Gaza’s economic development, resulting in an unnecessary dependency on humanitarian assistance. At the same time, she condemned the indiscriminate rocket firing from Gaza as a blatant violation of international law. Members of the Council expressed concern and many condemned the steady expansion of Israeli settlements and said these practices are illegal under international law, along with the firing of rockets from Gaza. Some Council members expressed the urgent need for a genuine dialogue between the parties.
On 25 July, the Council held an open debate on the Middle East. The Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process briefed the Council. He indicated that June had been characterized by quiet direct exchanges between the parties in an attempt to reach agreement on a package of measures that would create an environment conducive to restarting talks and pave the way for high-level contacts. He mentioned that Quartet envoys had remained in close contact with each other and the parties, and there had been a number of high-level visits. Council members, the Permanent Observer of Palestine, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Israel, the Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and 22 more delegations took part in the debate.
Council members stressed the importance of resuming Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and negotiations. Some members condemned the construction of settlements in Palestinian territory. There was a call by some Council members for vigorous diplomatic action to attain lasting peace in the region based on the two-State solution, and building upon previous agreements and obligations. Various members emphasized the Quartet’s role in supporting the parties in their efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
On 26 September 2011, the Council held consultations of the whole on the application of Palestine for admission to membership in the United Nations. Members agreed to hold a formal meeting of the Council on 28 September to decide on the referral of the application of Palestine to the Committee on the Admission of New Members, for examination and report. In the course of the consultations, differing views were expressed concerning the criteria for membership set out in the Charter, and on the question of the recognition of a Palestinian State. Some Members felt that such recognition should not be subject to the outcome of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, while others felt that the two-State solution through a negotiated settlement was the only option for a long-term sustainable peace.
On 28 September, the Council held a public meeting on the application, in which it decided to refer the application to the Committee on the Admission of New Members for examination and report.
During the month of November, the Committee on the Admission of New Members held two private meetings to discuss the application. At the first meeting, on 3 November, delegations expressed their views on the application, on the basis of which the Chair of the Committee prepared a report which was adopted by consensus on 11 November (S/2011/705). Owing to differing views and lack of unanimity on the issue, the Committee’s report did not include any recommendation on the Palestinian application. The report is before the Security Council.
Activities relating to all questions considered by the Security Council under its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security
Meetings of the Security Council held during the period from 1 August 2011 to 31 July 2012