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Update Report No. 1: Israel/Palestine

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Expected Council Action
On Tuesday, 26 July the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, will brief the Council. The Council will then hold its regular quarterly open debate on the Middle East. 

The stalemated Israel/Palestine peace process is expected to be the focus of discussion against the backdrop of the failure of the Quartet, again, at its 11 July meeting in Washington DC to reach an agreement and heightened expectations of developments in the General Assembly in September.

At press time, it seemed likely that Serry would report that negotiations were still to materialise and that no other credible initiatives were on the horizon.

The report of the Panel of Inquiry into the 31 May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, originally expected in February, is now completed but formal transmission to the Secretary-General has been delayed to permit a short period of bilateral negotiations. 

Key Recent Developments
Members of the Middle East Quartet (the EU, Russia, the UN and US) met in Washington DC on 11 July in an effort to deliver results which might restart the peace process. However, the Quartet was unable to agree to a statement despite some expectations during the lead-up to the meeting that progress may be at hand.

There seemed to be strong interest by all Quartet members for the meeting to reach some agreement that built on US President Barak Obama's 19 May speech as a way forward to restart Israeli/Palestinian negotiations. (On 20 May the Quartet had issued a statement voicing strong support for Obama's speech.) In particular there seemed to be interest in the Quartet endorsing some wider parameters for negotiations based on the principle that the 1967 borders should be a starting point, together with clearer language on other final status issues such as refugees, Jerusalem, security arrangements and settlements. (Previous Quartet meetings in April and March had also hoped to address such parameters but the meetings were cancelled when it became clear that the members would be unable to reach consensus.)

On 11 July an American draft was presented to other Quartet members. However, it seems that the draft did not reflect the 19 May speech as closely as the other Quartet members had hoped. It included elements such as:

  • a call on both parties to resume direct negotiations without preconditions;
  • the two state solution formally identifying Israel as a Jewish state;
  • recognition that peace cannot be achieved through decisions by the UN or through permanent occupation;
  • no country can negotiate with a terrorist organisation sworn to its destruction (this appears to be a reference to Hamas with which the Palestinian Authority had in principle reached a reconciliation agreement in May but a unity government still seems far away);
  • territorial negotiations should be based on the 1967 lines but take into account new demographic realities which have taken place over the last 44 years (this appears to be a reference to settlements);
  • robust security arrangements and a phased withdrawal of Israeli forces (this appears to be a reference to a presence of Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley); and
  • deferral of the issues of refugees and the status of Jerusalem to a later stage.

It seems that other Quartet members found the American draft would not provide sufficient impetus to restart negotiations. Referring to 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations was weakened by omitting the notion of agreed land swaps and by the very broad reference to new demographic realities, i.e. settlements. This seems to have been a major issue but other aspects also seem to have been contentious as well.

On 14 July an Arab League committee met in Doha and was briefed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It was agreed that efforts should now focus on recognition of a Palestinian state in the General Assembly and the Security Council. The wording of this statement appears to be broad enough to cover both a formal application for full UN membership—which would require a Security Council resolution—or an alternate strategy in the General Assembly—perhaps a General Assembly resolution to elevate Palestine's observer status which is currently sui generis to that of a non-member observer state—or conceivably even both, i.e. apply for formal membership first in the Security Council and if that fails pursue the General Assembly strategy.

The Doha statement by the Arab League committee also addressed continued Palestinian diplomatic and institution-building initiatives for recognition of a Palestinian state by September 2011. (This timetable has its origins in Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's state-building project launched in August 2009 and was encouraged by President Obama's General Assembly address in 2010.) It seems that close to two-thirds of UN member states have now recognised Palestine.   (As of July 2011, 122 states recognised Palestine. With the admission of South Sudan as a UN member on 14 July, a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly is now 129.)

Regarding Gaza, the Secretary-General's Panel of Inquiry into the 31 May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident concluded its work, including the examination of the national reports of Turkey and Israel in early July. It seems Turkey and Israel did not agree to a consensus document. However, before exercising the powers under the Panel's terms of reference to finalise conclusions and recommendations without the consent of Israel and Turkey, a final period of bilateral negotiations was allowed for. It seemed that the bilateral efforts had again failed to produce any results at press time. It was unclear how much more time will be allowed before the report is transmitted by the co-chairs to the Secretary-General.  (For further background on the Gaza flotilla incident and subsequent developments, please see Security Council Report's July, August and September 2010 and February 2011 Monthly Forecasts.)

The organisation of new flotillas this summer seems to have ended with Greek authorities banning ships from leaving its ports on 2 July and the interception of a ship on 19 July by the Israeli navy without incident.

The situation in Gaza remains serious. On 2 July the Quartet noted that considerably more needs to be done to increase the flow of goods and people to and from Gaza. Early July has also seen an increase in exchange of rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes. Further, the 8 June opening of Gaza's border with Egypt via Rafah has not resulted in any discernable alleviation of the blockade as crossing is only open to limited numbers of people and does not seem to include the flow of goods into the territory.

242 of 1967 and 338 of 1973. 

Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel was formalised in an exchange of letters between PLO head Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the lead-up to the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993, thereby giving greater specificity to the territorial scope of Palestine, with the Oslo peace process meant to agree on exact boundaries.

3237 (XXIX) approved the PLO (then seen as a national liberation movement) as an observer.

In December 1988, shortly after the proclamation of the state of Palestine, the General Assembly in resolution 43/177 acknowledged "the proclamation of the State of Palestine" and decided "that the designation ‘Palestine'" should be used in place of the PLO without prejudice to the observer status and functions of the PLO "in conformity with relevant UN resolutions and practice". The resolution came close to an acknowledgement that Palestine was a state, but stopped short of that and in effect maintained Palestine in the non-state observer category.

In July 1998 the General Assembly, in resolution 52/250, enhanced the participation privileges of Palestine in the UN system by defining better treatment for Palestine in terms of making proposals and seating. But again this resolution contained language which made it clear that Palestine was still being accorded a lesser status than a state. In effect the resolution elevated Palestine to a new sui generis observer status, still less than a state but higher than all other observers.

The General Assembly could change the status of Palestine at the UN from its current sui generis observer status to that of a non-member state observer.

338 of 1973).

Commitment of the Security Council
The Security Council will support an active negotiating process (20 December 1990 presidential statement S/22027 and S/PV.2970).


  •  All relevant parties should participate (20 December 1990 presidential statement S/22027 and S/PV.2970).
  • The process should be comprehensive and take into account the security interests of all states in the region (20 December 1990 presidential statement S/22027 and S/PV.2970) and a comprehensive peace must involve the Israel/Syria and Israel/Lebanon tracks (resolution 1515 of 2003).

Outcome should involve two independent states

  • The vision should include two states—Israel and Palestine (resolution 1397 of 2002 and resolution 1515 of 2003).
  • The Council called on the parties to achieve this vision (resolution 1515 of 2003).

Multilateral recognition of every state in the region
The sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the region should be acknowledged (resolution 242 of 1967).

Military security

  • All belligerency should cease (resolution 242  of 1967).
  • The right of every state in the region to live in peace within secure and recognised borders and free from threats or acts of force should be recognised (resolution 242  of 1967 and resolution 1397 of 2002).
  • All terrorist acts against any civilians are condemned (resolution 1435 of 2002).
  • Infrastructure responsible for terrorism should be dismantled (resolution 1544 of 2004, this is also a feature of resolution 1515 in 2003).
  • Those responsible for terrorist acts should be brought to justice (resolution 1435 of 2002).

Normalisation of adjacent coastal areas
Freedom of navigation in international waterways in the area should be recognised (resolution 242 of 1967).

Refugees and Displaced Persons

  • The refugee situation should be addressed in a just settlement (resolution 242 of 1967).
  • Displaced persons return should be facilitated (resolution 237  of 1967).

Cessation of Occupation

  • Unilateral incorporation of occupied territory is inadmissible (resolution 242 of 1967 and many subsequent resolutions).
  • Military forces should be withdrawn from occupied territories (resolution 242 of 1967).

Security Guarantees
Guarantees should be put in place for the territorial inviolability and political independence of every state in the area (resolution 242 of 1967).

Settlements in occupied territories have no legal validity (resolution 446 of 1979 and many subsequent resolutions in the 1980s).

Status of Jerusalem
The legal status, geography and demography of Jerusalem cannot unilaterally be validly altered (resolution 446 of 1979).

S/RES/1860 (8 January 2009) called for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and unimpeded humanitarian assistance.

  • S/RES/1850 (16 December 2008) declared Council support for the Annapolis peace process and its commitment to the irreversibility of bilateral negotiations.
  • S/RES/338 (22 October 1973) called for a ceasefire and the comprehensive implementation of resolution 242.
  • S/RES/242 (22 November 1967) was a British sponsored compromise calling on all parties to end territorial claims, respect sovereignty, and for Israel to withdraw from occupied territories.
  • Security Council Presidential Statement

    • S/PRST/2010/9 (1 June 2010) called for an impartial investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident and stressed that the situation in Gaza was not sustainable.

    Security Council Press Statement

    • SC/10001 (3 August 2010) welcomed the establishment by the Secretary-General of his Panel of Inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident.

    Security Council Letters

    • S/2011/430 (14 July 2011) was from Israel regarding rocket fire and mortars from Gaza.
    • S/2011/414 (6 July 2011) was from Palestine regarding the Israeli blockade and airstrikes in Gaza.
    • S/2010/414 (2 August 2010) was on the establishment of the Secretary-General's Panel of Inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident.

    Security Council Meeting Record

    • S/PV.6484 (18 February 2011) was the meeting record of the US veto of the draft resolution on settlements.
    • S/PV.6325 (31 May 2010) and S/PV.6326 (1 June 2010) were the Security Council meetings on the Gaza flotilla incident.

    Human Rights Council

    • A/HRC/17/L.1 (17 June 2011) called for the implementation of the independent international fact-finding mission's conclusions regarding the 31 May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident.


    • S/2011/24 (18 February 2011) was the draft resolution on settlements vetoed by the US. The other 14 Council members voted in favour.