The United Nations Security Council Arria Formula Meeting titled “Prospects for the Two-State Solution for Peace” was convened on 22 February 2018, by Kuwait, Bolivia, France and Sweden. The meeting was framed as an opportunity for a comprehensive assessment of the impact and implementation of Resolution 2334 (2016) one year later, and of overall prospects for peace. Condemning illegal settlements and the increased politicisation of humanitarian aid, the speakers agreed that these developments, coupled with the lack of access to human rights, constitute the key challenges for peace and development in the region.
All speakers expressed their concerns about settlement expansion that confiscates Palestinian land. Even though Resolution 2334 (2016) demands Israel to immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, there has been a notable increase in these activities. In turn, this action constitutes the main obstacle to peace by fuelling tensions between Palestinians and settlers, which often turn violent. Noting Israel’s unlawful activities as a key obstacle in achieving a two-state solution and sustainable peace in the region, speakers highlighted that that these settlements have no legal validity and demanded Israel to put an end to settlement expansion and commit to a political solution.
Rights for Development and Peace:
Settlement activities significantly restricts the rights of Palestinian people. The immediate consequences of settlement activities include: psychological trauma, loss of economic livelihood, food insecurity, lack of access to quality healthcare, restrictions on the freedom of movement, disruption in education and violations of other human rights. Speaking on behalf of former US President Jimmy Carter, Richard Murphy linked violations of human rights to the root causes of instability and violence, spotlighting the need to strengthen human rights analysis of conflict. Meanwhile, the Netherlands, Kazakhstan and Poland, proposed strengthening economic institutions, infrastructure and access to human rights by all Palestinians as viable options for conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
The Status of Jerusalem and a Two-State Solution:
Several speakers noted that the security situation in Jerusalem and the West Bank has worsened after the US Administration’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This has further worsened the security situation, fuelling a series of violent clashes in Jerusalem and the West Bank. However, Former UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, stated that excluding the status of Jerusalem from the conversation is not an effective way to achieve peace. For the process to move forward, the “Jerusalem issue” needs to be addressed and the solution must be found. Mr. Serry also suggested for Jerusalem to be the capital of both states under reasonable sharing arrangements.
Increased politicisation of humanitarian aid has also received strong attention. The speakers reiterated that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) funding provides vital services for refugees. Karen AbuZayd, UN Special Adviser on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants, also suggested that the cuts on the UNRWA funding would not only decrease people’s access to education, health, employment and food, but also increase further risks of instability. According to the speakers, growing humanitarian challenges coupled with the absence of a political solution may cause Gaza to become unlivable by 2020 and may bring the situation in Palestine to “the point of no return”.
The Capacity of the Palestinian Authorities to Take Ownership:
Speakers challenged the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to deliver services to their own people. Mr. Serry emphasised the onus on the Palestinian Authority to address issues in Gaza. He stated that the Palestinian Authority Security Forces are to maintain effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror, confiscating illegal weapons and dismantling terrorist capabilities. Amongst other obligations in the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism (GRM), the Palestinian Authority should lead reconstruction efforts, facilitate the Gazan private sector and ensure investments without delay. However, although three years have passed since this tripartite agreement between the Palestinian Authority, Israeli government and the UN, Gazans continue to lack basic necessities and proper living conditions.
Speakers also called for greater compliance with international law obligation by all parties. According to the representative of Kuwait, the Security Council should take appropriate action to uphold international law and secure justice. He pointed out Israel’s failure to implement various UNSC Resolutions, which has caused many civilians to continue suffering from violations of international law with no accountability. Other speakers pointed out the inability of the Palestinian Authority to find a compromise within their own people, which often contributes to violence and instability in the region. Speakers called for immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence, provocation and destruction against civilians, including acts of terror.
Even though the meeting touched on very important points regarding the situation in the Middle East, including the impact of settlements activities, human rights violations and humanitarian situation on the prospects of peace, there are several missed opportunities that are often overlooked by the Council and impact opportunities for political solution, including due to the lack of gender-sensitive conflict analysis, inclusive decision-making and disarmament perspective.
Shrinking Civil Society Space:
Civil society space is increasingly shrinking, and human rights defenders face numerous risks. Women human rights defenders are frequently targeted and have suffered gravely from disproportionate attacks. Specifically, women activists and journalists have been subjected to night raids, arrests and punitive measures. Following last year’s agreement between Facebook and Israel to combat “Incitement against Israel”, the prosecution and conviction of women activists and journalists has increased dramatically. These attacks and injustices prevent the feminist movement from mobilising and significantly affect opportunities for change.
Although women’s participation was briefly referenced by three speakers (Peru, Sweden and the UK), only general references were made, without any mention of who are the women who should be included in the process and what measures should be in place to ensure that these women are meaningfully engaged. For example, absent from discussions was the provision of adequate financial and technical resources for women and civil society groups in order to meaningfully support their advocacy, monitoring and on-the-ground work.
In the same regard, speakers missed the opportunity to acknowledge the importance of women’s and civil society participation in conflict prevention, resolution and management processes. In particular, no mention was made as to the importance of their participation in the coming international peace conference initiated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. To date, the peace conference, to be held by mid-2018, is planned to only include representatives from Israel and Palestine, Permanent Members of the Security Council, as well as the Middle East Quartet.
Militarised logic normalises and legitimises gender inequality and military action. It relies on gendered and racial understandings to value things associated with the military and devalue things associated with non-violence. In doing so, militarism enables the legitimisation and continuation of violence, which has had a different impact on women due to structural discrimination and inequality, paired with gender-specific violence, such as torture, sexual and gender-based violence, among others. Military occupation of Palestine, surges of violence and lack of accountability, coupled with increased politicisation of humanitarian assistance, have disastrous gendered impact, including hindered women’s empowerment and participation in decision-making, strengthened gendered norms, further instability and limited avenues for building long-lasting and sustainable peace.