On 23 July 2015, the Council held its quarterly open debate on the Middle East, with a focus on the situation in Israel/Palestine. New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, held the presidency. This July marked one year since the most recent round of conflict between Palestinian armed groups and Israeli forces, and the launch of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, from 7 July to 26 August 2014, which resulted in the worst escalation of hostilities in Gaza since 1967. The Council must consider how to best move forward on a two-state solution in light of the April 2014 breakdown of US-brokered negotiations. Other key issues include Israel's settlement expansion of the West Bank; the reconstruction of Gaza; alleged war crimes committed in Gaza by both sides to the conflict, which must be investigated with measures that ensure accountability by perpetrators.
Some options for the Council include adopting a resolution that outlines parameters for a final status agreement or exploring other Council outcomes that could help advance the peace process for a negotiated settlement.
The continuous conflicts in the Middle East have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, both domestically and in conflict settings. The Council must show dedication to gender mainstreaming within sanction regimes, throughout monitoring mechanisms, humanitarian programming and in DDR initiatives. The Council must also show commitment to increasing women’s participation in both conflict prevention and in peace processes.
Given that no political solution is seen in the horizon, the need for a gendered perspective of armed conflict is more essential than ever. Women in Syria are a direct target to the violence of all parties. Sexual violence, in particular, is used as a tool to terrorize activists. Furthermore, in refugee camps, reports have indicated sexual exploitation of women in exchange of humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately, references to the impact of conflict in the Middle East on women remained almost nonexistent, with only one reference made by the United States on the killing of women by ISIS. Iceland, on the contrary, directly spoke to the disproportionate impact of the conflict in Palestine on women; ensuring equal participation of women as key to durable peace and reconciliation. It also stressed the need for inclusion of women in the peace process in response to their noticeable absence.
The Middle East has been plagued with conflicts, posing economic, social, and political challenges to its peoples. The conflict in Palestine and Israel is one of the oldest conflicts, entering its 65th anniversary. In addition, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 together with the war in Syria and Yemen pose a real threat, both on the national and regional levels. With hundreds of thousands killed, millions internally and externally displaced, and the rise of extremism, the need for a clear framework in order to find political solutions and put an end to the scourge of wars in extremely urgent.
This debate is a continuation of the previous open debates on the Middle East, where the same concerns and statements have been raised with regards to the two-state solution and urgency of providing humanitarian assistance. Similarly, the statements on Syria reiterated previous calls on the need for a negotiated political solution to end the suffering of the Syrian people and hold accountable all parties responsible for inflicting violence on civilians. There is also an increased stress on the concerns over the spread of extremism in the region, jeopardizing any ray of hope for a future sustainable peace.