Expected Council Action
In October, the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate under the agenda item “the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, which will focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is expected to brief, most likely via video teleconference from Jerusalem. No outcome is anticipated.
Key Recent Developments
On 4 September, Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a petition to prevent the demolition of Khan al-Amar, a Bedouin village of 180 people in the West Bank. In a tweet the following day, Mladenov noted that the “UN has called on Israel to cease demolition of Palestinian property and efforts to relocate Bedouin communities in the West Bank”.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) filed a claim with the ICC on 11 September calling for an investigation of Israel’s activities with regard to Khan al-Amar. Saeb Erekat, a senior PLO official, said that the petition focused on “war crimes in Khan al-Amar”, including “forcible displacement, ethnic cleansing and the destruction of civilian property”.
Violent encounters have continued along the Gaza border fence with Israel. On 14 September, approximately 13,000 Palestinians demonstrated in multiple spots near the fence. Israeli forces said protesters threw explosives and rocks at them. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, three Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli forces during the protests. On 18 September, it was reported that two more Palestinians had been shot and killed by the Israeli military during protests near the Erez crossing in Gaza.
Since 30 March, over 180 Palestinians have died in violent encounters with Israeli forces along the fence separating Gaza from Israel, according to OCHA and the Gaza Ministry of Health. One Israeli has also been killed in these clashes. Israel has accused Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group, of directing the protests along the fence.
On 16 September, an Israeli settler was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian youth near the Kfar Etzion settlement on the West Bank. The youth was shot and wounded by the victim.
On 10 September, US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert issued a press statement announcing that the US was closing the PLO office in Washington, D.C., given that the PLO had “not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel” and had “condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise.” The press statement further noted that the decision was also “consistent with Administration and Congressional concerns with Palestinian attempts to prompt an investigation of Israel by the International Criminal Court.”
This move takes place in the midst of significant US aid cuts to services for Palestinians. On 31 August, the US announced that it would cut all funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). As its largest donor, the US had directed approximately $350 million per year to the agency. Also in late August, the US slashed approximately $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinian Authority. On 7 September, the US declared that it was redirecting $20 million allocated for hospitals in East Jerusalem to other prerogatives. Also in early September, the US Administration halted $10 million in funds expected to support Palestinian-Israeli cultural exchanges as part of the US Agency for International Development’s “Conflict Management and Mitigation Program”.
On 20 September, Mladenov briefed the Council during the monthly meeting on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine). This constituted the quarterly report on the implementation of resolution 2334, which demands an end to settlement activity and calls for the prevention of violence against civilians, including acts of terror. Mladenov said that in the preceding quarter no steps had been taken by Israel to cease settlement activity, which he described as a violation of international law and a hindrance to peace. He expressed concern about the continuing deterioration of the political, humanitarian, and security situation in Gaza. He also described the continuing violence along the fence separating Gaza and Israel. While criticising Hamas and other groups for firing rockets into Israel, he expressed concern at the continued use of live fire by Israel.
Key Issues and Options
The key underlying issue is what role the Council can play in mitigating the heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, reflected by the violence along the Gaza border fence, the exchange of fire between Gaza and Israel, the continued settlement activity, the planned demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, and the unhelpful rhetoric from the parties. The two failed draft resolutions on Israel/Palestine tabled on 1 June—the vetoed Kuwaiti draft and the US draft which received only one affirmative vote (from the US itself)—reflect this long-standing gridlock. Since these documents, as well as several failed press statements on this issue in recent months, were proposed by either Kuwait or the US—which hold strongly contrasting views on Israel/Palestine—one possible option is for other members to take the lead in drafting outcomes, perhaps contributing to a perception that initial versions of drafts may serve as a more balanced, objective basis for negotiation.
Another key issue is the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the impact it could have in exacerbating the political and security situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel. Given recent US cuts in aid to a variety of institutions serving the Palestinian population, Council members could use the public briefing as an opportunity to commend those who have enhanced their support for humanitarian and development projects supporting Palestinians and to advocate for enhanced financial support for such programs.
A further key issue is the importance of promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation. In this regard, the Council could consider pursuing a presidential statement that provides political support for international efforts to foster this reconciliation.
There is a stark and growing contrast between the views of the US and other members on this issue. Although the US has traditionally demonstrated strong support for Israel, its policies have become increasingly partial toward the interests of the current government in Jerusalem. In this regard, the US has placed the blame for the violence along the Gaza fence in recent months entirely on Hamas, moved its embassy to Jerusalem in May, and, as noted above, has withdrawn its funding for UNRWA. In contrast, several other members have questioned whether Israel has used disproportionate force in Gaza, view Jerusalem’s final status as a matter to be negotiated by the parties, and emphasised that UNRWA’s work is critical to efforts to maintaining stability in Gaza and elsewhere.
At the 20 September briefing, several members—Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, and Sweden—reiterated their desire to receive written reports in advance of the quarterly briefing on the implementation of resolution 2334. With the exception of the written report produced in June—which was a focus of a public briefing—these reports have only been conveyed orally.
UN Documents on Israel/Palestine
|Security Council Resolutions|
|23 December 2016 S/RES/2334||This was a resolution that condemned Israeli settlements and was adopted with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention.|
|14 May 2018 S/2018/454||This was a letter from 10 members of the Council requesting the Secretary-General’s quarterly report on Israel/Palestine to be provided in written form, rather than orally.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|20 September 2018 S/PV.8358||This was a briefing by Mladenov on the implementation of resolution 2334.|
|22 August 2018 S/PV.8329||This was a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.|
|19 June 2018 S/PV.8289||This was a briefing by Mladenov.|