October 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 September 2020
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MIDDLE EAST

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question  

Expected Council Action 

In October, the Security Council will hold the quarterly debate on “The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process NickolayMladenov is expected to brief. 

Key Recent Developments 

Through a 13 August agreement by Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the US, Israel and the UAE established the full normalisation of diplomatic relations in exchange for an Israeli commitment to forgo plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Israel had previously indicated its intention to annex parts of the West Bank “as early as 1 July”. On 11 September, Bahrain, Israel and the US issued a joint statement declaring the normalisation of relations between Bahrain and Israel. Bahrain and the UAE formalised their establishment of full diplomatic relations with Israel at a 15 September signing ceremony at the White House. Among the Arab countries, Israel also has full diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan, established in 1979 and 1994, respectively.  

Hostilities continue to be reported between Gaza militants and Israel. During the signing ceremony on 15 September, two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel. One landed in Ashdod, a coastal town west of Jerusalem, injuring two people, while the other rocket was reportedly intercepted. On the following day, 13 missiles were fired into Israel, with five reportedly intercepted by Israel’s defence system; the Israeli military responded with air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.   

The Palestinian Authority has been critical of the agreements between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. Following the signing ceremony, Palestinian President  Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement declaring that there would not be peace in the region “as long as the United States and Israel as an occupying entity do not recognize the rights of the Palestinian people to establish their state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and resolving the refugee issue.   

On 25 August, Mladenov briefed Council members in an open videoconference (VTC), followed by a closed VTC, on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Mladenov said that the Secretary-General had welcomed the normalisation of relations between Israel and the UAE. He added that he hoped that the suspension of Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank would provide an opportunity for the parties to reengage in meaningful negotiations. Mladenov reiterated that annexation would violate international law and strike a deadly blow to the chances of a two-state solution.   

On 4 September, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) launched a $94.6 million appeal to address the impact of COVID-19 on Palestinian refugees in the region through the end of 2020. The press release announcing the appeal said it had “a special focus on health, cash assistance and education” while expressing concern that “COVID-19 cases have worryingly surged in the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria, with more recent increases in Jordan and the first instances of local transmission in Gaza recorded in late August”.    

The demolition of homes in the occupied Palestinian territories continues. According to a 22 August article in the Israeli media outlet Haaretz, 89 residential units had been demolished in East Jerusalem in 2020; in 2019, 104 homes were destroyed in that part of the city. In his 18 June report on the implementation of resolution 2334, the Secretary-General expressed deep concern at “the continued demolitions and seizures of Palestinian structures in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem”. He urged Israel to “cease demolitions and seizures of Palestinian property and to allow Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to develop their communities, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law”. 

Council members held a briefing, followed by consultations, on “The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question” on 29 September. During the briefing, Special Coordinator Mladenov expressed concern about rising rates of COVID-19 in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, as well as the high incidence of demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank this year. He also noted that UNRWA has a $200 million deficit in its core progamme budget for the remainder of 2020. Mladenov further expressed encouragement at recent Fatah-Hamas efforts to promote Palestinian unity—including their call “for long-awaited national presidential and legislative elections”—and maintained that “[e]lections and legitimate democratic institutions are critical to uniting Gaza and the West Bank under a single national authority vital to upholding the prospect of a negotiated two-State solution.” 

Human Rights-Related Developments 

Addressing the Human Rights Council (HRC) at the opening of its 45th session on 14 September, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the “escalating tragedy in Gaza is of particular concern”. Bachelet spoke about the land and sea blockade, which has been imposed by Israel for 13 years and has brought Gaza’s main economic and commercial activities to a complete stop. As a result, she said, “more than 38 percent of Gazans live in poverty; 50 percent are unemployed; and more than 90 percent of the water from aquifers is undrinkable”. An August decision banning the entry of fuel into Gaza has led to greater suffering and humanitarian burdens. Bachelet stressed that Gaza is currently experiencing sharply rising cases of COVID-19 with the health sector facing total collapse unless the blockade is lifted. She underscored that the blockade “contravenes international law” and “has conclusively failed to deliver security or peace for Israelis and Palestinians”. 

Key Issues and Options 

A key issue for the Council is what role it can play in resurrecting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, given the widespread rejection of the US peace proposal earlier this year, including by the Palestinians. One option that has been proposed by a number of Council members—and could be further explored this month—has been to revitalise the Middle East Quartet, which consists of the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US. A related option would be to expand the Quartet as a forum for negotiations by allowing other states in the region to participate in a mediating capacity. Council members could also discuss the proposal made by President Abbas during his 25 September statement to the UN General Assembly for an international peace conference in early 2021 that would include the involvement of “all concerned parties”.  

Given the ongoing humanitarian needs facing Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and elsewhere—which are being exacerbated by the coronavirus—members may choose to appeal for enhanced financial support for UNRWA.   

Council and Wider Dynamics 

As part of the agreement to normalise relations with the UAE, Israel committed to suspending its plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Several Council members have emphasised that this commitment should be permanent: that is, plans for annexation should be halted for good and not just suspended temporarily. Other widespread views in the Council—and among the UN membership more broadly—are that settlement construction is a violation of international law, that occupation should end, and that the parties should pursue a two-state solution, based on the pre-June 1967 borders, with land swaps agreed mutually by the parties.   

While the difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza has been a feature of these meetings for several years, there are growing concerns in the Council about the economic and humanitarian impact of the spread of COVID-19 in Gaza and the West Bank.   

The US consistently emphasises the threat posed by Iran to peace and security in the Middle East and may do so again in October. 

Security Council Resolutions
23 December 2016S/RES/2334 This was a resolution that condemned Israeli settlements and was adopted with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention.
Secretary-General’s Reports
18 June 2020S/2020/555 One of the reports on the implementation of resolution 2334.