The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question
Expected Council Action
The Security Council expects to hold its quarterly open debate, likely via videoconference, on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question” in April. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland is expected to brief.
Key Recent Developments
On 11 March, the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany, and Jordan met in Paris with Special Coordinator Wennesland and the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Susanna Terstal, to discuss ways to advance the Middle East peace process. The foreign ministers released a statement in which they underscored that “progressive and mutual confidence-building measures based on a step-by-step approach will help restore dialogue between the parties, paving the way for a genuine peace process that should resume as soon as possible”. They also emphasised their support for the two-state solution and concurred that the “building and expansion of settlements as well as confiscation of Palestinian structures and properties are a violation of international law and undermine the viability of the two-state solution”.
A virtual meeting of the envoys to the Middle East Quartet—which consists of the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US—was held on 23 March. Following the meeting, the Quartet members issued a statement calling for a return to meaningful negotiations leading to a two-state solution. They also indicated that they had discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and emphasised “the need for the parties to refrain from unilateral actions that make a two–state solution more difficult to achieve”.
The COVID-19 virus remains a significant challenge in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In February, active COVID-19 cases declined in Gaza, but they increased dramatically in the West Bank, according to OCHA. At the time of writing, over 2,500 people had died from COVID-19 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since the start of the pandemic. On 21 March, the Palestinians—who have been receiving vaccines from the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility and some UN member states—began their national vaccination campaign in Gaza and the West Bank.
From 1 January to 17 March, 290 Palestinian structures were demolished, displacing 443 people, according to OCHA. At the current pace, demolitions and resulting displacements will surpass last year’s numbers (851 structures demolished, displacing 1,001 people).
Following a preliminary examination of almost five years, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced on 3 March that the Court is launching a formal investigation into alleged war crimes committed in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 13 June 2014. (This was the date used by the Palestinian Authority when it referred the situation to the ICC in 2015.) The Palestinian Authority and the militant group Hamas welcomed the decision, which was strongly criticised by Israel and the United States. On 21 March, Israel rescinded Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki’s travel permit—which allows him to move freely across borders separating the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel and Jordan—following his meeting with ICC Prosecutor Bensouda on 18 March in the Hague to discuss the Court’s investigation.
Palestinian legislative and presidential elections are scheduled for 22 May and 31 July, respectively. The Palestinian Central Elections Commission closed the voter registration process on 23 February. An estimated 93 percent of eligible Palestinian voters have registered for the polls. On 16-17 March, Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions met in Cairo to discuss electoral preparations. During the meeting, the Palestinian factions resolved to hold the elections in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a fair and transparent manner.
The Council held its monthly meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question, on 25 March. In his briefing, Special Coordinator Wennesland expressed deep concern with the expansion of Israeli settlements and urged Israel to “cease the advancement of all settlement activity immediately”. He further indicated that the UN would “continue to support the Palestinian people, including through facilitating and supporting [electoral] preparations”.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is what role it can play in reinvigorating the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. The Trump administration had presented a peace plan that was widely rejected by Council members. With the change in US administration, there may be greater potential for considering a new approach. Several formats have been discussed in the Council as options for advancing the peace process, such as the Quartet, an expanded Quartet that includes key member states in the Middle East, and an international peace conference. The Council could consider requesting a special report from the Secretary-General outlining the viability of these different formats, how to integrate them into a coherent mediation effort and how to build trust and confidence between the parties.
Another key issue is how the Council, and the UN more broadly, can best support the preparations and holding of the Palestinian elections planned for later this year. Council members could consider an informal interactive dialogue with representatives of the Palestinian Authority to get their views on how the UN can best support the electoral process. (An informal interactive dialogue is an informal closed meeting that Council members hold with one or more non-Council member state or states, regional organisations or other invited speakers to exchange views on situations that concern them directly.)
The widespread position in the Security Council—and among the UN membership more broadly—is that settlement construction is a violation of international law, that the occupation of the Palestinian territories should end and that the resolution to the conflict should be centred on a two-state solution, based on the pre-June 1967 borders, with land swaps agreed mutually by the parties.
The administration of US President Joe Biden, who took office on 20 January, has pledged to restore US support for humanitarian assistance and economic development programmes for the Palestinians, which had been cut by the previous US administration. The Biden administration has also expressed its commitment to the two-state solution, although it has expressed its concern with what it views as anti-Israel bias in the UN.
In recent months, several Council members have underscored the need for enhanced cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Some members have also urged Israel to provide enhanced vaccine access to the Palestinians.
There have also been calls by several Council members to revitalise the peace process. In this regard, a number of members are encouraged by recent efforts to reinvigorate the Middle East Quartet.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE MIDDLE EAST, INCLUDING THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION
|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.|
|Security Council Letters|
|28 January 2021S/2021/91||This was a record of the quarterly debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”.|