The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question
Expected Council Action
In April, the Security Council expects to hold its quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland is expected to brief.
Key Recent Developments
The Security Council last held a meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” on 22 March. During the meeting, Wennesland provided an oral report on the implementation of resolution 2334. Adopted in 2016, the resolution states that Israel’s establishment of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), including East Jerusalem, “constitutes a flagrant violation under international law” and calls for immediate steps to prevent violence against civilians, including acts of terror.
The recent period has seen an overall deterioration of the security situation. During the 22 March meeting, Wennesland reported that between 10 December 2021 and 18 March, Israeli security forces killed 24 Palestinians (including four children) during clashes, protests, security operations, attacks and alleged attacks against Israelis, and other incidents, and injured 2,966 Palestinians. Palestinians killed one Israeli civilian and injured 100 Israelis (including a child) in clashes, attacks and other incidents.
According to media reports, an Israeli citizen of Bedouin descent with previous ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), carried out a stabbing and ramming attack on 22 March in the Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, resulting in four civilian deaths and at least two wounded. Wennesland strongly condemned the attack in a statement issued the same day. Noting that this was the seventh stabbing attack against Israelis in March, he said that these incidents “highlight the volatility of the situation and the urgent need for all leaders to work together against the spiral of violence”.
ISIL/Da’esh has reportedly claimed responsibility for the shooting deaths of two Israeli border officers in the Israeli city of Hadera on 27 March, which also resulted in the wounding of several people. One of the two perpetrators had attempted to enter Syria in 2016 to fight for ISIL. Several suspected revenge attacks against Palestinians were reported by the media in the hours following the Hadera attack, including a number of Palestinian vehicles burned in the West Bank village of Jalud. On 29 March, a Palestinian killed at least five people (a police officer and four civilians) in a shooting attack in the Bnei Brak suburb of Tel Aviv.
Recent violent incidents in which Palestinians were killed—such as the young Palestinian shot in the head at close range on 1 March after he ran away upon noticing Israeli soldiers searching for Palestinian stone-throwers, as reported in OCHA’s 11 March Protection of Civilians report—have generated concerns regarding the use of lethal force by Israeli security personnel. For instance, during the 22 March Council meeting, Ireland noted the continuation of incidents involving the use of excessive force by Israeli security forces and resulting in the killing and injuring of Palestinians, including children, and called for accountability. Echoing his previous calls, including an 8 March statement issued in response to the recent uptick in violent incidents, Wennesland said that security forces must reserve the use of lethal force for situations in which it is strictly unavoidable to protect life. Several Council members, including Kenya, also expressed concern about the fact that recent violent incidents have led to the deaths of minors and young people.
During the 22 March meeting, several Council members welcomed recent decisions by the Israeli authorities aimed at easing tensions, such as halting evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Nevertheless, some members also stressed the need for longer-term solutions, with France calling for a permanent halt to evictions and demolitions, particularly in East Jerusalem. Wennesland said that while resolution 2334 called on Israel to immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the oPt, including East Jerusalem, “no such steps were taken” during the reporting period. He provided an update on recent steps by Israeli authorities that advanced settlement activities, including the 28 February decision by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee to advance a plan for around 700 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev.
On 26 March, the second round of Palestinian local council elections was held in the West Bank. In a 21 March statement, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission condemned the arrests of several candidates by Israeli security forces and called for their immediate release. According to media reports, Israel suspects those taken into custody of terrorist activities. The first round of local elections was held in December 2021. (On 29 April 2021, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas indefinitely postponed Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections, originally scheduled for 22 May 2021 and 31 July 2021.)
On 26 March, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on the first stop of a scheduled five-day trip that included visits to the West Bank, Algeria and Morocco. On 27 March, Blinken met with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defence Minister Benny Gantz before heading to Ramallah for a meeting with Abbas. On 27 and 28 March, Israel hosted a diplomatic summit attended by Blinken and the foreign affairs ministers of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Egypt, and Morocco. At the 28 March press conference, which closed the meeting, Lapid announced that the summit would become an annual event. “This new architecture—the shared capabilities we are building—intimidates and deters our common enemies, first and foremost Iran and its proxies”, he said, according to a report by Israeli news outlet Haaretz.
On 28 March, King Abdullah II of Jordan travelled to Ramallah for a meeting with Abbas. Ahead of the meeting, the Palestinian news agency WAFA reported King Abdullah II as saying that “[t]he region cannot enjoy security and stability without a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue”. This comes after the 10 March meeting between Lapid and King Abdullah II in Amman.
In a 1 February report, Amnesty International called for accountability for the crime of apartheid, which the organisation accuses Israel of committing against Palestinians. According to the report, “Israel has imposed a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians” through laws, policies and practices aimed at preventing “Palestinians from claiming and enjoying equal rights to Jewish Israelis within Israel and the OPT”. While the Palestinian Authority welcomed Amnesty’s report, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a 31 January press release that the report “consolidates and recycles lies, inconsistencies, and unfounded assertions that originate from well-known anti-Israeli hate organizations”.
At the 23 February Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, no Council members used the term “apartheid”. However, Ireland expressed concern about “how the policies of the Israeli authorities impact the human rights of Palestinians”, in particular “the unequal treatment of Palestinians, the application of different standards in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel’s failure to ensure the protection and welfare of Palestinians living under its occupation”.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During its 49th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on 4 March on the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the oPt, including East Jerusalem (A/HRC/49/25). High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told the HRC that during the reporting period, from 1 November 2020 to 31 October 2021, the human rights situation in the oPt had further deteriorated. There was a significant increase in violence, including the largest escalation of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza since 2014, she said. Israeli forces killed 315 Palestinians and injured 17,597—an almost five-fold increase compared to the previous reporting period. Palestinians killed 14 Israelis and injured 824. During her briefing, Bachelet also noted that it had been 18 months since Israel ceased renewing visas for OHCHR staff working in the oPt.
On 24 March, the HRC considered the report of the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk (A/HRC/49/87). The report says that “the political system of entrenched rule in the occupied Palestinian territory which endows one racial-national-ethnic group with substantial rights, benefits and privileges while intentionally subjecting another group to live behind walls, checkpoints and under a permanent military rule […] satisfies the prevailing evidentiary standard for the existence of apartheid”. The Israeli Mission to the UN in Geneva rejected the report in a statement saying that it “recycles baseless and outrageous libels”. During its 49th session, the HRC also considered the High Commissioner’s report on the implementation of the provisions of HRC resolution 46/26, which includes updates on settlement activities that are illegal under international law and their impact on the human rights of Palestinians (A/HRC/49/85).
Key Issues and Options
The overarching key issue remains determining how the Council can support the resumption of negotiations between the parties to move towards a resolution of the underlying causes of the recurrent cycles of violence affecting Israel and the oPt and to achieve a two-state solution.
An immediate key issue is to ease tensions and avoid any action or provocation that may set off a new escalation of violence. In April, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish observance of Passover will overlap. Last year, clashes over restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on gatherings at the Damascus Gate Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem were a key factor contributing to the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza. At the 22 March meeting, several Council members, including China, Ireland, Norway, and the US, called for upholding the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem. The UAE underscored the gravity of violating the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
One option for the Council would be to issue a statement calling for Palestinian and Israeli political and religious leaders to work together to de-escalate tensions ahead of the overlapping holidays.
Council members’ views converge on the importance of avoiding an escalation of violence that could trigger a conflict, as occurred in May 2021. While members have regularly called for an end to settlement activities and expressed support for a two-state solution, a resumption of the peace process does not seem to be in sight. During the 23 February meeting, the US said that although it is prepared to support the parties once they are ready to move forward, “holding meetings for the sake of meetings is not going to help”. Other members, such as Ghana and India, have instead called for the resumption of direct negotiations between the parties. Norway has argued that talks should not focus exclusively on economic issues, as the objective “should be to discuss a political horizon and a return to negotiations for a two-State solution”.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE MIDDLE EAST, INCLUDING THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION
|Security Council Resolution|
|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 Meeting Records|
|22 March 2022S/PV.9000||This was the March monthly meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”.|
|23 February 2022S/PV.8973||This was the February monthly meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”.|