The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question
Expected Council Action
In October, 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
Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the 77th UN General Assembly (UNGA) high-level segment on 22 and 23 September, respectively.
In line with the position he had expressed during US President Joe Biden’s July visit to Israel and the West Bank, Lapid reiterated his support for the two-state solution. He added, however, that this is conditional on the future Palestinian state not becoming “another terror base from which to threaten the well-being and the very existence of Israel” and on Israel having the ability to protect the security of its citizens at all times. He also said that Israel is ready to lift the restrictions on Gaza and build its economy, provided that the firing of rockets and missiles ends, among other conditions.
Abbas said that Israel “has undermined the Oslo Accords” and, through its policies, is “destroying the two-state solution”, adding that “Israel is enacting racist laws consecrating the apartheid regime”. Abbas said that, although the US and several European states have called for the two-state solution and recognised Israel, they have not recognised the State of Palestine, and reiterated his request for full UN membership. While Abbas said that Lapid’s reference to the two-state solution was a positive development, he stressed that the true test for the credibility of this stance would be for Israel to go back to negotiations immediately and to end all unilateral actions that are undermining the two-state solution.
While in New York, Abbas and Lapid both met with Secretary-General António Guterres and King Abdullah II of Jordan but did not meet each other. Lapid met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which marked the first meeting in 14 years between a prime minister of Israel and the Turkish president. Lapid also met with UK Prime Minister Liz Truss who, according to a Downing Street statement, informed Lapid of “her review of the current location of the British Embassy in Israel”. (The embassy is located in Tel Aviv.) The announcement was met with consternation by Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot, who wrote on Twitter that any move of the embassy “would be a blatant violation of international law”, undermine the two-state solution, and enflame “an already volatile situation”. (In a highly controversial move, former US President Donald Trump moved the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018.)
The Security Council last held a meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” on 28 September. Wennesland provided an oral report on the implementation of resolution 2334, which was adopted in 2016. Wennesland said that during the reporting period (17 June-20 September), settlement activities continued and called on Israel to immediately cease such activities. The deteriorating security situation in the West Bank was another focus of the meeting. Wennesland said that “the high number of Palestinians killed and injured by Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, remains deeply troubling, particularly reports that some did not appear to pose threats” and stressed that Israeli security forces must use lethal force only when unavoidable. Wennesland also condemned “all acts of terrorism against civilians, including the 14 August attack targeting Jewish worshippers near Jerusalem’s Old City”. He commended Lapid’s reaffirmation of commitment to the two-state solution and acknowledged Abbas’ “continued commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict”.
The Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) met at ministerial level on the sidelines of the UNGA high-level segment on 22 September. The report prepared for the AHLC meeting by the UN Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) identified four strategic elements that, “if implemented, would maintain the viability of the two-State solution” until formal negotiations restart. Among other steps, these elements include addressing the conflict’s drivers, strengthening Palestinian institutions, and creating space for the Palestinian economy to grow. At the same time, the report said that only the end of the occupation and the attainment of two states “will lead to Palestinians achieving their full socioeconomic development potential and their legitimate national aspirations”. (The AHLC is a 15-member committee that coordinates development assistance to the Palestinian people at policy level and is chaired by Council member Norway.)
Parliamentary elections in Israel are expected to take place on 1 November after the governing collation co-headed by Lapid and former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett decided to dissolve the Knesset in June. (For background, see our July Forecast.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
In her 12 September global update statement to open the 51st session of the Human Rights Council, acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al-Nashif stressed the “disturbing increase in the number of Palestinians, including children, killed and injured by Israeli forces” in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) and the “widespread use of live ammunition in law enforcement operations in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem”. Among other issues, Al-Nashif noted the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)’s investigation of the 11 May killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and the injuring of her colleague Ali Sammoudi and called “for a criminal investigation compliant with international law standards”. On 5 September, the IDF investigation concluded that while “there is a high possibility” that Abu Akleh was “accidentally hit” by IDF gunfire, “there is no suspicion of a criminal offense that justifies the opening of a Military Police investigation”. On 20 September, members of Abu Akleh’s family submitted a complaint to the International Criminal Court containing the results of an investigation into the killing conducted by research agency Forensic Architecture and Palestinian NGO al-Haq, which concluded that “Shireen and her fellow journalists were deliberately and repeatedly targeted, with an aim to kill”.
Women, Peace and Security
On 24 June, the Informal Experts Group (IEG) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) held its first meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Wennesland briefed. According to the meeting’s summary released in July, several members asked for more gender analysis in UN reports to the Security Council. As the IEG Secretariat, UN Women made several recommendations, including providing flexible funding for women’s rights organisations and ensuring “that funding remains accessible in an increasingly restricted civic space”. UN Women also recommended that the IEG co-chairs (Ireland and Mexico) and other members include WPS references in their statements during Council meetings on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” and request the inclusion of a gender analysis in briefings by UN officials. Another recommendation was to advocate for the prompt “investigation and prosecution of violations against women and girls” by state and non-state actors in the oPt and at checkpoints.
Key Issues and Options
The main issue for the Security Council remains finding ways to support the resumption of political negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis to move towards a resolution of the conflict and achieve a two-state solution. However, concrete steps towards this objective have been absent. Other ongoing issues include avoiding new escalations of violence (such as in the increasingly volatile West Bank), the expansion of Israeli settlements, and other developments that undermine the viability of a two-state solution.
During the 25 August meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, several members raised concerns regarding the situation of the six Palestinian NGOs that Israel designated as terrorist organisations in 2021. (For background, see our 7 November 2021 and 24 August “What’s in Blue” stories.) France, Ireland and Norway said that the evidence provided by Israel for the designation was insufficient. Ireland expressed “serious concerns about the misuse of counter-terror legislation to reduce civil-society space” in the oPt. An option would be to convene an Arria-formula meeting on the effects of using counter-terror measures to close civil society space in the oPt and other contexts. Members could invite as a briefer Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
A more substantive and consistent integration of a gender analysis in UN reporting and in the regular monthly discussions on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” is an issue of interest for some Council members. The IEG co-chairs, and other members who pledged to make WPS a top priority by endorsing the 1 December 2021 statement of shared commitments on WPS, may consider reiterating their interest in integrating a gender analysis in UN reporting on this file.
Council members regularly express support for a two-state solution. With varying degrees of emphasis, members have also repeatedly called for an end to settlement activities and to demolitions of Palestinian civilian structures, and the preservation of the status quo at the holy sites as key steps to preserve the viability of the two-state solution. At the same time, while there is ostensible agreement on the importance of these issues, no concrete steps have been taken to restart the peace process.
While supporting the two-state solution, the US seems to be of the view that the current circumstances are not ripe for the restart of negotiations. At the 25 August meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Russia accused the US of monopolising the peace process, of imposing “economic peace on the Palestinian people”, and of blocking the activities of the Middle East Quartet—which consists of the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US. Russia reiterated a similar message at the 28 September meeting. During the September meeting, China said that the Council should promote the resumption of talks instead of “waiting for the so-called conditions for dialogue to mature”. Seemingly in reference to the likelihood that the US would oppose a Palestinian request for full UN membership at the Council, China further said that “on issues concerning the future and fate of the Palestinian people, no one has the right to veto”.
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 Letter|
|6 July 2022S/2022/557||This was the summary of the IEG’s 24 June meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.|