The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question
Expected Council Action
In January 2023, the Security Council will 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
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party won the majority of votes during Israel’s 1 November 2022 elections. After protracted negotiations with coalition partners, on 21 December 2022, Netanyahu notified Israel’s President Isaac Herzog that he had successfully formed a new government. Some of the expected ministerial appointees, as well as some of the deals that Netanyahu agreed with far-right coalition partners to form a governing coalition, have generated concern among international and domestic observers.
One such agreement was reportedly reached between Netanyahu and his coalition partner Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the far-right Otzmah Yehudit party, on potential future measures that would support settlers and settlement activities in the West Bank, including changing a law that currently prohibits settlers from living in the Homesh outpost, which was evacuated in 2005. At the 19 December 2022 Security Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, several members commented on this development. Ghana called on Israel not to undertake these measures, while France expressed concern at announcements promising the legalisation of Israeli outposts and called on the incoming government not to implement these decisions. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) said that, in light of reports indicating plans to legalise outposts, it reaffirmed its rejection of any steps aimed at annexing Palestinian land and attempts to legalise annexation.
The increasingly violent situation in the West Bank and its possible further deterioration continues to be a source of concern. In his briefing to the Council at the 19 December 2022 meeting, Wennesland said that “[c]lashes, protests, attacks, Israeli security operations, including in Area A, and settler-related violence have continued”. He said that over 150 Palestinians and more than 20 Israelis had been killed in the West Bank and Israel in 2022. The latest Secretary-General’s report on resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016, which was issued on 14 December 2022 and covers the period from 21 September to 7 December 2022, says that 2022 has been the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the UN started recording fatalities in 2005. According to the report, in about 58 percent of the cases, Palestinian fatalities occurred during Israeli military operations or search and arrest operations, often “involving armed exchanges with Palestinians”. The report also says that 2022 has been the deadliest year since 2015 for Israeli civilians killed in attacks in Israel and in the West Bank.
The Secretary-General’s report further notes that settlement activities, as well as seizures and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures, have continued during the reporting period. In the report, the Secretary-General expressed concern about the demolition of a school and “the stated intention of Israeli authorities to demolish additional structures” in Masafer Yatta, a cluster of Palestinian villages in the West Bank which Israel designated in the 1980s as a firing zone for the Israel Defence Forces.
On 11 November 2022, the UN General Assembly’s Special Political and Decolonization Committee (Fourth Committee) adopted a resolution which decides to request the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to render an advisory opinion on “the legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures”. The resolution also asks the ICJ how these policies and practices affect the legal status of the occupation and what legal consequences they produce for states and the UN.
On 12 December 2022, the General Assembly extended the mandate of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) until 30 June 2026 (A/RES/77/123). In a separate resolution adopted on the same day (A/RES/77/122), the General Assembly decided to consider a gradual increase in the allocation from the UN regular budget to UNRWA that would support expenses for the Agency’s operational costs related to executive and administrative management functions. The resolution also invites the Secretary-General to submit proposals at the 78th session of the General Assembly on the possibility of covering some of UNRWA’s operational costs through the UN regular budget. (UNRWA—which has long been suffering from chronic underfunding while facing increasing demands—is currently funded through voluntary contributions, except for a small fraction that covers international staff salaries, which is financed through the UN regular budget.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a joint press release on 2 December 2022, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Francesca Albanese, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, said that Israel’s decision to deport French-Palestinian human rights defender and lawyer Salah Hammouri to France against his will may constitute a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention. “These measures set an extremely dangerous precedent for all Palestinians in Jerusalem”, the experts said.
Hammouri was deported to France on 18 December 2022. In a press release issued the following day, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned Israel’s deportation of Hammouri to France and expressed deep concern at “the chilling message this sends to those working on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory”. According to the press release, Israel “revoked Hammouri’s residency in occupied East Jerusalem on the basis of ‘breach of allegiance to the State of Israel’”. The press release stressed that the deportation of protected persons from occupied territory is prohibited in international humanitarian law, which also “explicitly forbids compelling such persons to swear allegiance to the occupying power”.
Key Issues and Options
At the 28 November 2022 meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Wennesland warned the Council that “[t]he principles that underpin the Oslo Accords are slipping away”, adding that “[p]olitical leadership is required to reset a trajectory towards a two-State solution”. 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 remains the fundamental issue for the Council. Nevertheless, concrete steps towards this objective remain absent.
Members remain concerned about the deterioration of the security situation and violence against civilians in the West Bank and Israel. Other ongoing issues include deterring developments that undermine the viability of the two-state solution and a peaceful resolution of the conflict, such as the expansion of Israeli settlements, forced evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures, and the alteration of the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem. Council members—including the US—are likely to closely monitor the policies and actions of Israel’s incoming far-right coalition government on these key issues.
In a 16 December statement, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, said that from 12 to 15 December 2022, Gamba visited Israel and the State of Palestine, holding meetings in Gaza, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Tel Aviv. The visit followed up on the recommendations contained in the Secretary-General’s 2022 annual report on children and armed conflict, which requested Palestinian armed groups and Israel to engage with Gamba to end and prevent grave violations against children and to adopt clear and time-bound commitments in this regard. Members may wish to invite Gamba to brief the Council about her findings from the visit.
Members who pledged to make Women, Peace and Security (WPS) a top priority by endorsing the 1 December 2021 Statement of Shared Commitments on WPS may consider focusing on WPS the meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” during their presidency and stress their interest in integrating a gender analysis in UN reporting on this file.
Council members regularly express support for the two-state solution and call for avoiding measures that undermine its future viability. At the same time, no concrete steps have been taken to restart the peace process.
The US appears to be of the view that the current circumstances are not ripe for the restart of peace negotiations and has instead emphasised the importance of measures to improve the everyday lives of Palestinians and Israelis while preserving the viability of a two-state solution. Russia has accused the US of blocking the Council’s adoption of any substantive decision on the Middle East peace process and the efforts of the Middle East Quartet—which consists of the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US.
Regarding the request for an ICJ advisory opinion, several Council members abstained in the Fourth Committee vote in November 2022, including France and the UK. The US voted against the resolution, while Brazil, China, Gabon, Russia, and the UAE voted in favour, together with Ireland, Kenya, and Mexico, who finished their Council terms at the end of 2022. Of the new Council members, Malta and Mozambique supported the resolution, while Ecuador, Japan and Switzerland abstained. At the 28 November 2022 Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, the US said that the request for an ICJ advisory opinion was part of “[t]he lopsided focus on Israel” at the UN, while Ireland welcomed the resolution and stressed the importance of supporting “Palestinian efforts in seeking legal responses to the occupation”.
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.|
|14 December 2022S/2022/945||This was the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2334.|