April 2024 Monthly Forecast

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”. Maltese Foreign Minister Ian Borg is expected to chair the meeting, which is one of the signature events of Malta’s April presidency. Secretary-General António Guterres is the anticipated briefer.

During the month of April, the Security Council also expects to receive a briefing from Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator (SHRC) for Gaza Sigrid Kaag. Resolution 2720 of 22 December 2023 mandated the SHRC to report to the Security Council within 20 days of her appointment and thereafter every 90 days until 30 September.

Council members may convene additional meetings during the month depending on developments.

Key Recent Developments

Following the 7 October 2023 large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have carried out massive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. On 27 October 2023, the IDF also launched a ground operation initially focused on northern Gaza and later extended to most other areas of the Gaza Strip. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 27 March, at least 32,490 Palestinians had been killed. Up to 1.7 million people are estimated to be displaced across the Gaza Strip, the majority of them multiple times. Large areas of Gaza, including critical infrastructure, have been bombed to the ground, with analysts identifying Israel’s offensive as one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history.

According to figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA, more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel, the vast majority on 7 October 2023. As at 21 February, an estimated 134 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza is abysmal, with World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently describing the conditions in which people in Gaza are living and receiving health care as “inhumane”.

An 18 March Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report said that famine is “imminent in the northern governorates of the Gaza Strip and projected to occur anytime between mid-March and May 2024”, with the entire population of Gaza facing high levels of acute food insecurity. In a 19 March statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said that “[t]he situation of hunger, starvation and famine is a result of Israel’s extensive restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid and commercial goods, displacement of most of the population, as well as the destruction of crucial civilian infrastructure”. Noting that the report found that over half of all Palestinians in Gaza, 1.1 million people, have completely exhausted their food supplies and are facing catastrophic hunger—the highest such number ever recorded by the IPC system anywhere, anytime—Guterres said that the report is clear evidence for “the need for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” and called on Israel to “ensure complete and unfettered access for humanitarian goods throughout Gaza”.

In a 24 March post on X (formerly Twitter), UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said that Israeli authorities had informed the UN that they will no longer approve any UNRWA food convoys to northern Gaza, a situation which Lazzarini said would lead to the clock ticking “faster towards famine”. (Israel has presented reportedly uncorroborated information since 18 January that 12 UNRWA employees played a role in the 7 October attacks. Israeli news outlets reported in March that the IDF had decided to work to dismantle UNRWA in Gaza.)  According to a 27 March UNRWA update, five UNRWA food convoy requests to access the north have been denied by Israeli authorities since 22 March.

Non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Commission of Jurists have stressed that Israel has failed to comply with the 26 January order issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) indicating provisional measures in South Africa’s proceedings against Israel concerning alleged violations in the Gaza Strip of obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“Genocide Convention”). Among other measures, the ICJ said that Israel must “take all measures within its power” in relation to Palestinians in Gaza to prevent the commission of acts within the scope of Article 2 of the convention, including killing and causing serious bodily or mental harm, and ensure that its military forces do not commit any of these acts. The ICJ order also says that “Israel must take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the conditions faced by Palestinians in Gaza”.

Following a 6 March request by South Africa for the indication of further provisional measures, on 28 March the ICJ ordered that Israel shall, among other actions, take all necessary measures “to ensure, without delay, in full co-operation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision at scale by all concerned of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance, including food, water, electricity, fuel, shelter, clothing, hygiene and sanitation requirements, as well as medical supplies and medical care to Palestinians throughout Gaza”.

On 9 February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had ordered the preparation of a “combined plan” to evacuate civilians and to destroy Hamas’ forces in Rafah. Since that announcement, key international interlocutors—including senior UN officials and humanitarian and human rights organisations—have repeatedly warned of the catastrophic consequences of an offensive targeting Rafah, where over a million displaced Palestinians are currently present.

Since 7 October 2023, Council members have voted on ten draft resolutions, adopting three of these texts: resolution 2712 of 15 November 2023, resolution 2720 of 22 December 2023, and resolution 2728 of 25 March. (For background, see our What’s in Blue stories of 15 November 2023,  20 December 2023, and 26 March.) Resolution 2728 was the first of these resolutions to demand a ceasefire, albeit a time-limited one. The Security Council had been coming under increasing criticism for its failure to adopt such a measure, with Médecins Sans Frontières Secretary General Christopher Lockyear stressing during his briefing at the 22 February Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” that “[m]eeting after meeting, resolution after resolution, this body has failed to effectively address this conflict”.

Resolution 2728, which was put forward by the Council’s ten elected members (E10), was adopted with 14 votes in favour and one abstention from the US. The resolution:

With the exception of provisions focused on the appointment of the SHRC and UN reporting, resolutions 2712, 2720, and 2728 remain unimplemented.

Regarding the situation in the West Bank, a 4 March report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, covering the period from 1 November 2022 to 31 October 2023, noted that the human rights situation in the West Bank was “already grave prior to 7 October 2023”. State and settler violence against Palestinians increased markedly after 7 October, “entrenching the long-standing discriminatory system under which Israel exercises control over Palestinians”, according to the report. The report also said that “Israel escalated the use of lethal force against Palestinians across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, often in situations in which its use constituted arbitrary deprivation of life”.

According to the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2334, which was delivered orally at the 26 March Security Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” and covered the period from 8 December 2023 to 18 March, during the reporting period, 159 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces, one Palestinian was killed by Israeli settlers “and another was killed either by Israeli forces or by settlers”. Ten Israelis were killed by Palestinians during the same period, according to Israeli sources cited in the report.

The report noted that settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has continued and intensified, with approximately 4,780 housing units being advanced or approved during the period covered by the report. Demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures have continued too, with Israeli authorities demolishing, seizing, or forcing people to demolish 300 structures, displacing 314 people. The report further notes that, in a continuing trend, 35 Palestinians “left their West Bank communities citing violence and harassment by settlers and shrinking grazing land”.

Human-Rights Related Developments

According to a 25 March report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Francesca Albanese, which analyses Israel’s operations in Gaza since 7 October 2023 with reference to the Genocide Convention, there are “reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met”. Amnesty International has welcomed the report, saying that it “must serve as a vital call to action”, adding that states “must apply political pressure on the warring parties” to implement resolution 2728 and “must impose a comprehensive arms embargo against all parties to the conflict”.

Women, Peace and Security

According to a 1 March press release by UN Women, 9,000 women have reportedly been killed by Israeli forces during the war. The update says that, according to data collected by UN Women, more than four out of five women in Gaza “report that their family eats half or less of the food they used to before the war began, with mothers and adult women being those tasked with sourcing food, yet eating last, less, and least than everyone else”. A 21 February statement issued by UN independent experts stressed the “urgent and growing need to address the near total disruption of schooling, massive destruction of housing, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health care and supplies, and heightened risk of arbitrary detention and violence, including gender-based violence, faced by women and girls in Gaza and the West Bank”.

On 11 March, the Security Council held a meeting on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) under “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” agenda item. France, the UK, and the US, joined by Ecuador and Slovenia, called for the meeting following a request by Israel. The meeting followed a mission by Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten to Israel to gather, analyse, and verify information on CRSV during the 7 October 2023 attacks and the issuance on 4 March of a report presenting her findings. The report says that there are reasonable grounds to believe that CRSV, including rape and gang rape, was perpetrated “in at least three locations” during the 7 October attacks. The mission also found “clear and convincing information” that some of the hostages that were taken into Gaza during the attacks have been subjected to various forms of CRSV, and that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing”. Patten’s mission included a short visit to the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, where, according to her report, “[s]takeholders raised concerns about cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of Palestinians in detention, including the increased use of various forms of sexual violence”.

Key Issues and Options

The prospects for a two-state solution were waning even before the current escalation, and the longer the war continues, the more difficult it will be to establish a political horizon for such negotiations. Determining how the Council can facilitate the resumption of political negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to move towards a resolution of the conflict and achieve a two-state solution remains a fundamental issue for the Council.

The lack of implementation of resolutions 2712, 2720, and 2728 is also a key issue for the Security Council. As the body mandated by the UN Charter to decide on measures to give effect to judgments of the ICJ, the non-implementation of the ICJ order is also an issue for the Security Council. Council members could evaluate the space for imposing measures not involving the use of force under Article 41 of the Charter to advance the implementation of the Council’s resolutions and the ICJ order.

If Council dynamics impede the adoption of such measures, another option would be for the Council to request a briefing from the ICJ president on the provisional measures the Court has rendered.

In a 23 February statement, over 30 UN independent experts said that “[a]ny transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel that would be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and must cease immediately”. The statement notes that the 1949 Geneva Conventions and customary international law require that all states “ensure respect” for international humanitarian law by conflict parties. States that are parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) have additional obligations. Although any agreement on a Council product on this issue is unlikely, given that the US remains the largest arms exporter to Israel, an option could be for Council members to invite some of the experts who issued the statement to brief the Council on the legal consequences of weapons and ammunition transfer when there is a clear risk that such weapons may be used in violation of international humanitarian law.

Council Dynamics

Before 7 October 2023, Council dynamics precluded effective action in response to the non-implementation of Security Council resolutions as well as a shared strategy to restart a political process between Palestinians and Israelis, with the US maintaining that the circumstances were not ripe for the reignition of such a process.

Difficult dynamics have characterised the Council’s response to the war, which has been marked by contentious and prolonged negotiations, with multiple failed adoptions.

The US, which has provided Israel with political and military support throughout the war, has until recently opposed demands for an immediate ceasefire—including by vetoing two draft resolutions that called directly for this measure and a draft text calling for humanitarian pauses. While the US still opposes unconditional demands for an immediate ceasefire, it recently introduced a qualified use of this term during negotiations at the Security Council and in its political messaging. The US abstained on the vote on resolution 2728, allowing this resolution, which received favourable votes from all other Council members, to be adopted. Nevertheless, following the adoption, the US has downplayed the importance of resolution 2728 in its public remarks, and has stressed the primacy over the resolution of the indirect talks between Israel and Hamas it is co-facilitating with Egypt and Qatar in delivering results on the ground.

Resolution 2728 was co-sponsored by the E10 after overcoming diverging positions among this group during negotiations on some aspects of the resolution. (For background, see our What’s in Blue story of 26 March.) In its intervention after the adoption of resolution 2728 and at the 26 March meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, France said that it will seek a further Security Council product on this issue.

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Security Council Resolutions
15 November 2023S/RES/2712 This was a resolution calling for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days” to enable unhindered humanitarian access. It was adopted with 12 votes in favour and three abstentions (Russia, the UK, and the US).
22 December 2023S/RES/2720 This resolution requested the Secretary-General to appoint a Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator tasked with establishing a UN mechanism for accelerating humanitarian consignments to Gaza. It was adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (Russia and the US).
25 March 2024S/RES/2728 This resolution demanded an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire. It also demanded the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. It was adopted with 14 votes in favour and one abstention (US).

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