July 2024 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 June 2024
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The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question

Expected Council Action

On 2 July, the Security Council 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.

In July, the Security Council also 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 the anticipated briefer. It appears that Russia, July’s Council president, has elected to hold the open debate at ministerial level.

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

Key Recent Developments

On 10 June, the Security Council adopted resolution 2735, which was authored by the US and welcomes the three-phase ceasefire proposal announced by US President Joe Biden on 31 May in the context of the war between Israel and Hamas. As outlined in the resolution, the first phase includes, among other things, “an immediate, full, and complete ceasefire with the release of hostages including women, the elderly and the wounded”, the exchange of Palestinian prisoners, and the “withdrawal of Israeli forces from the populated areas in Gaza”. The resolution notes that the first phase entails “the safe and effective distribution of humanitarian assistance at scale throughout the Gaza Strip”. The second phase consists of a permanent end to hostilities “in exchange for the release of all other hostages still in Gaza” and “a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza”, while the third phase entails the “start of a major multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of the remains of any deceased hostages still in Gaza”. (For background, see our 10 June What’s in Blue story.)

In public messages, the US has framed the deal as being an Israeli proposal and the text of resolution 2735 says that Israel has “accepted” it. But Israeli authorities have sent contradictory messages regarding their support for the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on 24 June that he was ready to make “a partial deal” to secure the release of some hostages, but that the war would continue “after a pause, in order to complete the goal of eliminating Hamas”. For its part, Hamas suggested several amendments to the proposed deal, which reportedly included the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip. Reacting to Hamas’ proposal on 12 June, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that some of Hamas’ requests were “workable”, but others were not. At the time of writing, the fate of the ceasefire deal remains uncertain, with some media outlets reporting on 29 June that the US had recently put forward a revised version of the deal.

According to figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA, over 1,514 Israelis have been killed since the 7 October 2023 Hamas-led attacks in Israel, the vast majority on 7 October 2023. As at 28 June, an estimated 120 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 27 June, at least 37,765 Palestinians had been killed during Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza.

Analysts have identified Israel’s offensive in Gaza as one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history. Large areas of Gaza, including critical infrastructure, have been bombed to the ground, with about 55 percent of the total structures in the Gaza Strip estimated to be destroyed, damaged or possibly damaged, according to the UN Satellite Centre (UNOSAT). Up to 1.7 million people are estimated to be displaced across the Gaza Strip, with Save the Children estimating that up to 21,000 children are missing in Gaza, “many trapped beneath rubble, detained, buried in unmarked graves, or lost from their families”, and Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini saying that, on average, every day ten children in Gaza lose one or both legs.

The Secretary-General’s latest annual report on children and armed conflict, dated 3 June, included in its annex—which lists parties that have committed grave violations against children—the Israeli armed and security forces for killing and maiming children as well as for attacks against schools and hospitals, while Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades and affiliated factions and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades are listed for killing and maiming children and abduction. The report says that the UN verified grave violations against 4,247 Palestinian children and 113 Israeli children.

The humanitarian situation in Gaza remains abysmal. A 25 June Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report found that a high risk of famine persists in the Gaza Strip, with over 495,000 people facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity known as “IPC Phase 5”, which means that “households experience an extreme lack of food, starvation, and exhaustion of coping capacities”.

In a 21 June statement, Lazzarini said that humanitarian aid delivery continues to be constrained in Gaza. Restrictions he identified included Israeli forces’ military operations and Palestinian armed groups’ activities; the limited number of open crossing points into Gaza; the near total breakdown of law and order leading to regular looting, threats and assaults against truck drivers; and regular denials and delays by the Israeli forces for coordinated movement and convoys. UN officials have noted that, as the occupying power, it is incumbent on Israel to “restore public order and safety as far as possible and facilitate safe humanitarian access” to Gaza.

Attacks on humanitarian aid workers and health facilities in Gaza have continued; the lack of security for humanitarian workers and installations being another factor identified by Lazzarini as contributing to aid not reaching Palestinians in need. A recent report by Human Rights Watch said that “Israeli forces have carried out at least eight strikes on aid workers’ convoys and premises in Gaza since October 2023, even though aid groups had provided their coordinates to the Israeli authorities to ensure their protection”.

Following the start of Israel’s offensive on Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost governorate, on 7 May and South Africa’s request for provisional measures, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 24 May ordered Israel, among other measures, to “[i]mmediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. This was the third order issued by the ICJ concerning 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. The two previous orders were issued on 26 January and  28 March.

On 20 May, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, filed applications for warrants of arrest for three Hamas leaders, including for the Head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, and two Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on various counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Regarding the situation in the West Bank, the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2334 (S/2024/480), which covers the period between 19 March and 10 June, recorded “alarming levels” of violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israeli security forces killed 95 Palestinians in the West Bank “during search-and-arrest operations, armed exchanges, airstrikes, demonstrations and other incidents”, while settlers killed one Palestinian and four others died either at the hands of settlers or of Israeli forces. The report notes that, in the same period, Israeli sources said that Palestinians killed six Israelis in Israel and in the West Bank. Among other violent incidents, the report also refers to a 9 May incident during which a group of Israelis set fire to the perimeter of UNRWA’s compound in East Jerusalem as a “crowd accompanied by armed men chanted ‘burn down the United Nations’”.

The report notes that settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continued, as did demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures. Presenting the report at the 25 June Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Wennesland referred to the recent transfer of authority to a newly appointed Israeli civilian official for “oversight of many areas of land management and development, planning, and day-to-day life in Area C of the occupied West Bank”. Wennesland noted with concern that this development is expected, among other things, to expedite Israeli settlement expansion and that it undermines the prospects for a two-state solution.

Human-Rights Related Developments

On 27 May, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including East Jerusalem, and Israel, issued a report examining violations of international human rights law (IHRL) and international humanitarian law (IHL), as well as possible international crimes committed by all parties between 7 October and 31 December 2023. The report found that during the 7 October 2023 attack, members of Hamas’ military wing, members of the military wings of other Palestinian armed groups and Palestinian civilians committed war crimes, as well as violations and abuses of IHL and IHRL. These included intentionally directing attacks against civilians and murder or wilful killing; torture; inhuman or cruel treatment; taking hostages, in most cases together with outrages on personal dignity and inhumane treatment, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). The report also found that acts of sexual violence were committed in several locations in Israel.

The report also found that Israeli authorities and members of the Israeli security forces committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of IHL and IHRL. These included starvation as a method of warfare, collective punishment, murder or wilful killing, intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, forcible transfer, sexual violence, outrages upon personal dignity, and SGBV amounting to torture or inhuman and cruel treatment. The report also says that while the Commission found it “foreseeable that civilians would be present in the areas targeted”, the Israeli security forces “intentionally proceeded” to direct attacks against the civilian population and civilian objects. The report further found that the crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, gender persecution targeting Palestinian men and boys, forcible transfer, and torture and inhuman and cruel treatment were committed.

Women, Peace and Security

A 10 June update issued by UN Women on Palestinian Women-Led-Organisations (WLOs) in humanitarian efforts in the OPT said that Palestinian women, and the organisations they lead, were “at the heart of the current humanitarian response”. A rapid assessment study conducted by UN Women on 25 WLOs operating in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, of which 18 are headquartered or have a presence in Gaza, showed that 89 percent of WLOs surveyed sustained damage to their offices in Gaza, with 35 percent of these having sustained “complete damage to all their offices”. The alert said that most of the responding organisations “have expanded or shifted their priorities towards life-saving assistance and emergency relief, adapting and readjusting their work overnight”. It noted, however, that 56 percent of the surveyed WLOs reported a decrease in funding since October 2023, and that 88 percent were facing “significant funding challenges that impact their ability and capacity to deliver life-saving services”. Among other measures, UN Women recommended providing access and space for WLOs to participate in humanitarian coordination structures and in humanitarian needs assessments and planning efforts. UN Women also called for the prioritisation of flexible funding for WLOs in Gaza and the West Bank.

Key Issues and Options

The continuation of the war, the lack of implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions, and the Council’s inability to more effectively and concertedly act to protect the viability of the two-state solution are key issues for the Security Council. That aid at scale is not reaching Palestinians in Gaza is a further issue of concern for Council members.

Council members could evaluate the space for imposing measures not involving the use of force under Article 41 of the Charter to protect the two-state solution and advance the implementation of the Council’s resolutions.

In a 20 June statement, over 30 UN independent experts said that transferring weapons and ammunition to Israel “may constitute serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian laws”, risking state complicity in “international crimes, possibly including genocide”. The statement also calls directly on arms manufacturers supplying Israel to stop transfers. 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 law.

A further issue for the Security Council is avoiding the regionalisation of the war in Gaza. The intensification of strikes and bellicose rhetoric by Israeli and Hezbollah officials in June have raised concerns about the possibility of an all-out war in Lebanon, which could lead to an even wider conflagration. (For more on this issue, see our Lebanon brief in the July Monthly Forecast.)

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.

Not surprisingly, difficult dynamics have characterised the Council’s response to the war, which has been marked by contentious and prolonged negotiations, with multiple failed adoptions. Council negotiations on this file have shown that it is not possible for the Council to adopt an outcome on the crisis that the US, which has provided Israel with political and military backing throughout the war, does not largely support. The position of the US on the war in Gaza has led to accusations of double standards in comparison to its position on the war in Ukraine, further deepening the divide among some members in the Council.

Thus far, the US has vetoed three draft resolutions on the crisis proposed respectively by Brazil, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Algeria. In April, the US also vetoed a draft resolution that would have recommended that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership in the UN. China and Russia vetoed two US-proposed draft resolutions on the war, in both cases being accompanied by the negative vote of the Arab member of the Council, which was the UAE in 2023 and Algeria in 2024.

The adoption of resolution 2735 broadly followed these trends, with Russia abstaining, citing the Arab Group’s support for the draft resolution, even while expressing concern with aspects of the text.

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Security Council Resolutions
10 June 2024S/RES/2735 This resolution welcomed a ceasefire proposal announced by US President Joe Biden on 31 May 2024. The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia).
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).
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).
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).
23 December 2016S/RES/2334 This resolution condemned Israeli settlements and called for immediate steps to prevent violence against civilians, including acts of terror. It was adopted with 14 votes in favour and a US abstention.

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