Briefing on East Jerusalem
Tomorrow afternoon (29 October), the Council will meet for a public briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on the situation in Israel/Palestine, particularly on continuing Israeli settlement expansion and rising tensions in East Jerusalem. The meeting was requested by Jordan, on behalf of the Palestinians. Yesterday, Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour sent a letter to the Council, urging it to “address this crisis situation in occupied East Jerusalem.”
Council members will be looking for details on the continuing Israeli settlement activity, which is stoking tensions in Jerusalem and threatens to undermine the viability of a two-state solution. Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the order to move ahead with plans for 1,060 new Jewish-only housing units in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu defended the move in parliament, saying there was a wide consensus in Israel to continue building throughout Jerusalem.
Yesterday’s decision comes as the latest in a recent wave of settlement initiatives. On 31 August, Israel announced its intention to expropriate close to 1,000 acres of Palestinian land in the area of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. On 30 September, Israeli settlers occupied 25 Palestinian flats in a building in Silwan, in East Jerusalem. Also in late September, the Jerusalem Municipality published its approval of a plan to build 2,600 new housing units in Givat Hamatos, in East Jerusalem.
These moves have drawn criticism from various quarters. Regarding the plan for new housing units in Givat Hamatos, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a 13 October meeting in Jerusalem to reverse the decision, stating that the settlements are “in clear violation of international law”. With respect to Israel’s 31 August announcement, the State Department issued a statement that day calling on Israel to rethink the move, reiterating its long-held policy of opposing settlement expansion, while the envoys of five EU countries—the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain—submitted a joint official protest of the decision to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on 9 September.
In response to yesterday’s decision, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said it was illegal and punishable under international law. Erekat added that the world needed to take decisive action in order to save the two-state solution from “the colonial expansionism of the State of Israel”, including by recognising the State of Palestine based on the 1967 border, and by supporting a Palestinian initiative in the Security Council to set a deadline to end the occupation. Moderates in Netanyahu’s government have warned that new building plans will only deepen Israel’s isolation, and US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that “moving forward with this sort of action would be incompatible with the pursuit of peace.”
It seems unlikely that there will be any Council outcome following tomorrow’s briefing as the issue of settlement expansion has not been an easy one for the Council. The last attempt to adopt a resolution on this issue resulted in a veto from the US—the first and only use of the veto to date by the Obama administration and the first US veto since 2006. The other 14 members of the Council voted in favour (S/PV.6484) of the draft (S/2011/24), which condemned Israeli settlement activity. At that time, the US said that, while it agreed with Council members about the illegitimacy of settlement activity, it was unwise to resolve core issues of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the Council.
Council members will also be interested in an update on the deteriorating security situation in Jerusalem, after several violent incidents in the past few weeks. On 14 October Palestinians skirmished with Israeli police in the Old City area of East Jerusalem, fearing that Israel planned to restrict the access of Muslims to the Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound, site of Al-Aqsa mosque. Israeli police say they arrived at the site to attempt to stop the Palestinians from “staging a riot and disrupting visits”. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called on Muslims on 16 October to defend the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, claiming that Israel was trying to seize the site. In another incident, on 24 October, a 14 year old Palestinian American was shot and killed in Silwan by Israeli forces, who claimed that he was throwing firebombs at traffic on a highway. He was the second Palestinian teen killed by Israeli forces in eight days.
Council members may be interested in hearing Feltman’s suggestions on what can be done to curtail the recent wave violence. Along these lines, tomorrow’s briefing follows on the heels of Abbas’ 26 October letter to Washington demanding the US intervene to halt the “Israeli escalation in East Jerusalem.” The letter warned that that if Israel continued with its current measures, including proposals to allow Jews to pray at the Al-Haram Al-Sharif, it would lead to an eruption of violence that would spiral out of control.
Looking ahead on Israel/Palestine, there is currently a draft resolution tabled by Jordan on 30 September, on behalf of Palestine, on the table that sets a timeframe for a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also demands the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities. Members who are in favour of this draft resolution may be looking for information that could help bolster their arguments in negotiating the text. The draft resolution also calls for the full withdrawal of Israel from all of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967 by November 2016, for an independent Palestinian state, the resolving of the status of Jerusalem as the capital of two states, and a solution to the problem of the Palestine refugees.