Meeting on the escalation of tensions and violence in Israel/Palestine
This morning (16 October), at Jordan’s request, the Council will have a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun on the escalation of tensions and violence in the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The permanent representatives of the Arab Troika along with Palestine’s permanent observer to the UN, Riyad H. Mansour, as well as representatives from Non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, met with P5 members on 14 October and E10 members yesterday to discuss the situation and the possibility of calling for an emergency meeting.
After a period of relative calm, violence between Israeli and Palestinian communities has spiralled over the past month, sparked by clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police that began on 13 September at the Al-Aqsa mosque in the Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem. Since the beginning of October, at least 32 Palestinians have been killed and over 1,400 have been injured by live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets used by the Israeli forces across the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Israeli authorities have reported that seven Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded in shooting and stabbing attacks.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement on 6 October, expressing profound alarm over the rise in deadly incidents in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and called on the Israeli government to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation into the latest killings, including whether the use of force was proportional. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a 8 October statement that the high number of casualties, in particular those resulting from the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces, raise concerns of excessive use of force, and violations of the right to life and security of the person. He also said that collective punishments such as house demolitions being stepped up in East Jerusalem by Israeli authorities are both illegal and counterproductive.
Israel’s security cabinet held an emergency meeting on 13 October, where it authorised police to close or surround “centres of friction and incitement” in Jerusalem. It also announced that the homes of Palestinians who attacked Israelis would be demolished within days and that their families’ right to live in Jerusalem would be taken away. The following day Israeli authorities erected roadblocks and checkpoints in some Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem and began deploying 300 police officers and soldiers on the roads and buses.
Ambassador Mansour, told reporters on 14 October that that the situation was “very explosive” and that Arab countries were considering a possible draft of a Security Council resolution that would demand a withdrawal of Israeli security forces from flashpoint areas and call for the deployment of UN observers or a UN protection force at Al-Aqsa and East Jerusalem. Although there will be no outcome from today’s meeting, it seems that the Arab Group, through Jordan, might bring a draft resolution to the Council for negotiations in the coming days.
Such a draft resolution is expected to call for a cessation of hostilities and protection for Palestinians as required by international humanitarian law. Prospects for adopting a resolution on this issue are uncertain given the US track record in vetoing resolutions on Israel/Palestine. (Since 1990, the US has vetoed 14 resolutions on Israel/Palestine.) US officials have condemned attacks on Israeli civilians and called for a return to calm. On 14 October, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the US had seen some reports that could indicate the potential excessive use of force by Israeli authorities. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who will travel to the region soon, said this morning that no amount of frustration is appropriate to licence violence anywhere and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas needs to be condemning the violence. Following a fire at the compound housing Joseph’s Tomb overnight, a religious site venerated by Jews in the West Bank town of Nablus, Abbas, called for an end to the violence, condemned the attack and ordered an investigation into the arson.
A number of elected members are likely to be supportive of measures that would reduce tensions between Israel and Palestine. At today’s meeting members like Chile, Jordan, Malaysia and Venezuela are likely to speak out in favour of protection for Palestine under international humanitarian law given that it is an occupied territory. It seems that there may be interest in having an expanded Quartet meeting with the Council around the quarterly open debate on the Middle East on 22 October, with Spain’s foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo expected to preside over the ministerial-level meeting. The situation in Israel/Palestine will likely dominate the debate.