Middle East Open Debate
Tomorrow (26 April), Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is expected to brief at the quarterly open debate on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine). Recent negative developments on the ground and a rise in political tensions are expected to dominate the discussion.
A key matter that will most likely be raised in the briefing and in members’ statements will be the “March of Return” weekly demonstrations along the Gaza fence that began on Friday, 30 March, and are expected to extend for six weeks through 15 May, which Palestinians recognise as Yom al-Nakba, or day of the catastrophe, marking the mass displacement that preceded and followed Israel’s establishment. To date, 35 Palestinians have died in the protests and hundreds of demonstrators have been injured, with Israeli security forces using live ammunition and tear gas. Israel has said that the protests are not peaceful, that armed militants were scattered among the protestors, and that it wants to avoid the negative security implications of a large-scale infiltration into Israel. During a Security Council briefing on 30 March, which was requested by Kuwait in response to the first day of protests that resulted in the deaths of 15 Palestinians, Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour stated that: “The majority of those killed were taking part in a peaceful, non-violent demonstration.”
Two draft press statements (one in late March and one in early April) expressing concern about the situation on the Gaza border were blocked by the US. It appears that all other members were supportive. At the 30 March meeting, the US–which (along with the Netherlands, Poland and the UK) expressed regret that Israel could not participate in the meeting because of Passover–stated that “bad actors who use protests as a cover for inciting violence endanger innocent lives.”
During tomorrow’s meeting, several members are likely to emphasise the right of peaceful protest, express concern at the loss of life, and call for an independent and transparent investigation into the recent events along the fence. On 30 March, Secretary-General António Guterres called for such an investigation to be conducted, following the first day of protests. Some members will most likely emphasise Israeli’s right to protect itself from acts of terrorism by militant groups.
The need for restraint and calm during a politically sensitive period in May may feature in the discussion. On 14 May, Israel’s independence day, the US is planning to inaugurate its new embassy in Jerusalem. This is one day before the envisioned culmination of the “March of Return”.
The Trump administration’s 6 December 2017 decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move its embassy there has been highly controversial among most UN member states. On 18 December 2017, the US vetoed a draft resolution that received support from all other Council members and that would have reaffirmed that any decisions and actions that purport to have altered the status of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void, and must be rescinded. After vetoing the draft, US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley called the matter “an insult” that would not be forgotten. Some member states may reiterate their concern about the potential political and security implications of the US decision moving forward.
While the focus of the quarterly Middle East debate (and monthly briefings) is on Israel/Palestine, the US has been keen to emphasise other threats to international peace and security in the region during these meetings. As a result, the US may focus its remarks on the threat to international peace and security posed by Iran. In a media announcement, Israel has said that its ambassador, Danny Dannon, will “present new information about Iran’s presence in Syria” at the meeting.
Other points that will likely be reiterated tomorrow include criticisms of settlement construction, the indispensable role of UNRWA (particularly in Gaza, in light of the devastating humanitarian situation and budget cuts), and the need for negotiations between the parties leading to a two-state solution.