Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Informal Videoconference Meeting
On Monday afternoon (30 March), Security Council members will convene an informal videoconference meeting on the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is expected to provide the quarterly briefing on implementation of resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016, which declares that Israeli “settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967” constitute “a flagrant violation under international law” and calls for “immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror”.
Monday’s meeting was originally scheduled for last Thursday (26 March) as a briefing followed by consultations, but the meeting was postponed and the format was changed due to the impact of COVID-19 on the Council’s working methods. (For more on how the Council has adapted its working methods as a result of COVID-19, please see our recent What’s in Blue story, New Security Council Working Methods in the midst of COVID-19).
Mladenov is likely to brief on the Israeli government’s approval of the construction of thousands of homes for Israeli settlers in the West Bank in late February. This decision, taken in the lead up to the Israeli election on 2 March, may elicit strong negative reactions from several Council members, who have consistently reiterated the view that settlement construction undermines the potential for a two-state solution and violates international law. One reason why the US peace plan released in late January was met with widespread international criticism, as demonstrated by statements during the 11 February Council meeting, is because it proposes the incorporation of existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, and in East Jerusalem into the state of Israel.
One new issue that may be discussed is how Israeli and Palestinian authorities are coordinating to address the spread of COVID-19. On 18 March, a telephone conversation took place between Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on coordination in the response to the spread of the coronavirus. Since then, Israeli authorities have taken steps to transfer testing kits and medical equipment into the Gaza strip, which would appear to be especially vulnerable to the virus, given that it is densely populated and has a fragile healthcare system. In recent days, COVID-19 cases have begun to be reported in Gaza. In tomorrow’s meeting, members may be interested in the details of Mladenov’s 26 March telephone call with the Middle East Quartet, during which he described the UN’s COVID-19 response plan.
Mladenov may reiterate that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) continues to confront funding challenges, a point he made at his 24 February Council briefing. The impact of the coronavirus on UNRWA’s work, and how it may affect the agency’s funding needs, might also be addressed during the meeting. In a video message on the UNRWA website on 20 March, Matthias Schmale, the Director of Operations for the agency in Gaza, appealed to donors for materials such as hand sanitizing gel, medicines, and protective equipment for health workers to help the area confront COVID-19.
Mladenov may report on the violence between Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, and Israel. On 27 March, a rocket was fired into Israel from Gaza, landing in the town of Sderot. No casualties were reported. At the time of writing, no one had claimed responsibility for the attack. This appears to be the first such attack since the firing of rockets and mortars by the parties across the Gaza-Israeli border on 23-24 February.
At Monday’s meeting, it should also be noted that China, Council president this month, is expected to read out the results of the voting on four draft resolutions, following the use of written voting procedures temporarily instituted during the current pandemic. These resolutions focus on: the UN/AU Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee Panel of Experts, the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), and the safety and security of peacekeepers. The results of the voting will be posted on the Security Council’s website.