Videoconference: “The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”
Tomorrow (20 May), Security Council members will hold an open VTC, followed by a closed VTC, on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is expected to brief.
Members are likely to raise concerns regarding the increasingly fading prospects of a two-state solution. On 17 May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival, Benny Gantz, launched a coalition government, following three inconclusive elections and citing the need for national unity in light of the outbreak of COVID-19. In the new government, Netanyahu will retain his post for 18 months, followed by an 18-month term for Gantz as prime minister. During his campaign, Netanyahu promised that he would annex the occupied Jordan Valley in the West Bank if he were to win the election. Under the terms of the coalition deal signed by the two leaders, the government will be able to decide as early as 1 July on whether to annex parts of the West Bank. Gantz will not have the authority to block such a decision. The terms of the agreement stipulate that the decision on the annexation will be made in “full agreement with the United States and with international discussions on the subject”.
Strong criticism of potential annexation has been widely voiced both in and out of the Council, and such views are likely to be reiterated at tomorrow’s meeting, especially following Netanyahu’s 17 May Knesset address in which he vowed to make good on his campaign promise of annexation. During the 23 April VTC meeting on the Middle East in the Council, Mladenov stated that such a course of action “would constitute a serious violation of international law, deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to the renewal of negotiations and threaten efforts to advance regional peace”. He also noted that the Palestinian Authority had threatened to “cancel the implementation of all bilateral agreements” with Israel in case of annexation. On 30 April, the League of Arab States issued a statement saying that the envisioned annexation would amount to a “war crime”. Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, urged against annexation of parts of the West Bank on 15 May during a videoconference meeting with EU foreign ministers, although it does not appear that the EU has a unified strategy for addressing the issue. King Abdullah of Jordan has cautioned against annexation, stating in a 15 May Der Spiegel interview that “the law of strength should not apply in the Middle East”.
Although several Council members share strong concerns about possible annexation—believing that it would be a violation of international law and a major blow to the prospects of a two-state solution—the US has a different position. Its peace plan, announced by President Donald Trump on 28 January, calls for the incorporation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, into the state of Israel. Many key actors—including the Palestinian Authority, the League of Arab States and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, among others—have rejected the US plan.
UN efforts to respond to the outbreak of COVID-19—as well as those of Israel and the Palestinian Authority—are also expected to be a part of the discussion. Members are likely to be interested in an update from Mladenov on joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts to combat the virus in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the economic situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and plans for meeting the humanitarian needs of the population in these areas, may also be an aspect of Mladenov’s briefing.
There may also be some discussion of possible next steps in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, given the failure of the US peace plan to garner interest from many relevant actors. On 26 March, representatives of the Middle East Quartet—consisting of Russia, the US, the EU and the UN—held a virtual meeting on COVID-19 and discussed how to reinvigorate the peace process.
Other long-standing concerns that may be discussed tomorrow are Israeli settlements and violence in the West Bank.