The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (26 February), Security Council members will hold the monthly meeting on: “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. The format will be a videoconference (VTC) briefing, followed by VTC consultations. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland is expected to brief. Two youth civil society representatives, one Israeli and one Palestinian, are also expected to brief.
Wennesland is expected to reiterate the UN’s commitment to the Middle East peace process. He may refer to efforts to revitalise the Middle East Quartet, which was established in 2002 as a platform to mediate peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and is comprised of the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US. In the 26 January Security Council meeting on “The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”, several members called for a reinvigorated Quartet to jumpstart the peace process. Members may be interested in hearing any information Wennesland may have about recent discussions among members of the Quartet about the peace process, including a virtual meeting held on 15 February.
The 26 January Council meeting was the first on this issue since US President Joseph Biden was inaugurated on 20 January. In a departure from the policies of the previous administration, Deputy Permanent Representative Richard Mills affirmed US support for the two-state solution and expressed President Biden’s intention to “restore US assistance programs supporting economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people”. Mills added that the US looked forward to working with Israel, the Palestinians, the Quartet, Security Council members, and the Special Coordinator over the next several years.
Wennesland will most likely discuss the 23 February meeting of the Ad-hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which coordinates the delivery of international aid to the Palestinian Authority and is chaired by current Security Council member Norway. As discussed in the AHLC meeting, Wennesland may emphasise the continued importance of international donor support to the Palestinian Authority for vaccinations, for the public health system, and for infrastructure projects. He may underscore the need to increase vaccination rates in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to improve the humanitarian and economic conditions facing the Palestinians. He might refer also to the recent agreement struck by Qatar and the UN to build a gas pipeline to Gaza to help provide electricity to the Strip.
Wennesland and some members may welcome Israel’s efforts to deliver vaccinations to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as well as recent reports that Israel is planning to vaccinate Palestinians that work in Israel. At the same time, some Council members might maintain that Israel has a responsibility as an occupying power to ensure medical supplies are provided to the people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as described in the Fourth Geneva Convention. In this respect, Article 55 of the Convention states: “To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.”
Another matter that will likely be raised at tomorrow’s meeting is the Palestinian elections planned for later this year. In a 15 January decree, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a member of the Fatah party, declared that legislative, presidential, and Palestinian National Council elections are expected to take place on 22 May, 31 July, and 31 August 2021, respectively. Wennesland and several Council members will probably signal their support for such elections. One encouraging sign that might be recognised in the meeting is that 93 percent of eligible Palestinian voters have registered for the polls, according to figures released on 17 February. Members may also be interested in any information that Wennesland is able to share about the meeting between the Palestinian national factions in Cairo on 12 February, which he said “marks an important advancement towards the holding of elections and Palestinian national unity” in a statement released shortly after the meeting. They may also be interested in any discussions that may have taken place (or are envisioned) with the Palestinian Central Elections Committee with regard to UN support for the electoral process.
Concerns will probably be raised about Israeli settlement activity and demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. In this respect, it seems that some members will refer to the demolition of homes in Humsa – Al Baqai’a in the Jordan Valley. In a 24 February statement on Humsa – Al Baqai’a, Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory Lynn Hastings said: “in accordance with international law, the Israeli authorities should immediately halt all further demolitions of Palestinian homes and possessions, allow the humanitarian community to provide shelter, food and water to this most vulnerable group and these people to remain in their homes”. Some Council members may reiterate the view that settlement activity and demolitions of Palestinian civilian structures undermine the prospects of a two-state solution and are a hindrance to the peace process.
The youth briefers are expected to speak in their personal capacities rather than as representatives of particular civil society organisations. They may discuss ways in which interactions between Israeli and Palestinian youth can promote peace and reconciliation between the parties.
During the meeting, Wennesland may also briefly discuss recent developments on the Golan Heights and in Lebanon, as he did in his 26 January briefing and as his predecessor Nickolay Mladenov often did in Council briefings.