What's In Blue

Posted Wed 24 Mar 2021

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations  

Tomorrow (25 March), Security Council will hold its 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.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Wennesland and Council members are expected to express concern regarding Israeli settlement activity and demolitions of Palestinian structures in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Some members may criticise Israel’s plans to proceed with the construction of 1,200 settlement units in Givat Hamatos in East Jerusalem, as Estonia, France and the UK did during the Security Council’s 26 January VTC meeting on the situation in the Middle East. Some members may also express alarm over the high rate of demolitions in recent months. OCHA noted that from 1 January to 17 March, 290 Palestinian structures were demolished, displacing 443 people.  (In 2020, 851 structures were demolished, displacing 1,001 people). The eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem may be mentioned during the meeting as well.

Another likely topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting is recent international initiatives to reinvigorate the peace process. In this regard, the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany, and Jordan met in Paris on 11 March with Wennesland and the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, Susanna Terstal, to discuss ways to advance the Middle East peace process. The foreign ministers issued a statement in which they underscored the importance of confidence-building measures to promote dialogue between the parties, emphasised their support for the two-state solution and stated that settlement activities violate international law. In addition, a virtual meeting of the envoys of the Middle East Quartet—which consists of the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US—was held on 23 March in which Quartet members called for a return to meaningful negotiations leading to a two-state solution and discussed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Wennesland and Council members are expected to indicate their support for these recent initiatives, as well as other efforts to rekindle the peace process. Members may be interested in hearing Wennesland’s assessment of the Paris and Quartet meetings, as well as any suggestions he may have for specific confidence-building measures to build trust between the sides. Council members might also want to hear Wennesland’s view on how the 23 March Israeli elections might affect Israel’s engagement in possible initiatives to reinvigorate the peace process. At the time of writing, the election results have yet to be finalised and it is unclear if any party would have the support needed to form a government.

The dire health, humanitarian and economic effects of the COVID-19 virus in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting. In February, COVID-19 cases declined in Gaza, but increased dramatically in the West Bank, according to OCHA. Over 2,500 people have died from COVID-19 in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since the start of the pandemic. On 21 March, the Palestinians—who have been receiving vaccines from the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility and some member states—began their national vaccination campaign in Gaza and the West Bank. Wennesland and several Council members are likely to encourage enhanced cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians in the provision and distribution of vaccines in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Some members may urge Israel to provide greater access to vaccinations to Palestinians.

Wennesland and several members may express their support for Palestinian legislative and presidential elections that are scheduled for 22 May and 31 July, respectively. The Palestinian Central Elections Commission closed the voter registration process on 23 February. An estimated 93 percent of eligible Palestinian voters have registered for the polls. Council members may be interested in any details that the Special Coordinator can share about a UN role in supporting electoral preparations. They may also want to hear Wennesland’s analysis of the Cairo meeting in mid-March, during which Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions discussed these preparations. At the meeting, the Palestinian factions committed to holding the elections in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a fair and transparent manner.

Some members might reference the 3 March decision of the ICC to launch a formal investigation into alleged war crimes committed in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem by both sides since 13 June 2014. (This was the date used by the Palestinian Authority when it referred the situation to the ICC in 2015.)  At the 26 February Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, the US and St. Vincent and the Grenadines expressed their views about the ICC’s 5 February decision asserting territorial jurisdiction over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. The US said that there are “serious legal and factual questions” about this decision, maintaining that such actions by the ICC “increase tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution”. St. Vincent and the Grenadines took note of the ruling and stated that “it is critical for the international community to actively participate in the global fight against impunity and render our unwavering support to the ICC”.

While the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have expressed support for the ICC’s investigation, Israel has strongly criticised it. On 21 March, Israel rescinded Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki’s travel permit—which allows him to move freely across borders separating the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel, and Jordan—following his meeting with ICC Prosecutor Bensouda in the Hague on 18 March to discuss the court’s investigation.

In tomorrow’s meeting, Wennesland may also briefly discuss recent developments in the Golan Heights and in Lebanon, as he has done in his first two briefings to the Council as Special Coordinator on 26 January and 26 February.