The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Quarterly Open Debate via VTC
Tomorrow (22 April), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question” via videoconference. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland and Rein Paulsen, the Director of OCHA’s Coordination Division, are expected to brief. The statements of the briefers, Council members and the representatives of Israel and the Observer State of Palestine are expected to be broadcast live. Non-Council members will have the opportunity to submit statements in writing that will subsequently be circulated in a Council document.
A key theme of the meeting is likely to be the preparations for the Palestinian legislative and presidential elections scheduled for 22 May and 31 July, respectively. Wennesland is likely to welcome the progress that has been made in these preparations. An estimated 93 percent of eligible Palestinian voters registered for the polls by 23 February, when the Palestinian Central Elections Commission closed the voter registration process. On 4 April, the Central Elections Commission approved all 36 registered electoral lists for the legislative elections.
Wennesland may emphasise the importance of conducting credible and inclusive elections throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem. In a 1 April statement, he declared that such elections would be “a crucial step towards renewing the legitimacy of national institutions, reestablishing Palestinian national unity and charting a way back to meaningful negotiations to realize a two-State solution”. Several Council members are likely to echo the importance of holding fair and credible elections throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It is also possible that the Quartet principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements might be mentioned with regard to a future Palestinian government.
Some analysts have been discussing the possibility that the Palestinian legislative and presidential elections may be postponed. On 20 April, Nabil Shaath, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that a postponement was likely if Israel does not permit Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem. To date, Israel has not given such approval. Some sources have suggested that Abbas might postpone the elections because he is fearful that the results could weaken Fatah, his party, and enhance Hamas’ political power.
Several Council members are likely to reiterate their calls to reinvigorate the peace process. In this regard, there may be reference to different platforms for doing so, including the Middle East Quartet (consisting of the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US), an expanded Quartet that also includes the participation of countries in the Middle East, or the Munich format (comprised of Egypt, France, Germany, and Jordan).
The Special Envoy and a number of members are likely to express concern about recent violence between the sides. In this regard, on 16 April, Israel launched aerial attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza, after a rocket was fired into Israel from the Gaza strip. The Israel Defense Forces said via Twitter that the sites hit were “a training facility, an anti-aircraft missile launcher post, a concrete production plant & terror tunnel infrastructure”.
Israeli settlement activity and the demolition of Palestinian civilian structures are other issues that may be addressed in the meeting. Some members may express concern about evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. At present, eviction notices have been delivered to seven households, with a 2 May deadline for departure. During his 25 March briefing to the Council, Wennesland “urge[d] Israel to cease demolitions and evictions, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law, and to approve plans that would enable these communities to build legally and address their development needs”.
The difficult humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19, is expected to be another focus of the meeting. On 15 April, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that a total of 156,446 people had been vaccinated in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; this is approximately three percent of the Palestinian population. The WHO also observed that the rate of infections continued to increase, while in the West Bank “infections are declining slowly, but the medical response situation remains critical”. Paulsen may describe efforts to combat the virus in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the strain it has put on the local health care system.
The briefers and some member states might emphasise the need for enhanced humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people. In particular, one or both of the briefers might express concern about the financial difficulties facing the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In this regard, they may join a number of member states in welcoming the US announcement on 7 April, citing plans to restart the delivery of economic, development and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians; among other forms of support, this is expected to include $150 million for UNRWA.
The briefers and some Council members might also encourage international efforts to provide Palestinians with more vaccines, which they have been receiving from the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility and a number of UN member states. There may also be calls for Israel—which has vaccinated over 100,000 Palestinian workers—and other member states to increase their supply of vaccines for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
Violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians may also be raised during the meeting. On 14 April, three UN human rights experts—Michael Lynk, Balakrishnan Rajagopal and Claudia Mahler—said that there had been a marked increase in such violence, with over 210 violent incidents and one fatality reported in the first three months of 2021. The incidents included assaults and property destruction, they observed. In light of the recent incidents, some members may call on Israeli authorities to step up efforts to curtail this violence.