What's In Blue

Posted Tue 11 May 2021

Emergency Session: “The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”

Tomorrow morning (12 May), Security Council members will hold closed videoconference (VTC) consultations on the recent escalation of violence in Jerusalem and Gaza. This will be the second meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question” in the past two days. The meeting was called by Norway, Tunisia and Council president China. The Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland—who briefed members on this issue on Monday (10 May)—is again expected to brief.

In recent weeks, the tense situation in East Jerusalem has deteriorated into violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in different parts of the city. They began last month after Israeli authorities restricted Palestinian gatherings at the Damascus Gate Plaza in the Old City of Jerusalem and amidst protests ahead of an anticipated decision by the Israeli Supreme Court on the eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. On 7 May, skirmishes erupted between Israeli police and Palestinians at the Al Aqsa Mosque in the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site, lasting for several days; media sources have indicated that over 300 Palestinians and numerous Israeli police personnel were injured in these clashes.

In addition, in recent days, the militant group Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, including towards Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israel has responded by firing on Hamas targets in Gaza. At the time of writing, media sources have indicated that five people in Israel (including one Indian national who resided in Israel) have died from rocket attacks, while the Gaza Health Ministry has said that at least 28 people in Gaza have been killed by the Israeli airstrikes. Israel has maintained that at least 16 of the deceased were militants. At the time of writing, the exchange of fire continued.

The recent violence has garnered significant international attention. On 6 May, Wennesland issued a statement expressing deep concern about “the surge in tensions and violence in the Occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan”. In a tweet earlier today (11 May), he urged an end to the fighting, declaring: “Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full-scale war”. He added that “Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation”. The envoys of the Middle East Quartet (which is comprised of the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US) and UN Secretary-General António Guterres (through his spokesperson) issued statements on 8 May and 9 May, respectively, in which they expressed concern over the escalation in East Jerusalem and asserted that all leaders had a responsibility to speak out against violence.

China, Norway, and Tunisia—with support from Ireland, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Viet Nam—requested the 10 May consultations on the situation in Jerusalem. In his briefing, Wennesland gave an overview of recent developments, including clashes between Israeli police forces and Palestinian protestors in Sheikh Jarrah and around the Al Aqsa Mosque. He criticised the demolitions and evictions and welcomed the postponement of the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision on the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah (originally scheduled for 10 May) and Israel’s decision to change the route of the 10 May Jerusalem Day March to avoid clashes with Palestinian protestors. He condemned rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, while calling on the parties to exercise restraint. He also apparently noted that the recent crisis is occurring in the context of unresolved issues between the parties, such as the status of East Jerusalem.

At the time of writing, a draft press statement calling for de-escalation and calm—which was circulated on 9 May and proposed by China, Norway, and Tunisia—had not been agreed. At the 10 May meeting, while several members were supportive of issuing a statement, some members requested more time, as developments on the ground continued to unfold. Some delegations have made comments on the statement over the past day. Earlier today (11 May), Reuters reported that the US has delayed the efforts to pursue a statement as it might jeopardise “behind-the-scenes efforts to end the violence”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, members will want an update on the situation, including the exchange of fire between Gaza and Israel, as there has been a dramatic rise in these exchanges since Wennesland last briefed on 10 May. Members are likely to be interested in learning about efforts underway, by the UN and other actors, to de-escalate tensions and mediate an end to the crisis. There may also be interest in hearing about the humanitarian impacts of the fighting in Gaza. Some members may also underscore the importance of Council unity with regard to the current crisis. In this context, there may be calls for the Council to consider and discuss an updated Council product that takes into account developments from the past two days.

After tomorrow’s consultations, the next scheduled meeting on the “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question” is the monthly session on 27 May, which is planned as a VTC briefing, followed by VTC consultations. However, given the gravity of the current crisis and concerns about escalation, the Council will continue to closely monitor developments in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and could hold additional meetings on this issue before then.