What's In Blue

Posted Wed 23 Jun 2021

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

Tomorrow (24 June), the Security Council will hold its monthly meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland is expected to brief. Consultations are scheduled to follow.

A key focus of tomorrow’s meeting is likely to be the status of the 20 May ceasefire that ended the recent 11-day round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. During the fighting in May, Gaza militants fired more than 4,000 rockets into Israel, and Israel conducted over 1,500 strikes in Gaza. The violence claimed the lives of 253 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel. In addition, 1,948 people in Gaza and 357 people in Israel were wounded in the hostilities. According to authorities in Gaza, 258 buildings were destroyed, and water, sanitation and electrical infrastructure sustained severe damage because of the fighting. Several health care facilities in Gaza were also damaged during the hostilities. In his 27 May briefing to the Council, Wennesland commended the “crucial role of Egypt and the United States, and the work of Qatar, which all, in close contact with the United Nations, were instrumental in bringing this latest round of violence to an end”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Wennesland is likely to emphasise the need to solidify the ceasefire, especially in light of the flare-up of tensions in mid-June between the parties. On 15 June, incendiary balloons were released from Gaza that Israel said had caused 20 fires in Israeli areas near the Gaza Strip. In response, the Israeli military announced on 16 June that it had launched airstrikes on “military compounds belonging to the Hamas terror organization”. There were no reported casualties. On 20 June, new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel would not tolerate any rocket fire from Gaza. In addition, a 15 June Israeli flag-day parade which passed through East Jerusalem was perceived by many Palestinians as inflammatory, with reports of some of the marchers chanting “Death to the Arabs”.

Council Members will probably echo Wennesland’s calls for a reduction of tensions and underline the need for the ceasefire to hold. They may seek more information from Wennesland about his diplomatic efforts and those of other key actors to work with the parties to prevent the breakdown of the ceasefire. In this regard, they may be interested in hearing details about his 21 June meeting with Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. Hamas has expressed its displeasure with the continued closure of Gaza’s border crossings, although Israel did allow some agricultural goods to be exported on 21 June. Hamas has further complained of Israel’s blockage of financial aid from Qatar. Israel continues to demand the release of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two Israeli soldiers from Gaza as a condition for completely ending restrictions. The Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip announced following a 22 June meeting that if their demands for the restrictions’ easing are not met, they will resume firing incendiary balloons and will organise rallies along the border fence with Israel.

Amid these continued tensions, Wennesland and Council members are likely to underscore the urgent need to address the underlying causes of the conflict and to reinvigorate a meaningful political process. They will likely reiterate that settlement-building is illegal under international law, condemn demolitions of Palestinian civilian structures, and call for negotiations to recommence through the Middle East Quartet or another platform. In his 17 June report on the implementation of resolution 2334, which covers the period from 23 March to 11 June, the Secretary-General noted continued settlement activity, including the approval by the Jerusalem District Planning Committee of the Har Homa E plan for 540 additional housing units in East Jerusalem. The Secretary-General further reported that Israeli authorities had “demolished or seized or forced people to demolish 72 structures”, displacing 78 people during the reporting period in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.  He said that Israeli authorities had cited “the absence of Israeli-issued building permits, which remain almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain”.

Wennesland and some Council members might also express concern about recent tensions and violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. This has included reports of the use of firearms by Israeli settlers and Molotov cocktails by Palestinians.

The need for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in Gaza is also expected to be a key theme of tomorrow’s meeting. In welcoming the ceasefire during a 20 May press stakeout, the Secretary-General appealed to the international community to “work with the United Nations on developing an integrated, robust package of support for a swift, sustainable reconstruction and recovery that supports the Palestinian people and strengthens their institutions”. Many members may echo this call, while some may emphasise the need to avoid having this aid bolster Hamas, which the US and the EU consider a terrorist organisation.