What's In Blue

Posted Tue 27 Jul 2021

The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Quarterly Open Debate

Tomorrow (28 July), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”. Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Lynn Hastings will brief. Yudith Oppenheimer, Executive Director of Ir Amim, a non-profit organisation which focuses on Jerusalem within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is also expected to brief. Council members and the representatives of Israel and the Observer State of Palestine will participate in person, while non-Council member states will submit their statements in writing.

A key focus of tomorrow’s meeting is likely to be the status of the 20 May ceasefire which ended a recent 11-day round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Hastings is expected to update Council members on the work carried out by the UN to solidify the ceasefire and to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Gaza. She may note that the ceasefire has so far largely held but remains fragile.

On 25 July, after three weeks of calm, incendiary balloons were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel, causing several fires in Israeli territory. In response, Israel said on 26 July that it had conducted airstrikes against Hamas targets. Following the launch of the incendiary balloons, Israel announced that it will reduce the fishing zone off the coast of Gaza to six nautical miles, reversing its 12 July decision to expand the fishing zone to 12 nautical miles. The 12 July decision to expand the fishing zone was part of a gradual easing of restrictions on Gaza which was introduced by Israel following the 11-day round of hostilities. Council members may be interested to hear more from Hastings about the prospects for promoting confidence-building measures between the sides to alleviate tensions and create conditions for the resumption of a political process.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members are expected to underscore the need for relief and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. Some members may stress the importance of ensuring that aid is not diverted by Hamas, while others are likely to call on Israel to fully lift its blockade on Gaza. Some members might refer to the Gaza Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA) issued on 6 July by the UN, the EU, and the World Bank. The RDNA found that the May hostilities caused $380 million in physical damage and $190 million in economic losses in Gaza. As such, Council members might seek an update on reconstruction efforts and the delivery of aid into Gaza, a topic which was already given prominence during the Council’s latest meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”, which took place on 24 June. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may be interested in Hastings’ views on whether the current aid mechanisms and the remaining restrictions to the delivery of goods into Gaza allow for key material to adequately reach the civilian population.

Another likely focus of tomorrow’s debate is the continuing Israeli settlement activity and the dismantlement and seizure of Palestinian structures in the West Bank. In this regard, there might be a discussion of the 7 July demolition of homes and property belonging to the Palestinian Bedouin community of Humsa al-Baqai’a in the northern Jordan Valley. According to an 8 July OCHA Situation Report, the demolition operation carried out by Israeli authorities affected around 70 people, including 35 children. OCHA reported that most of the structures confiscated or demolished in the operation had been originally supplied as a humanitarian response following similar Israeli demolition operations in the same area in February. (For more information, please see our 25 February What’s In Blue story). In response to the 7 July incident, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, said that “as the occupying power, Israel is strictly forbidden from destroying Palestinian property unless it is absolutely required by military necessity during active armed operations”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Hastings and several Council members are likely to urge the Israeli government to cease demolitions of Palestinian structures and to comply with its obligations under international law. Some members may also note the 14 July confiscation of at least 49 structures— including homes, animal shelters and solar power systems— in the Palestinian Bedouin community of Ras al-Tin near Ramallah. Several members might echo the Secretary-General’s observation in his 18 June report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334, in which he noted that evictions, in particular in such politically sensitive areas as East Jerusalem “can trigger dangerous tensions and violence”. Council members are expected to stress—though with different degrees of emphasis—that the continuing activity of settlement building undermines the prospect of a two-state solution.

Several Council members may be interested in hearing whether there has been progress towards rescheduling the Palestinian legislative and presidential elections, which had originally been scheduled for May and July, respectively, but were postponed indefinitely by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 29 April. On 26 July, three UN human rights experts, including Michael Lynk, called on the Palestinian Authority and Israel to take all necessary steps within their respective powers to facilitate the re-scheduling of the elections.