The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (30 November), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, 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 in person. This will be his first briefing in the Security Council chamber since taking up his appointment in January. A civil society representative is also expected to brief.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may be interested in hearing Wennesland’s assessment of international meetings recently held among key actors in the Middle East peace process. The Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC)—a 15-member committee that coordinates development assistance to the Palestinian people at policy level and is chaired by Council member Norway and co-sponsored by the US and the EU—convened at ministerial level in Oslo on 17 November. On the same day, Envoys of the Middle East Quartet—which consists of the EU, Russia, the US, and the UN—also met in Oslo.
Wennesland and Council members may refer in their statements to the dire financial situation of the Palestinian Authority, which was a key focus of the AHLC meeting. Wennesland may discuss some of the main messages highlighted in his office’s report, issued on 11 November, ahead of the AHLC meeting. While noting that progress will not be possible in the absence of a resolution of broader issues, the report called on the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and the international community to work in concert towards stabilisation, development and reform through a “three-track approach”:
1) address the Palestinian Authority’s immediate economic and fiscal situation and strengthen its institutions and public service delivery;
2) solidify the cessation of hostilities which followed the conflict in May and support economic development in Gaza; and
3) “generate longer-term economic growth and sustainable livelihoods across the O[ccupied] P[alestinian] T[erritories]”.
Following the meeting, they released a joint press statement in which they expressed concern about “ongoing acts of violence in the West Bank, the advancement of new settlement units, the untenable fiscal crisis within the Palestinian Authority and threats of violence from the Gaza Strip”. They further stressed the need to address these challenges “through fiscal and other reforms”.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Wennesland is also likely to provide an update on recent violent incidents. According to a 19 November OCHA Protection of Civilians report, on 5 November, a 15-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli security forces in the Deir al-Hatab village in the West Bank during a protest in which Israeli forces used live ammunition and tear gas in response to stone-throwing. According to the report, on 16 November, a Palestinian was killed during an Israeli policing operation in the city of Tubas in the West Bank. OCHA further reported that, on 17 November, a 16-year-old Palestinian stabbed two police officers in Jerusalem and was subsequently killed. On 21 November, a Palestinian carried out an attack, also in Jerusalem, in which one Israeli civilian was killed and four others were injured; he was subsequently shot dead by security forces. The militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. In response to the 21 November attack, Wennesland tweeted: “Such acts of violence are never acceptable and must be condemned by all.”
On 19 November, the UK announced that Hamas has “become a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK in its entirety”. The UK designated the military wing of the group as a terrorist entity in 2001, expressing the view at the time that there was a distinction between the political and military wings of the group. However, London has reassessed its position.
Wennesland and Council members may express concern over settler attacks against Palestinians. On 10 November, a group of UN experts on human rights expressed alarm at violent attacks by Israeli settlers towards Palestinians. Noting that 2021 has seen “the highest recorded levels of violence in recent years and more severe incidents”, the experts said that the “ubiquity of these attacks, and the credible reports of the Israeli military’s passivity in combating this violence, has deepened the atmosphere of fear and coercion throughout the West Bank”. A 14 November report published by Jerusalem-based human rights group B’Tselem states that the organisation documented 451 incidents of settler violence between January 2020 and September 2021.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may reiterate the need to protect civilians. Some members may recall that resolution 2334 of 2016 called for immediate steps to prevent violence against civilians, including acts of terror, and called on both parties to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.
Tomorrow, Wennesland and Council members are also likely to refer to the two central themes which members discussed during the 8 November meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” under “any other business”. The meeting was requested by Tunisia to discuss the 22 October designation by Israel of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations and recent developments regarding settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. (For further details, see our 7 November What’s in Blue story).
Following the meeting, Ambassador Sven Jürgenson (Estonia) delivered a joint statement on behalf of Council members Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and incoming member Albania. The statement called on Israel to halt the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank—including in the Givat HaMatos settlement in East Jerusalem and in E1 (an area of the West Bank which is located between Jerusalem and the Ma’ale Adumim settlement)—and not to move forward with the construction of the more than 1300 housing units announced on 24 October, and the nearly 3000 housing units announced on 27 October. The statement further recalled resolution 2334, which demanded that all settlement activities cease with immediate effect, while noting that “settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between the parties”.
On 26 October, in response to the recent settlement activity, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said that it is “completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and it damages the prospects for a two-state solution”.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to reiterate these positions. Wennesland may echo his 24 October statement in reaction to the announcement, that “all settlements are illegal under international law”.
Today (29 November), on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement stressing that: “Persistent violations of the rights of Palestinians along with the expansion of settlements risk eroding the prospect of a two-State solution.” While Guterres said that he is encouraged by recent contacts between Israeli and Palestinian officials, he noted that “containing the situation is not sufficient” and that the overarching objective remains that of “two states living side-by-side in peace and security”.
Members may also be interested to hear about developments following the 22 October order signed by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz designating six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations. The decision was met with expressions of concern, including from Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Lynn Hastings and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, as well as several Council members. On 7 November, Israeli military authorities extended Gantz’s 22 October order—which applied only within Israel—to the West Bank. According to Israeli news outlet Haaretz, the extension of the order “means that the army can act against these organizations immediately, arrest their employees on suspicion of membership in a terror group, raid their offices and confiscate equipment”.
The 8 November statement by Council members from the EU, joined by Norway and incoming member Albania, said that the “listings are a matter of serious concern, as they have far-reaching consequences for the organisations in political, legal and financial terms” and noted that more information would be sought from the Israeli authorities as to the basis of the designations. At tomorrow’s meeting, these Council members may echo these positions and restate the importance of a vibrant civil society.