What's In Blue

Posted Sun 7 Nov 2021

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Meeting under “Any Other Business”

Tomorrow (8 November), Security Council members will convene for a meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” under “any other business”. Tunisia requested the meeting to discuss the recent designation by Israel of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations and developments regarding settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Lynn Hastings is expected to brief.

A key focus of tomorrow’s meeting is expected to be the designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations following an order signed by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on 22 October. The six NGOs are: Al-Haq, Addameer, Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Union of Palestinian Women Committees, and the Palestinian section of Defence for Children International. In announcing the designation, Israeli officials cited allegations that the NGOs have ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a left-wing militant group designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the EU, and the US. A 22 October statement issued by the Israeli Defense Ministry, as reported by Israeli news outlet Haaretz, said that “[t]he groups are controlled by the senior leadership of the PFLP and employ many members of the group in jobs in both management and on the ground – including activists who were involved in terrorism”. The six designated NGOs have denied these allegations. A 23 October statement by Al-Haq rejecting the designation says that the “baseless allegations represent an alarming and unjust escalation of attacks against the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, justice and the right to self-determination”.

Several key international human rights interlocutors have expressed concern regarding Israel’s 22 October announcement. In a 22 October joint statement, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called the decision “an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations”. On 25 October, a group of UN experts on human rights issued a statement condemning the decision as “a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere”. In a 26 October statement, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the decision should be revoked immediately and that the six organisations “are some of the most reputable human rights and humanitarian groups in the occupied Palestinian territory”. She further pointed out that “counter-terrorism legislation must not be applied to legitimate human rights and humanitarian work”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Hastings may provide further details on the basis for the designation. In a 25 October statement, she expressed concern regarding the designation and noted that she is engaging with the Israeli authorities to learn more about the allegations against the six NGOs. A 28 October statement by the EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy indicated that the EU has taken the listing of the six NGOs “very seriously” and that “[t]hese listings have far-reaching consequences for the organisations in political, legal and financial terms”. Tomorrow, Council members may be interested in hearing from Hastings about her assessment of the decision’s possible effects on the work of the six NGOs and on Palestinian civil society in general. Some Council members, including Ireland and Norway, have issued statements of concern following the designation. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—of which Tunisia and Niger are members—denounced the decision and called for international stakeholders to put pressure on Israel to reverse it. At tomorrow’s meeting, these Council members are likely to echo these positions.

Another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting is the recent announcements by Israel regarding plans for settlement expansion. On 24 October, Israeli authorities published tenders for the construction of more than 1,300 housing units in the West Bank and 83 housing units in the Givat HaMatos settlement in East Jerusalem. The news has been met with expressions of concern, including from the EU and from Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland, who said in a 24 October statement that “all settlements are illegal under international law, remain a substantial obstacle to peace, and must cease immediately”.

In contrast with its approach during the Trump administration, the US publicly expressed concern about Israel’s plans for settlement expansion. On 26 October, US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said: “We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and it damages the prospects for a two-state solution”. It has also been reported that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised the matter in a phone call with Gantz on the same day. On 27 October, an Israeli planning committee gave final approval for the construction of an additional 1,800 housing units and preliminary approval for the construction of 1,344 housing units in settlements in the West Bank. On 1 November, Israel’s Civil Administration approved plans for the construction of 1,303 housing units for Palestinians in the West Bank. However, it has been reported that only 170 of these homes were given final approval and that it might be years before building permits are approved for the remainder. According to rights groups cited by Al Jazeera, the housing units approved meet only a small fraction of what is required to address the needs of Palestinians in the area.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Hastings may provide an update on the planned settlement activities and is expected to echo Wennesland’s 24 October statement. The widespread position in the Security Council—and among the UN membership more broadly—is that settlement construction is a violation of international law. Tomorrow, Council members are expected to stress—though with different degrees of emphasis—that the planned expansions are in violation of Israel’s international legal obligations and undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.