What's In Blue

Posted Mon 20 Dec 2021

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

Tomorrow (21 December), 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 his briefing, Wennesland is expected to focus on the implementation of resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016. In this resolution, the Security Council stated that Israeli settlements constitute a “flagrant violation under international law” and demanded an end to all settlement activities. Wennesland is likely to provide an update on Israeli plans for advancing settlements, including in E1 (an area of the West Bank which is located between Jerusalem and the Ma’ale Adumim settlement). If completed, these settlements would sever the connection between the northern and southern West Bank. He may also refer to plans announced by the Israeli authorities in October for the construction of several thousand housing units in different locations, including in the Ariel settlement in the northern West Bank and Givat HaMatos settlement in East Jerusalem (for more details, see our 7 November What’s in Blue story).

On 6 December, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee decided not to advance plans for a settlement in Atarot, between Ramallah and East Jerusalem, citing the need to first conduct an environmental study. At tomorrow’s meeting, both Wennesland and several Council members are likely to underscore that the continuing settlement activity undermines the prospects for a two-state solution.

Wennesland is also likely to provide updated figures on seizures and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures. According to OCHA’s 14 December Protection of Civilians report, which covers the period from 16 November to 6 December, Israeli authorities “demolished, seized, or forced owners to demolish” 62 structures owned by Palestinians, displacing 55 people, including 18 children.

Resolution 2334 also 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 is likely to provide an update on recent violent incidents in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to the 14 December OCHA report, two Israelis were injured in separate stabbing attacks in Jerusalem; one which took place near the Old City of Jerusalem on 4 December and another in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah on 8 December. The perpetrator of the 4 December attack was shot and killed by security forces. On 6 December, a Palestinian carried out an alleged car-ramming attack in Tulkarm in the West Bank, in which an Israeli security guard was injured; the assailant was subsequently shot dead by security forces. On 10 December, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man in the context of weekly protests against settlement activity in Beita, Nablus. In addition, a Palestinian man was killed by security forces following a search-and-arrest operation in Nablus on 13 December. On 16 December, an Israeli civilian was killed in an attack perpetrated by Palestinians in the vicinity of the Homesh outpost in the West Bank. The attack was followed by several retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians.

Following these incidents, Wennesland issued a statement, condemning all violent and terrorist acts and appealing “to all sides to deescalate the situation”. He noted that these and similar incidents “highlight the volatility of the current situation and the urgency for all political, religious and community leaders to speak up and reject violence”, a message which he may reiterate tomorrow.

Wennesland and Council members may also express concern regarding the high levels of settler-related violence. At the most recent monthly Security Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, which took place on 30 November, Wennesland said that settler violence “remains at alarmingly high levels amid continued tensions over settlement expansion and the annual olive harvest season”. Some members may also express concern about allegations of use of excessive force by Israeli security forces against Palestinian civilians and call for accountability. During the reporting period of the 14 December OCHA report, 441 Palestinians were injured in clashes across the West Bank, 97 of whom were children. Most of these injuries occurred during demonstrations against settlement activities near the village of Beita in the West Bank.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may also refer to Israel’s recent designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organisations. (For more details, see our 7 November What’s in Blue story.) At the 30 November Council monthly meeting, several members mentioned the designation, with Norway stating: “If we are not presented in reasonable time with sufficient information to corroborate those accusations, we will request Israel to rescind the decision”.

Council members may be interested in receiving an update on the security situation in the Gaza Strip and on the status of the reconstruction following the destruction caused by the 11-day round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in May. Israel has recently allowed more goods to enter the Gaza Strip and issued permits for traders and merchants to enter Israel. According to OCHA’s 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, which was issued on 16 December, while there has been an easing of the restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities, the blockade “remains in place, impeding the access and movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza, the implementation of infrastructure projects and delaying economic recovery”. Some Council members may call for more support to accelerate the reconstruction and for the lifting of all remaining restrictions.

Council members may refer to the fiscal crisis faced by the Palestinian Authority, which was a key focus of the 17 November Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) meeting in Oslo. (The AHLC is a 15-member committee chaired by Norway that coordinates development assistance to the Palestinian people at policy level). On 14 December, officials from the US and the Palestinian Authority held a virtual meeting of the US-Palestinian Economic Dialogue (USPED), in which they discussed such issues as enhancing access to US markets, cooperating on renewable energy projects, and connecting the US and Palestinian businesses. Members may also refer to the first round of municipal elections, which took place on 11 December in some areas of the West Bank and urge the Palestinian Authority to organise parliamentary and presidential elections. (On 29 April, Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections were postponed indefinitely by the Palestinian Authority.)

Resolution 2334 also called on “all parties to continue, in the interest of the promotion of peace and security, to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations on all final status issues in the Middle East peace process”. On 17 November, envoys of the Middle East Quartet—which comprises the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US—met in Oslo on the margins of the AHLC meeting. The Quartet envoys issued a joint statement expressing concern regarding “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”. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may express support for the Quartet and call for its increased engagement to revitalise the peace process.