What's In Blue

Posted Tue 22 Feb 2022

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

Tomorrow (23 February), 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. Representatives of the Observer State of Palestine and Israel are expected to make statements at the open briefing.

An expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting is the recent escalation of tensions in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Since January, the situation in the neighbourhood has become more tense due to several evictions of Palestinian families and announcements of future evictions, including that of the Salem family, which was scheduled for eviction in March and whose situation has been drawing increasing local and international attention. Following an arson attack against the home of a Jewish family on 11 February, Knesset (parliament) member Itamar Ben-Gvir (from the far-right “Otzmah Yehudit” party) has set up an improvised parliamentary office in Sheikh Jarrah, near the home of the Salem family. Ben-Gvir has claimed that he seeks to protest the lack of police protection for Jewish residents in the neighbourhood. (Ben-Gvir had similarly established an office in Sheikh Jarrah in the context of protests which took place in the neighbourhood against the eviction of Palestinian families days before the eruption of the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May 2021.)

On 13 February, clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah resulted in several injuries and arrests. These developments prompted concerns about a possible escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. A spokesperson of the militant group Hamas has warned that the tensions in Sheikh Jarrah “would explode in Israel’s face”. Several Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, called on politicians to refrain from provocations in Jerusalem and said that the authorities will act to provide security to the neighbourhood’s citizens. On 22 February, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s court decided to suspend the Salem family’s eviction until it ruled on an appeal against the eviction.

The predominantly Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood has long been a flashpoint because of the ongoing evictions and demolitions of Palestinian structures. According to an 18 February statement by the UN Humanitarian Country Team in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 218 Palestinian families living mainly in the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan are at risk of forced eviction by the Israeli authorities. A 14 February EU report on “Demolitions and Seizures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem” noted that in 2021 a total of 904 structures were demolished by Israeli authorities, of which 178 were located in East Jerusalem, representing a six percent increase in the total number of demolitions compared to 2020.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Wennesland and Council members are likely to call for calm and stress the importance of avoiding provocative and escalatory actions, which could lead to further violence. Many Council members are expected to underline that settlement activity, demolitions and evictions risk triggering instability and violence and undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.

Tomorrow, Wennesland and several Council members are likely to refer to the rising tensions and violent incidents in the West Bank and underscore the need to protect civilians. On 8 February, undercover Israeli security forces killed three Palestinian men in a car in the city of Nablus in the West Bank. The Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported that the Al-Aqsa Brigades—the military wing of the Palestinian party Fatah—acknowledged that the three men were members of the group and quoted a statement by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz applauding the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for “eliminating the terrorist cell that carried out shooting attacks in recent weeks”. In a 14 February letter to the Security Council, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, Riyad Mansour, described the incident as “a flagrant act of extrajudicial killing”.

On 13 February, a 17-year-old Palestinian was killed during clashes in the village of Silat al-Harithiya in the context of an IDF operation aimed at demolishing the home of a Palestinian indicted for the 16 December 2021 murder of an Israeli civilian near the Homesh outpost in the West Bank. On 15 February, a Palestinian was killed by Israeli security forces in the village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah. The circumstances of this incident remain unclear, with Haaretz reporting that the IDF said that the killing happened after an army post was approached by Palestinians who were throwing stones. However, Haaretz also cited an eyewitness who said that there were no clashes at the time of the shooting. On 22 February, a 14-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli security forces in the town of al-Khader near Bethlehem after, according to a statement by the IDF, throwing a Molotov cocktail. At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may express concern about the Israeli security forces’ excessive use of force against Palestinians.

According to OCHA’s 11 February Protection of Civilians report, which covers the period from 25 January to 7 February, 215 Palestinians, including 28 children, were injured by Israeli security forces in the West Bank. OCHA noted that most of these injuries occurred during protests against settlements, which took place in the towns of Beit Dajan and Beita in the Nablus governorate, and in Kafr Qaddum in the Qalqilya governorate. OCHA reported several cases of settler violence, including incidents involving the vandalization of 140 Palestinian-owned trees and saplings in incidents near Israeli settlements close to Hebron and Salfit in the West Bank. In addition, it documented 21 incidents involving “people known or believed to be Palestinians” who threw stones at Israeli-plated vehicles across West Bank locations. At tomorrow’s meeting, Wennesland and Council members are likely to express concern regarding the recent violent incidents and call for de-escalation.

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