The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (22 March), 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.
Wennesland is expected to provide an oral report on the implementation of resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016. In this resolution, the Security Council stated that the establishment of settlements by Israel “constitutes a flagrant violation under international law” and stressed that the cessation of settlement activities is essential for salvaging the two-state solution. During the 23 February Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Wennesland said that “[i]llegal settlements and planning processes are steadily advancing”. On 13 March, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)— which includes Council members Albania, Gabon and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—condemned the recent approval of the construction of 730 new housing units in the Pisgat Ze’ev settlement in East Jerusalem. Tomorrow, Council members are expected to reiterate concerns about the advancement of settlement activities, evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures and to say that these activities undermine the prospects for a two-state solution and risk heightening tensions and fomenting violence.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may reference as a positive step the 1 March decision by Israel’s Supreme Court to allow four Palestinian families which were facing imminent eviction to remain in their homes in the East Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood until a final decision on ownership is made. (For background, see our 22 February What’s in Blue story.) Council members may also welcome the 9 March decision by the Israeli police to halt evictions and demolitions of structures built without Israeli-issued permits belonging to the Arab community in East Jerusalem and in the southern Negev region during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start on 2 April. At the same time, some speakers at tomorrow’s meeting may identify as a potential source of concern the possible eviction of the over 1,000 Palestinian residents of a cluster of Palestinian villages in the West Bank known as “Masafer Yatta”, an area identified as a firing zone for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). According to Reuters, the Supreme Court “is expected to hand down a ruling soon on the army’s move to demolish eight small communities”.
The rising tensions and violent incidents in the West Bank and Jerusalem are likely to be another focus of tomorrow’s meeting. OCHA’s latest Protection of Civilians report, which covers the period from 22 February to 7 March, notes that a 13-year-old Palestinian was killed on 22 February in al-Khader near Bethlehem, according to Israeli sources after he threw a Molotov cocktail at Israeli vehicles. On 1 March, Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinians in an exchange of fire in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin. OCHA reports that on the same day, a Palestinian was killed near Bethlehem after he ran away upon noticing Israeli soldiers searching for Palestinian stone-throwers; according to medical sources cited by OCHA, he was shot in the head at close range. On 6 March, after reportedly throwing a Molotov cocktail at Israeli soldiers, a 15-year-old Palestinian was shot in the head in Abu Dis, Jerusalem, and later died. In two separate incidents on 6 and 7 March, two Palestinians stabbed three Israeli police officers in the Old City of Jerusalem and were subsequently killed. According to OCHA, “one of the assailants was reportedly shot while he was lying on the ground wounded after being initially shot”. The report also states that on 9 March, after the reporting period, a Palestinian succumbed to injuries sustained on 2 March when Israeli forces shot him near the West Bank town of Burqa. Overall, 140 Palestinians, including 20 children, were injured by Israeli security forces across the West Bank during the reporting period.
In a 16 March letter to the Security Council, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said that “Israel’s systemic killing of Palestinians demonstrates a clear and cruel pattern of extrajudicial killings as most Palestinians killed in 2022, including children, have been targeted with direct gunshots to the head or chest”.
On 8 March, Wennesland issued a statement expressing concern about the deteriorating security situation and calling for “maximum restraint”. The statement said that “children must never be the target of violence or put in harm’s way” and that the “Israeli security forces must use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable to protect life”. Tomorrow, some members may call for incidents involving the disproportionate use of force by Israeli security forces against Palestinians to be thoroughly investigated and call for accountability.
In a likely reference to the upcoming beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Passover, which will overlap during April, Wennesland’s 8 March statement also noted that the “uptick in violence is taking place at a particularly sensitive time” and called on “political, religious and community leaders to reject violence and speak up against those who try to inflame the situation”, a message which he may reiterate tomorrow. Clashes at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site were among the incidents which contributed to the escalation of violence that led to the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May 2021. Tomorrow, Council members are likely to call for calm and may stress the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem. On 10 March, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with King Abdullah II of Jordan to “act together to quell tensions and promote understanding, mainly ahead of the month of Ramadan and Passover holiday”, according to a statement by Lapid reported by the Israeli news outlet Haaretz.