What's In Blue

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

Tomorrow (26 May), 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 and two civil society representatives are the expected briefers. Representatives of Israel and the Observer State of Palestine are expected to make statements at the open briefing.

The killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and subsequent related developments are expected to be a key focus of tomorrow’s meeting. On 11 May, Al Jazeera reporter Abu Akleh was shot dead while reporting on an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operation in the Jenin refugee camp, in the West Bank. Al Jazeera producer Ali al-Samoudi was wounded during the same incident.

Israeli authorities have claimed that Abu Akleh was killed during an exchange of fire between IDF soldiers and Palestinian militants. In a 11 May tweet, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “according to the information we have at the moment, there is a good chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, are the ones who led to the journalist’s unfortunate death”. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted that “Palestinian terrorists, firing indiscriminately, are likely to have hit [Abu Akleh]”. However, several witness statements and independent assessments have challenged this account. Local reporter Shatha Hanaysha, who was next to Abu Akleh at the time of the shooting, said that the Israeli “occupation army did not stop firing even after [Abu Akleh] collapsed” and that it was “adamant on shooting to kill”. In a 11 May letter to the Security Council, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said that the “Israeli occupying forces (IOF) murdered [Abu Akleh] in cold blood”.

On 13 May, the IDF released the preliminary findings of an inquiry into the incident. While retaining the possibility that Abu Akleh was killed by indiscriminate Palestinian gunfire, the IDF also acknowledged, as another possibility, that she was killed by “errant IDF sniper fire”. On 19 May, the IDF announced that an investigation into possible criminal responsibility connected to the killing of Abu Akleh will not be carried out.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to participate in a joint investigation proposed by Israel and is carrying out its own probe. On 23 May, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Maliki announced that the Palestinian Authority had submitted a file about Abu Akleh’s death to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Yesterday (24 May), Al Jazeera Network Bureau Chief for the Americas Abderrahim Foukara briefed Council members at an Arria-formula meeting on the protection of journalists, hosted by Ireland. He said that the network has evidence and witness accounts which support the view that Abu Akleh “was killed by an Israeli bullet and in cold blood” and that it “is considering all possible legal options to make sure justice is done”.

In a move that generated further outcry, on 13 May Israeli police pushed and beat participants at Abu Akleh’s funeral, causing the pallbearers to nearly drop the casket. In a 14 May statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the use of force by the Israeli police at the funeral “appeared to be unnecessary and must be promptly and transparently investigated”.

Key human rights actors have argued that Abu Akleh’s killing is not an isolated event. Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir said that Israeli forces have often used excessive force and that Abu Akleh’s killing should be understood “in the context of this systemic practice and the killings of many other Palestinian journalists”. On 9 May, two days before Abu Akleh’s killing, the Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported the beating by Israeli soldiers of a Palestinian journalist documenting the demolition of a Palestinian-owned structure near the village of al-Tuwani in the West Bank.

Several international interlocutors—including Wennesland, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the EU and the US–condemned Abu Akleh’s killing and called for an investigation. In a rare display of consensus in the Council’s work on the Israeli-Palestinian file, Security Council members issued a press statement on 13 May strongly condemning Abu Akleh’s killing, calling for accountability and for an immediate, thorough, transparent, fair and impartial investigation. Tomorrow, Council members are likely to echo these messages.

Recent violent incidents and continuing tensions are another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting. Council members are likely to condemn the wave of terror attacks in Israel. The latest such attack took place on 5 May, when two Palestinians killed three Israelis and injured four others in the central city of Elad. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, which was welcomed by militant group Hamas. In a 5 May tweet, Wennesland said that it is “deplorable that Hamas and others continue to glorify such attacks, which undermine the possibility of a peaceful future for both Palestinians and Israelis”. Some members may also express concern at the intensified security operations carried out by the IDF in the West Bank in response to such attacks, including in Jenin, which resulted in the death and injury of several Palestinians, and call for investigations into allegations of disproportionate use of force by the IDF. Council members may also reiterate previous calls to avoid all provocations and actions that may fuel tension and trigger violence and instability.

Another likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting is the 12 May decision by Israel’s Higher Planning Council to approve plans to advance over 4000 housing units in various locations in the West Bank. Of these, the approval of over 2700 units is final. This development has been condemned by international interlocutors such as the EU, the OIC and Wennesland, who said in a 12 May statement that “settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population”. At tomorrow’s meeting, Wennesland and several Council members may reiterate these concerns and underscore that all settlements are illegal under international law and that settlement advancement undermines the prospects for a two-state solution.

Some Council members may also express concern at the 4 May decision of the Israeli High Court of Justice to reject appeals against eviction orders issued to Palestinian inhabitants of a cluster of villages in the West Bank known as “Massafer Yatta”, an area designated by Israel as a firing zone for the IDF. According to media reports, Israel has already started carrying out demolitions in the area. In a 16 May statement, a group of special rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council said that the High Court of Justice’s decision will put around 1,200 Palestinian residents of this area, including 500 children, at imminent risk of “forced evictions, arbitrary displacement and forcible transfer, in serious breach of international humanitarian and human rights laws”.

Tomorrow, Wennesland and some members may also mention the recent meeting of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which took place in Brussels on 9 and 10 May. (The AHLC is a 15-member committee that coordinates development assistance to the Palestinian people at policy level and is chaired by Council member Norway.) The report prepared for the AHLC meeting by the UN Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) calls for a more strategic approach to address the Palestinian Authority’s economic and fiscal crisis. While it recognises that some improvements have taken place—for instance, in the integration between the Israeli and Palestinian economies—it also warns that economic steps alone, while essential and needed, will not sustainably address the multiple crises facing the Palestinian Authority.

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