The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Quarterly Open Debate
Tomorrow (26 July), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt) Lynn Hastings will brief. Representatives of Israel and the Observer State of Palestine are expected to participate.
The US and other Council members may refer to the 13-16 July visit by US President Joe Biden to Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia. Although Biden reaffirmed his support for a two-state solution, he also said that this will not happen “in the near-term” and that “the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations”. While in East Jerusalem and during his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, Biden announced a series of economic initiatives in support of the Palestinians, including a multi-year contribution of $100 million for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network and $201 million for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
At tomorrow’s meeting, Hastings and several Council members may welcome the initiatives announced by Biden during his trip but are also likely to stress the importance of recreating a political horizon for the peace process to resume. Some members may emphasise that economic measures and crisis management are not a substitute for a robust multilateral political process. France may reference the 20 July meeting in Paris between Abbas and French President Emmanuel Macron, during which Macron called for “the resumption of direct political dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians”.
On 12 July, the Foreign Ministries of nine EU member states, including Council members France and Ireland, issued a joint statement on the October 2021 designation by Israel of six Palestinian civil society organisations as terrorist organisations. (The designation was a key theme of the 8 November 2021 meeting of Council members under “any other business” on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. See our 7 November 2021 What’s in Blue story.) The statement says that “[n]o substantial information was received from Israel” that would justify a change in policy by these countries towards the six NGOs and that the nine countries will continue their support for civil society in the oPt. Tomorrow, these Council members may reiterate this message. Some may also express concern at the 14 July letter sent by Israel’s Defense Ministry to the lawyers representing three of the NGOs in appeal proceedings against the designation. The letter reportedly notified the lawyers of the requirement to obtain official permission from the finance and defence ministers to represent and receive compensation from the NGOs due to their designation as terrorist organisations by Israel or face a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
On 6 July, OCHA published a fact sheet on the risk of forcible transfer of about 1,150 Palestinians—including over 500 children—from a cluster of Palestinian villages in the West Bank known as “Masafer Yatta”. This area was designated by Israel in the 1980s as a firing zone for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). According to OCHA, since the 4 May ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice rejecting appeals against eviction orders issued to the residents of this area, the “Israeli authorities have increasingly intensified a coercive environment for Palestinians in Masafer Yatta”. This has included the issuance of demolition orders, the demolition of the Palestinian villages of Khirbet Sarura and Kharoubeh, and the start of a military training exercise which involved placing targets close to residential areas within Masafer Yatta.
At the 27 June Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, many members (including France, Ghana, India, Ireland, Norway, and the US) expressed concern at the possible eviction of the residents of Masafer Yatta. Norway noted that “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition of the occupied areas are in violation of international humanitarian law” and urged Israel not to carry out its plan to demolish several villages in the area. Tomorrow, Council members are likely to again express concern about the situation in Masafer Yatta and call on Israel to stop evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures.
On 21 and 22 July, Israeli security forces evacuated six outposts recently erected by settler organisations in various locations across the West Bank. At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may refer to the evacuation of the outposts by the Israeli authorities as a positive step. They may stress that outpost and settlement advancements compromise the territorial contiguity of the oPt and undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.
Tomorrow, Hastings is likely to provide an update on the security situation and recent violent incidents in the oPt and Israel. Council members may condemn recent terrorist attacks against civilians in Israel. A recent alleged attack took place on a Jerusalem bus on 19 July when a passenger was stabbed by a Palestinian who was later shot by an armed civilian. Members may also call on Israel to promptly investigate all instances of alleged disproportionate use of force against Palestinians and may reiterate previous calls for accountability for the 11 May killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh while reporting on an IDF operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank (see our 25 May What’s in Blue story).
Council members are likely to condemn the recent rocket launches from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. In the early hours of 16 July, shortly after Biden’s departure from Israel, two rockets were launched towards the Israeli city of Ashkelon, one landing in an open area and the other being intercepted by Israel’s air defence system, “Iron Dome”. In response, the IDF said it had “targeted one of Hamas’ most significant rocket production sites in Gaza”. While the IDF carried out the strikes, two further rockets were launched from Gaza towards Israel, landing in open areas. The IDF said it responded by striking a Hamas weapons manufacturing site.
Following the attacks, on the same day, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the freeze of 1500 additional Israeli work permits for Palestinians in Gaza. These were part of a series of gestures by Israel, such as the opening of the Salem crossing in the northern West Bank, ahead of Biden’s visit. Tomorrow, Council members may reference the measures that are still in place, as well as other recent developments, including the 8 July phone call between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid—the first such contact between the Palestinian president and the prime minister of Israel in several years—and the UAE’s 9 July pledge of $25 million to the al-Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem.