The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (25 August), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. The expected briefers are Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini and a civil society representative.
The Council last discussed “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” at an 8 August emergency meeting on the 5-7 August round of hostilities in the Gaza Strip between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). (For background, see our 7 August What’s in Blue story.) According to a 19 August OCHA report, based on data reported by various sources, 49 Palestinians—including 17 children—were killed and 360 were injured during the latest escalation, while 70 Israelis were injured. In an 8 August statement, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Adele Khodr said: “[t]he impact of such escalations is huge, and continues even after a ceasefire is in place, affecting children’s ability to realize their rights and continuing to expose children and families to risks.” Tomorrow, Council members may be interested in receiving an update from Wennesland on the humanitarian consequences of the escalation and on the humanitarian assistance that the UN and its partners are delivering to support the affected population in Gaza, including children.
The 7 August ceasefire agreed by Israel and the PIJ has since held. Tomorrow, Wennesland and Council members are likely to call on the parties to continue to uphold the ceasefire. Many may also note that the drivers of the latest, and previous, escalations between Israelis and Palestinians remain unresolved. Wennesland and Council members are likely to stress the importance of finding a political solution to the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the need to create a political horizon for a peace process leading to a two-state solution, to break the cycle of recurring escalations of violence.
Wennesland is also likely to provide an update on violent incidents in the West Bank and Israel, as well as on forcible evictions and demolitions of Palestinian structures. Council members may express concern at possible excessive use of force by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during their operations in the West Bank. Members may also condemn recent terrorist attacks against civilians in Israel. Members are likely to reiterate previous calls on Israel to stop evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures and to respect the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem.
On 18 August, the IDF raided the offices of six Palestinian civil society organisations which Israel had designated as terrorist organisations in October 2021. The IDF welded shut and affixed closure orders to the doors of the six organisations, some of which also reported having equipment destroyed and confiscated. The designation—which the six organisations have rejected, and which has generated concern among major human rights interlocutors—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”. (For background, see our 7 November 2021 What’s in Blue story.)
In an 18 August statement, UN Agencies and the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said that the attempted closures “represent the latest in a series of actions by Israel that are further limiting the ability of human rights, humanitarian and development work in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”. The statement also noted that Israel has not given “any compelling evidence” to UN Agencies and their non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners to support the designations.
On 19 August, the foreign ministries of nine EU member states, including Council members France and Ireland, issued a joint statement expressing deep concern at the 18 August raids and saying that the nine states “stand firm with NGOs to uphold the right to freedom of expression and association in the oPt [occupied Palestinian territory]”. Recalling previous messages on the matter, the statement also said that “no substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards the 6 Palestinian NGOs”. On 22 August, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles issued a similar statement, which also condemned measures that followed the raids “including arrests and interrogations of staff members of these organisations”. Tomorrow, the abovementioned Council members and others may echo these concerns.
On 18 August, US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price said that the US is “concerned about the Israeli security forces’ closure of the six offices”, adding that Washington has not seen anything that has caused it to change its position on the organisations, but that Israel has promised that it would provide the US with further information regarding its actions. According to a 22 August article in British news outlet The Guardian, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was “unable to find any evidence to support Israel’s decision” to designate the six NGOs as terrorist organisations. The article reports that, in light of the CIA’s assessment, Human Rights Watch has urged the US to call on Israel “to reverse these designations, and to allow these organizations to continue their vital work”.
Lazzarini is likely to describe the deterioration of the situation of Palestine refugees since his last briefing to the Security Council in May 2021, noting the increase in poverty and growing sense of despair in the refugee camps. He may inform the Council that the chronic underfunding of UNRWA has made it increasingly challenging for the Agency to fulfil its mandate and is likely to stress UNRWA’s important role for regional stability. Tomorrow, Council members may call on donors to support UNRWA to make sure that its services can continue.