The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (28 September), 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 the anticipated briefer.
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 Israeli settlements constitute a “flagrant violation under international law” and demanded an end to all settlement activities. In September, Israeli authorities advanced plans for two settlements located south of East Jerusalem, Har Gilo Ma’arav (Mount Gilo West) and Givat HaShaked. Tomorrow, Wennesland and several members are likely to reiterate that settlements erode the possibility of achieving a two-state solution and may call on Israel to stop evictions and demolitions of Palestinian structures. A recent article by Israeli news outlet Haaretz illustrates how daily life in the cluster of Palestinian villages in the West Bank known as Masafer Yatta has worsened, less than six months after the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected appeals against eviction orders issued to the residents of this area. This area was designated by Israel as a firing zone for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the 1980s.
Tomorrow, Council members are likely to express concern at the increasingly volatile security situation in the West Bank, including in light of frequent clashes between the IDF and Palestinian factions during IDF raids in various West Bank locations, such as Nablus and Jenin. (Israeli security forces have intensified their operations in the West Bank since earlier this year after a string of terror attacks in Israel.) During the 25 August meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, China and Mexico criticised the excessive use of force by Israel during these operations. Ireland expressed concern “at the alarming increase in Palestinian civilian fatalities” resulting from the use of live ammunition by Israeli forces and called on Israel to refrain from using excessive force. The UK urged Israel “to show restraint in its use of live ammunition”. Tomorrow, these members may reiterate similar concerns.
Resolution 2334 also called for immediate steps to prevent violence against civilians, including acts of terror, and called on both parties to refrain from provocative actions, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric. Tomorrow, members are likely to reiterate their condemnation of all acts of terror and violence against civilians on all sides, including incidents of settler-related violence. Wennesland may warn about the potential for tensions during the Jewish High Holidays (25 September-17 October) and emphasise the importance of maintaining calm. In this regard, Council members may be interested in an update from Wennesland on the recent tensions at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site and in East Jerusalem. According to media reports, clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli security forces on 25 and 26 September after large numbers of Jewish worshippers entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site in Jerusalem to perform religious rituals and prayers on the occasion of the Jewish new year. (Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism and the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest in Islam. Under an agreement reached after the 1967 Six-Day War, only Muslims are allowed to pray at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site.)
Amid the ongoing risk of an escalation of violence, Wennesland and Council members are likely to underscore the urgent need to address the underlying causes of the conflict and to reinvigorate a meaningful political process. Wennesland and Council members may reference some of the statements delivered at the high-level segment of the 77th session of the General Assembly, including by Israeli caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as those delivered by Council members which referenced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as China, Ireland, Norway, the United Arab Emirates and the US. On 22 September, Lapid expressed support for the two-state solution on condition that the future Palestinian state “will be a peaceful one” and does not become “another terror base from which to threaten the well-being and the very existence of Israel”. On 23 September, Abbas said that Israel “has undermined the Oslo Accords” and reiterated his request for full UN membership for the State of Palestine. He added that the true test for the credibility of Lapid’s stance on the two-state solution would be for Israel to go back to negotiations immediately.
Wennesland and some members may refer to the recent meeting of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which took place on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s high-level segment on 22 September. (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.) In his statement at the meeting, Wennesland highlighted the four recommendations contained in the report submitted by the UN Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) ahead of the meeting. These are:
- Addressing the conflict’s drivers, which requires the parties to reduce tensions and violence across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), stopping militant activity in Gaza and the West Bank and unilateral steps such as settlement advancements, demolitions, and displacement, among other steps;
- Strengthening Palestinian institutions, including by reinforcing both the fiscal health of the Palestinian Authority and its political accountability and legitimacy;
- Improving access, movement, and trade to create space for the Palestinian economy to grow;
- For the parties to start re-envisioning their economic and administrative relationship.
On 22 September, Secretary-General António Guterres and Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini called for sustainable funding for the Agency during a meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s high-level segment. Tomorrow, members may express concern about the funding shortages UNRWA faces and call for financial support for the Agency.