The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Quarterly Open Debate
Tomorrow morning (28 October), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland will brief. Representatives of Israel and the Observer State of Palestine are expected to participate.
The increasingly volatile situation in the West Bank is expected to be a key focus of tomorrow’s meeting. Recent months have witnessed the intensification of violent confrontations between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinians during frequent IDF raids in several locations in the West Bank, including in the cities of Jenin and Nablus. (Israeli security forces have intensified their operations in the West Bank since earlier this year after a string of terror attacks in Israel.) The recent period has also seen reports of an uptick in shooting attacks against Israeli military checkpoints and soldiers.
On 25 October, five Palestinians were killed in Nablus in the context of an operation targeting sites which the IDF identified as belonging to the “Lions’ Den”—a recently formed, cross-factional, loose coalition of Palestinian militants based in Nablus—which has claimed responsibility for the 11 October killing of an Israeli soldier. Israeli officials have also accused the group of planning and attempting to carry out attacks in Israel. Palestinian media outlets and accounts cited by Al Jazeera have said that two of the Palestinians killed during the 25 October raid were unarmed barbers who were on their way home from work.
In an 8 October statement, Wennesland expressed alarm at the deteriorating security situation. He urged Israeli and Palestinian authorities to “restore calm and avoid further escalation”, a message he is expected to reiterate tomorrow.
Several Council members are likely to express concern at the high number of Palestinians, including children, who were killed and injured by Israeli security forces during IDF operations in the West Bank. According to an 18 October statement by Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) Lucia Elmi, since the beginning of October, “15 Palestinians, including six children, have been killed by Israeli forces during search-and-arrest operations, exchanges of fire, or in confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the West Bank including East Jerusalem”. The statement notes that “[i]n some instances, those killed did not appear to pose a concrete or imminent threat to justify the use of lethal force, raising concerns of excessive use of force”. A 16 October OCHA report said that thus far, 2022 is the highest year for Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank, compared to the same period in the previous 16 years. Tomorrow, members may urge the Israeli authorities to exercise restraint and proportionality in the use of force. Members are also likely to condemn all acts of terrorism and call on actors to avoid provocatory actions and rhetoric.
According to a statement by US Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price, during a 25 October meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Blinken stressed the US’ concern over the upsurge of violence in the West Bank and the loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives, while emphasising the need for all parties to urgently de-escalate the situation. (The meeting took place in the context of Herzog’s 25-26 October visit to the US, during which he met with other US officials, including President Joe Biden.) The US may echo these messages at tomorrow’s meeting.
Wennesland and some members may also express concern at the heavy movement restrictions imposed by Israel in some areas of the West Bank. According to Elmi’s 18 October statement, following the killing of two Israeli soldiers at checkpoints in Nablus and East Jerusalem earlier this month, “Israeli forces imposed extensive movement restrictions, limiting access of many to health care, education, and livelihoods”. In a 25 October letter to the Security Council, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, Riyad Mansour, refers to these restrictions as a “siege” and the “collective punishment of the entire Palestinian civilian population” in Nablus. In the letter, Mansour urges the Security Council to act “to ensure protection to the Palestinian people and ensure accountability for all the crimes that have been perpetrated against them”.
Council members may be interested in an update on Wennesland’s engagement with Israeli and Palestinian stakeholders and his assessment of the prospects for de-escalation. According to a 16 October tweet, Wennesland held “constructive meetings” in Nablus and Jenin to discuss the worsening security situation and how to restore hope for a political solution. Tomorrow, some participants may say that the current escalation and the risk of its further deterioration underscore the need to restore a political horizon and the urgency to resume negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
During the 28 September Council meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Ireland expressed concern at “the alarming increase in settler violence”, Norway condemned “any and all settler violence” and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) underscored the need “to stop attacks carried out by settlers against Palestinian communities”. The US identified “violence inflicted on Palestinians in their neighbourhoods by Israeli settlers” among examples of actions that exacerbate tensions, adding that settlers “are escorted by Israeli security forces” during some of these incidents. In light of several recent reports of incidents involving violence by Israeli settlers, these and other members may raise similar concerns tomorrow. Members may also reiterate previous calls on Israel to cease all settlement activities, to stop evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures and to respect the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Tomorrow, Wennesland and Council members may welcome the signing on 13 October of the Declaration of Algiers by 14 Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas, and may stress the importance of taking further steps towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation and the holding of elections across the oPt. The declaration recognises the Palestine Liberation Organisation—which is headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and includes a commitment on holding presidential and parliamentary elections within one year. In a 15 October statement, a spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the declaration and urged all factions to follow up on its commitments, including the holding of elections. (On 29 April 2021, Abbas indefinitely postponed Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections, originally scheduled for 22 May 2021 and 31 July 2021.)
At tomorrow’s open debate, some members may refer to developments in the wider region. For instance, some may welcome the recent agreement on the delineation of the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon. The negotiation process concluded today (27 October) with the handing over by Israel and Lebanon of separate letters to US Department of State Senior Advisor for Energy Security Amos Hochstein, who mediated the indirect talks between Israel and Lebanon that led to today’s agreement. UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka received the coordinates of the maritime border from Lebanon and Israel that will be deposited at the UN in New York.