The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations
On Monday morning (19 December), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing 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. Closed consultations are scheduled to follow the open briefing.
Wennesland is expected to update the Council on the latest report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016, covering the period from 21 September to 7 December. In this resolution, the Security Council stated that the establishment of settlements by Israel “constitutes a flagrant violation under international law” and stressed that the cessation of settlement activities is “essential for salvaging the two-state solution”. Wennesland is likely to stress that settlement activities, as well as seizures and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures, have continued during the reporting period. He and Council members are likely to underscore that settlement advancement undermines the prospects for a two-state solution and call on Israel to cease all settlement activity and to stop evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures.
At the 28 November meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, France called on the incoming Israeli government “not to relaunch plans to expand or create settlements, particularly in and around East Jerusalem, and not to proceed with the legalization of unauthorized settlements”. On Monday, some members may similarly call on the incoming government not to take any steps that would undermine the viability of the two-state solution.
Negotiations over the formation of the new Israeli government are currently ongoing following former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party obtaining the majority of votes during Israel’s 1 November elections. According to media reports, Netanyahu and his coalition partner Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the far-right Otzmah Yehudit party, reached an agreement on potential future measures that would support settlers and settlement activities in the West Bank, such as changing a law that currently prohibits settlers from living in the Homesh outpost, which was evacuated in 2005 as part of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. A spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly said that the agreement “goes against international law” and hinders the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state based on the two-state solution.
On Monday, Wennesland and Council members are also likely to focus on the increasingly violent situation in the West Bank and call for de-escalatory steps. Some members may reference OCHA’s recent reports, which say that “2022 has been the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since the [UN] started recording fatalities systematically in 2005”.
Resolution 2334 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. On Monday, members are likely to reiterate their condemnation of all acts of terror and violence against civilians as well as acts of provocation and incitement.
On 11 December, a 16-year-old Palestinian girl was shot dead on the roof of her house during an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) raid in the West Bank town of Jenin. In a tweet, the IDF said that the girl “was hit by unintentional fire aimed at armed gunmen on a roof in the area from which the force was fired upon”, adding that “[i]t appears she had been on the roof of one of the houses near the gunmen”. However, according to a report by the Associated Press, a relative of the victim “rejected claims that the shooting was an accident, saying she was far from the battlefield and there were no militants nearby”. On 13 December, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said that the incident was “shocking” and “needs to be fully investigated”. On Monday, members may refer to this incident, call for a full investigation and reiterate previous calls on Israel to protect civilians, observe the principles of distinction and proportionality, and exercise maximum restraint in the use of force.
According to a 15 December statement issued by three special rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council, “2022 is the sixth year of consecutive annual increase in the number of Israeli settler attacks in the occupied West Bank”. At Monday’s meeting, members may express concern about settler attacks and call on the Israeli authorities to bring those responsible to account.
Members may underscore the need to restore a political horizon for the peaceful resolution of the conflict, condemn unilateral steps, and stress that a reduction of violence is necessary to facilitate dialogue. Some may call on the international community to support Palestinians and Israelis to reinvigorate the peace process. Members are also likely to reiterate previous calls for upholding and respecting the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Some members may stress the importance of respecting the neutrality and inviolability of the schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). On 29 November, UNRWA reported that it had identified a man-made cavity under one of its schools in Gaza, which it then sealed. In its statement, UNRWA said that “[t]he presence of a man-made cavity underneath the grounds of an UNRWA school is a serious violation of the Agency’s neutrality and a breach of international law”, adding that it “protested strongly to the relevant authorities in Gaza” to express its condemnation of the presence of such a structure under one of its installations. In a 12 December statement, UNRWA said that Israeli forces forcibly entered the premises of an UNRWA girls’ school in the Bethlehem area and also attempted to forcibly enter a nearby boys’ school. The statement also says that the “integrity of the schools was further compromised during clashes between Israeli Security Forces inside the school and Palestinians outside”.
In other developments, an Irish peacekeeper was killed and three more were wounded in a 14 December attack against a convoy of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) near the town of Al-Aqbieh in southern Lebanon. According to media reports, this is the first death of a member of UNIFIL in Lebanon since 2015. On 15 December, Council members issued a press statement condemning the attack “in the strongest terms”. The statement calls on the Lebanese government to investigate the attack with the support of UNIFIL and recalls the importance of ensuring “that UNIFIL personnel are safe and secure”. On Monday, some members may reiterate these messages.