What's In Blue

Posted Tue 17 Jan 2023

The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Quarterly Open Debate

Tomorrow (18 January), 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 is the anticipated briefer. Representatives of Israel and the Observer State of Palestine are expected to participate.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several member states may express concern at the measures announced by the Israeli government in response to the adoption on 30 December 2022 by the General Assembly of a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to render an advisory opinion on, among other matters, “the legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967”. The resolution was adopted with 87 votes in favour, 53 abstentions and 26 votes against. Twenty-seven member states did not vote. Among Security Council members, China, Gabon, Malta, Mozambique, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) voted in favour; Brazil, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Japan, and Switzerland abstained; while Albania, the UK, and the US voted against the resolution.

The measures announced in a 6 January statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office include transferring to victims of terrorism around 139 million shekels (approximately $40 million) from tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA), immediately deducting from Palestinian tax revenues “the payments made by the PA to terrorists and their families in 2022”, and suspending Palestinian construction plans in Area C of the West Bank. In a 9 January interview with Israeli news outlet Haaretz, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that the measures against the PA “will promptly lead to its collapse”. The Israeli 6 January statement also says that “action will be taken” against organisations working in the West Bank “that promote terrorist activity or any hostile activity, including political and legal action against Israel under the guise of humanitarian work”.

During a 16 January press briefing, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stephanie Tremblay said that the Secretary-General noted the measures with deep concern, urged the parties to refrain from unilateral steps, and said that “there should be no retaliation with respect to the [PA] in relation to the [ICJ]”. Later on the same day, a cross-regional group of states issued a statement expressing deep concern about the “punitive measures against the Palestinian people, leadership and civil society”, calling for their immediate reversal, and rejecting the use of punitive measures in response to a request for an advisory opinion by the ICJ and “more broadly in response to a General Assembly resolution”. The statement was signed by member states that had supported the General Assembly resolution, as well as states that abstained or opposed it, including Council members Brazil, France, Japan, Malta, and Switzerland. These member states may reinforce such messages tomorrow. Other members might take a more indirect approach and call for lowering tensions and avoiding unilateral actions.

More generally, participants at tomorrow’s open debate are likely to underscore the importance of the two-state solution and the need to avoid all measures and actions that would undermine its realisation, including settlement activities. Ahead of its 29 December 2022 swearing-in, the new Israeli government released its basic guiding principles, which say that “[t]he Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel” and that “[t]he government will promote and develop the settlement of all parts of the Land of Israel—in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan and Judea and Samaria”. Tomorrow, members may express concern at plans to advance settlements and stress that settlement advancement undermines the prospects for a two-state solution.

Participants may also call on Israel to stop evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures, including in Masafer Yatta, a cluster of Palestinian villages in the West Bank which Israel designated in the 1980s as a firing zone for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem reported that on 2 January Israeli authorities informed Palestinian officials that the residents of this area will imminently receive eviction notices. Demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian-owned structures in this area have also recently been reported.

Tomorrow, members are also likely to express concern about the increasingly violent situation in the West Bank. According to the Associated Press, by 16 January, 14 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank in 2023, including three people under the age of 18. This comes after a particularly deadly year, as 152 Palestinians and 21 Israelis were killed in the West Bank and Israel in 2022, according to OCHA. Members may call on Israel to exercise restraint in the use of force and are also likely to condemn all acts of terror and violence against civilians.

Tomorrow’s meeting will be the second time this month that the Council has met on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. At the request of China, France, Malta, and the UAE, the Council met on 5 January following the visit of Israeli National Security Minister and leader of the far-right Otzmah Yehudit party Itamar Ben-Gvir to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site in Jerusalem’s Old City. (For background, see our 4 January What’s In Blue story.) Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari, who briefed the Council, said that “while the visit was not accompanied or followed by violence, it is seen as particularly inflammatory given Mr. Ben-Gvir’s past advocacy for changes to the status quo”. (Under an agreement reached after the 1967 Six-Day War, only Muslims are allowed to pray at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site.) At the meeting, Council members stressed the importance of preserving the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem, a point that several participants at tomorrow’s open debate are likely to reiterate, together with calls on all sides to refrain from rhetoric and actions that could exacerbate tension and trigger violence. Participants are also likely to underscore the need to re-create a political horizon for a peace process leading to a two-state solution.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails