What's In Blue

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Emergency Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (10 May), Security Council members will convene for closed consultations on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. China, France, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), later joined by Russia, requested the meeting to discuss recent developments in the Gaza Strip. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland is expected to brief.

This morning (9 May), Israel carried out a series of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, which killed 13 Palestinians, including ten civilians, four of whom were children. Another 20 Palestinians were reportedly injured. Israel said that it had launched an operation targeting Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operatives who posed an “imminent threat to the security of Israeli civilians”. Following the airstrikes, the PIJ confirmed that three of its commanders had been killed. According to media reports, both the PIJ and Hamas issued statements announcing that there will be a “unified Palestinian response” to the attack. This morning’s Israeli airstrikes were the deadliest strikes in Gaza since the three-day round of fighting between Israel and the PIJ in August 2022. (For background, see our 7 August 2022 What’s in Blue story.)

In a 9 May statement, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates condemned the strikes and stated that it holds the Israeli government responsible for the “aggression and its consequences”. The statement said that the attack was “an extension of the occupation’s open war against [the Palestinian] people” and “a continuation of the Israeli government’s attempts to export its crises to the Palestinian arena”, perpetuating “the logic of brute military force” instead of pursuing “peaceful political solutions to the conflict”. In a 9 May letter to the Security Council, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said that the “aggression was planned to deliberately target and murder Palestinians, i.e. to extrajudicially execute”.

In the morning of 9 May, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) also carried out a raid in the West Bank city of Nablus, injuring 12 Palestinians with live fire and causing many others to be treated following teargas inhalation, according to a statement by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society cited by media sources. An IDF soldier was reportedly lightly wounded during the operation following the explosion of an improvised explosive device (IED). Later on the same day, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the area of Khan Yunis, a city in the southern Gaza Strip, against what it described as “a terrorist squad carrying anti-tank guided missiles”, reportedly killing two Palestinians and injuring two others.

The current escalation is taking place against the backdrop of recent flare-ups, raising tensions and violence. Following the death in an Israeli prison of a senior member of the PIJ who had been on a hunger strike for almost three months, rockets were fired on 2 May from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. A joint statement by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including the PIJ and Hamas, cited by media sources, said that the rocket fire was an “initial response” to the death of the Palestinian prisoner. Following the rocket launches, the IDF fired into the Gaza Strip, prompting further rocket launches towards Israel, which were followed by additional exchanges of fire. According to media reports, Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza on 3 May agreed to a ceasefire following efforts by Egyptian, Qatari, and UN officials. In a 9 May letter to the Security Council, cited by media sources, the Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said that this morning’s IDF strikes were “in response to the barrage of over 100 rocket attacks launched last week (May 2-3) against the civilian population in southern Israel as well as numerous terror attacks carried out against civilians”.

In early April, multiple rockets were fired towards Israel from positions in southern Lebanon, Syria, and the Gaza Strip after Israeli police raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site to forcibly remove a group of Palestinian worshippers who had reportedly locked themselves inside the mosque. In his briefing during the 25 April open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” Wennesland said that “Israeli security forces deployed stun grenades, beat Palestinians with batons and rifles and fired rubber-coated metal bullets, while some Palestinians inside the mosque lit and threw fireworks and stones at Israeli security forces.” Over 30 rockets were fired from Lebanese territory towards Israel during this flare-up—the highest number of rockets since 2006—prompting IDF retaliatory strikes. (For more information, see our Lebanon brief in the May 2023 Forecast and our 5 April What’s in Blue story.)

Tomorrow, members are likely to seek an update from Wennesland on the latest escalation, as well as efforts to bring it to a halt. In a 9 May statement, Wennesland condemned the “deaths of civilians in the Israeli airstrikes”—which the statement described as “unacceptable”—and urged “all concerned to exercise maximum restraint and avoid an escalation”, a message he is likely to reiterate tomorrow. Wennesland added that he remains “fully engaged with all sides in an attempt to avoid a broader conflict with devastating consequences for all”.

Council members are expected to call for de-escalation and restraint. They are likely to condemn violence against civilians and underscore the importance of respecting international humanitarian law. Some members may express concern at the impact of the conflict on children. In a 9 May tweet issued following the IDF operation, UNICEF said that “[a]ll children must be protected, according to international law” and called on all parties to “do everything possible to prevent further escalation of hostilities”. Some members are also likely to condemn all acts of terror and indiscriminate rocket launches and say that that they recognise Israel’s right to self-defence.

Wennesland and several Council members may cite the recent violence as evidence of the importance of creating a political horizon for the peace process to resume, with the aim of achieving a two-state solution. Some members may express concern at the potential regional ramifications of the conflict. In a 9 May statement expressing gave concern at the escalation and regretting the loss of civilian lives, the EU urged all parties to “promote calm and work towards a political horizon and regional stability in line with the commitments in the Aqaba and Sharm el Sheikh declarations”, a call some Council members are likely to echo tomorrow. (This refers to the Joint Communiqués issued following recent meetings of senior officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the US, Egypt, and Jordan in Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh.)

Tomorrow will be the ninth time this year that Council members have met on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Ordinarily, the Council meets once a month under this agenda item. The next regular meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” is scheduled for 24 May. However, members will continue to monitor developments in Gaza closely and may choose to hold another meeting if the situation deteriorates.

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