The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow morning (24 May), 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 and a civil society representative are the expected briefers. Closed consultations are scheduled to follow the open briefing.
The 9-13 May round of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is likely to be a key focus of tomorrow’s meeting. Council members discussed this escalation of violence in closed consultations on 10 May at the request of China, France, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). (For background, see our 9 May What’s in Blue story.) According to a 19 May OCHA Protection of Civilians report, the UN has initially verified the killing of 33 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during this latest round of hostilities, of whom at least 12 were civilians, including six children, four women, and two men. One additional Palestinian fatality is still under verification. Citing Israeli and Palestinian sources, the report says that “at least three of the total Palestinian fatalities were killed by rockets falling short”. In Israel, one Israeli woman and a Palestinian worker from Gaza were killed by rocket fire. The report says that 40 physical injuries were reported by Israeli medical sources, while the Ministry of Health in Gaza reported that 190 Palestinians were injured in the Gaza Strip. According to data cited in a 15 May OCHA Flash Update, 20 schools administered by the Palestinian Authority and six schools administered by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) were damaged to various degrees, and almost 3,000 housing units sustained damage.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to condemn the deaths and injury of civilians, including women and children, and the indiscriminate rocket launches towards Israel. They may underscore the need for all parties to respect international humanitarian law. Members are also expected to welcome the 13 May ceasefire between Israel and the PIJ, which has thus far largely held, and may call on all sides to continue observing the ceasefire.
Council Members may seek an update from the briefers on the situation in the Gaza Strip since the ceasefire was reached. The civil society representative is likely to focus on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip in the aftermath of the latest round of hostilities and may stress the effects of the ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip on recovery efforts. Tomorrow, some members may note that the drivers of the cyclical violent escalations between Israelis and Palestinians remain unresolved. These members are likely to emphasise the importance of finding a political solution to the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the need to recreate a political horizon for the peace process to resume, with the aim of achieving a two-state solution.
It seems that during the 10 May closed consultations, China proposed issuing press elements, but consensus could not be achieved on the matter. In particular, it seems that the US opposed the proposal, arguing that an outcome would not be helpful at that stage, and that it was preferable to leave space for quiet diplomacy.
Tomorrow, Wennesland may provide an update on settlement activity and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures. Some members may condemn the 7 May demolition by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of a Palestinian primary school in the West Bank village of Jubbet Adh Dhib. In a 8 May statement, Wennesland said that he was “deeply disturbed” by the demolition and that “58 schools, serving 6,500 children, face the threat of demolition due to a lack of building permits that are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain”. In a 7 May statement condemning the demolition, the EU—which funded the school—said that it had asked Israel not to carry it out.
According to a 18 May article by Israeli news outlet Haaretz, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has recently held meetings with representatives of various government ministries, during which he demanded improvement to infrastructure in settlements and outposts and asked for planning for the addition of 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Tomorrow, Wennesland and Council members are likely to urge Israel to cease all settlement activity and stop evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures.
In a 19 May post on Twitter, Wennesland said that he was “[d]eeply disturbed by the inciteful [and] racist chants by some Israeli participants in the annual flag march held in Jerusalem’s Old City”, which was held on 18 May. In his tweet, Wennesland deplored “the attacks on journalists while covering the march” and said that “[s]uch actions [and] statements only breed fear, hatred [and] distrust”. The US also condemned anti-Arab chants at the march, saying that it “unequivocally opposes racist language of any form”. Several international interlocutors—including Council members France, the UAE, and the US—expressed concern following the 21 May visit to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site by Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s National Security Minister and leader of the far-right Otzmah Yehudit party. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may stress the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem and underscore the need to avoid all acts of violence, provocation, incitement, and inflammatory rhetoric.
Some members may express concern about the funding shortfalls of the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNRWA. In a 11 May news release, the WFP announced that by June “200,000 people–60 percent of the people the agency assists in Palestine–will no longer be receiving food assistance due to a severe funding shortage” and, if no funding is received, the WFP will be forced to completely suspend its operations by August. UNRWA has suffered from chronic underfunding over the last decade and by 19 May had received less than 25 percent of its financial requirements for this year. Tomorrow, members may call on donors to support the WFP and UNRWA to make sure that their services can continue. Some members may also express concern about the fiscal health of the Palestinian Authority. In this regard, Wennesland might update Council members on the 3-4 May meeting of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) in Brussels. (The AHLC is a 15-member committee that coordinates development assistance to the Palestinian people at policy level and is chaired by Norway.