What's In Blue

Posted Thu 6 Jul 2023

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Closed Consultations

Tomorrow morning (7 July), Security Council members will convene for closed consultations on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. The meeting was requested by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), later joined by Brazil and France. Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) Lynn Hastings is the anticipated briefer.

The Council last held a meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” on 27 June. The mounting levels of violence and growing tensions in the West Bank were a key focus of the meeting, during which Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland and Council members also raised concerns about the expansion of Israeli settlement activity in the recent period. (For background, see our 26 June What’s in Blue story and the brief on “The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question” in our July Forecast.)

At tomorrow’s meeting, members are likely to seek an update from Hastings on the situation in the West Bank city of Jenin following the 3-5 July large-scale military operation by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and ensuing exchanges of fire between the IDF and Palestinian armed groups. According to a 4 July OCHA Flash Update citing data from the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 12 Palestinians were killed and at least 143 more were injured during the operation, which the IDF said focused on “striking terrorist infrastructure in the Jenin area”. OCHA further said that over 500 Palestinian families were displaced “either because their homes have been damaged, or even destroyed, or due to safety concerns”. An Israeli soldier who was killed during the operation was apparently hit by IDF fire, according to the results of a preliminary investigation.

This was the second operation in two weeks in the Jenin refugee camp to involve the use of airstrikes by Israel after a hiatus of about 20 years. (The IDF also carried out an operation in the Jenin refugee camp on 19 June during which five Palestinians were killed and two more later died of their wounds.) In a 3 July tweet, Hastings expressed alarm at the scale of the IDF’s operation in Jenin as “[a]irstrikes were used in the densely populated refugee camp”. In a 6 July statement to the press, Secretary-General António Guterres said that “Israel’s airstrikes and ground operations in a crowded refugee camp were the worst violence in the West Bank in many years, with a significant impact on civilians, including more than one hundred injured and thousands forced to flee”. In a 5 July statement, three Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council said that the “Israeli air strikes and ground operations in the occupied West Bank targeting the Jenin Refugee camp and killing at least 12 Palestinians may prima facie constitute a war crime”.

During the operation there were several reports of ambulances being prevented from accessing areas of the refugee camp, including to reach critically injured people. In a 3 July statement, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) operations coordinator in Jenin, Jovana Arsenijevic, said that “[r]aids on Jenin camp have started to follow a familiar pattern” in which “ambulances have been rammed by armored cars, and patients and health care staff have routinely been denied entry and exit in the camp”. In a 4 July update, MSF reported that the IDF fired tear gas inside the Khalil Suleiman hospital in Jenin, causing the emergency room to become unusable and forcing the organisation to “treat the wounded in the main hall on the floor”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, members are likely to condemn all violence against civilians and several participants may reiterate previous calls underscoring the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law, including the principles of distinction and proportionality. For instance, during the 27 June meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Malta referred to the 19 June IDF raid in Jenin and urged Israel to “exercise utmost restraint, to abide by international humanitarian law and to prioritise the protection of civilians”. Some may also express concern at the excessive use of force during Israeli operations in the West Bank.

Members are also likely to seek an update from Hastings on the humanitarian situation in Jenin following severe damage to roads inside and leading to the refugee camp and to the camp’s water and electricity infrastructure. On 6 July, the Emirati news agency WAM reported that the UAE will provide $15 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to “rehabilitate the losses that have occurred in Jenin and its camp, after the recent Israeli attacks”.

Tomorrow, members are likely to condemn the 4 July car ramming and stabbing attack in Tel Aviv during which eight Israelis were wounded by a Palestinian. According to media reports, officials from Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) said that the 4 July attack was a response to the IDF’s raid in Jenin. Today (6 July) a Palestinian killed an Israeli soldier near the West Bank settlement of Kedumim. Hamas reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack saying that it was part of an ongoing response to the Jenin operation. Tomorrow, some may also condemn the 5 July rocket launches from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, which prompted IDF response fire targeting what it said were Hamas weapons manufacturing sites in Gaza.

On 6 July, the IDF also carried out airstrikes on positions in southern Lebanon after rockets were fired from Lebanese territory towards Israel. At the time of writing, it is unclear whether the rocket launches from Lebanon were prompted by developments in Jenin, the recent rising tensions across the Blue Line (a border demarcation between Lebanon and Israel) or a combination of both. (On 6 April, over 30 rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel in response to raids by the Israeli police on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site in Jerusalem’s Old City, the highest number of rockets fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel since 2006. For more information, see the brief on Lebanon in our July Forecast.)

At tomorrow’s meeting, several members may point out that, in the absence of a political process between Israelis and Palestinians, the situation on the ground is likely to further deteriorate. While senior officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the US, Egypt, and Jordan agreed on a set of commitments during meetings in Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh in February and March, respectively, further meetings under this US-led format appear unlikely in the immediate future. According to a readout issued by Palestinian news agency WAFA, a 3 July emergency meeting of Palestinian leaders decided, among other things, that “in light of the Israeli non-compliance” with the Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh commitments, “these understandings are no longer valid and no longer exist”.

Tomorrow, Council members may discuss options to strengthen the Council’s engagement on this file and might consider issuing press elements after the consultations. Recent such attempts have had mixed results. For instance, China proposed issuing press elements during the 10 May emergency consultations which were called to discuss the then-ongoing hostilities between Israel and the PIJ. However, consensus could not be achieved. 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. Conversely, Council members agreed on 27 June on press elements following their 23 June closed consultations which focused on recent violent developments in the West Bank, after a failed attempt to do so on the day of the consultations. This was the first Council outcome, albeit an informal one, on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” since the 20 February presidential statement which expressed “deep concern and dismay” about Israel’s announcements regarding settlement expansion.

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