What's In Blue

Posted Wed 26 Jul 2023

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

Tomorrow (27 July), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari is the expected briefer. Tomorrow will be the fourteenth time that Council members have met on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” this year. Ordinarily, the Council meets once a month under this agenda item.

Council members last convened on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” in closed consultations on 7 July. Brazil, France, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) requested the meeting following the 3-5 July large-scale military operation by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. In a 13 July update, OCHA said that 12 Palestinians were killed and 143 others were injured during the operation, “marking the highest number of Palestinian fatalities in a single West Bank operation since 2005”. The operation was the second in two weeks in the Jenin refugee camp to involve airstrikes by Israel after a hiatus of about 20 years. According to OCHA, 460 residential units and nine kilometres of water and sewerage pipelines were damaged during the operation, and 3.9 kilometres of roads in and around the refugee camp were bulldozed by Israeli forces. Tomorrow, members may be interested in hearing Khiari’s assessment of the current humanitarian needs in Jenin.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members and member states are likely to emphasise the need to protect civilians and may reiterate previous calls underscoring the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law, including the principles of distinction and proportionality. For instance, at the 27 June meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Ghana called on Israel to “exercise maximum restraint and act responsibly in a manner consistent with international law by promptly investigating all incidents involving the alleged disproportionate use of force against Palestinians”. The UK said that while it “supports Israel’s right to defend itself, its security operations must be in line with international humanitarian law and every effort must be made to avoid civilian casualties”. Members are also likely to condemn all acts of terror and indiscriminate rocket launches.

On 4 July, the Council of the League of Arab States (LAS) convened to discuss “the ongoing and escalating Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people in Palestinian cities, camps and villages,” including the operation in Jenin. At the session, the LAS Council adopted a resolution deciding that, “in case … the Security Council is unable to perform its mandate”, the LAS will ask the UN General Assembly to “hold a resumed session of the tenth Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly, entitled ‘Uniting for Peace’, in order to adopt the necessary resolutions to halt the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, implement the United Nations resolutions concerning international protection for the Palestinian people, and granting the State of Palestine full membership in the United Nations”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, participants are expected to stress the importance of the two-state solution and the need to avoid all actions that would undermine its realisation, including advancing settlement activity, and may call on Israel to halt evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures. On 11 July, Israeli authorities forcibly evicted an elderly Palestinian couple from their home in Jerusalem’s Old City. In a 12 July statement, several experts of the UN Human Rights Council, including six Special Rapporteurs, said that the forcible eviction and displacement of this “and many other Palestinian families in east Jerusalem may amount to a war crime of forcible transfer and must be immediately reversed”.

In a 20 July statement, which also noted with concern the 11 July forcible eviction, Khiari said that “Israel must cease all settlement activity immediately”. He stressed that settlements are a major obstacle to the prospect of peace based on a two-state solution and “contravene international law, entrench the occupation and increase frustration and friction points that drive violence and conflict, while undermining the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”, a message that Khiari may reiterate tomorrow.

Several participants may stress the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem and refraining from provocations, incitement, and inflammatory rhetoric, and are also likely to underscore the urgency of working towards the restoration of a political horizon conducive to a resolution of the conflict. Some may express concern about the difficult financial situation of the Palestinian Authority and the funding shortages of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and might call on donors to consider increasing their support to UNRWA to make sure that its services can continue.

During an 18 July meeting between Israeli President Isaac Herzog and US President Joe Biden, held as part of Herzog’s 18-22 July diplomatic visit to the US, Biden reportedly reiterated the US’ commitment to maintaining a path towards a negotiated two-state solution and stressed the need for additional measures to improve the security and economic situation in the West Bank and to prevent acts of terrorism. The US may reiterate these messages at tomorrow’s meeting.

Although not an expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting, Council members, including the UK and the US, have been following closely developments in Israel, where—despite large-scale demonstrations and a boycott of the vote by opposition parties—the Knesset (parliament) on 24 July passed the first element of a major judicial overhaul removing the power of the Supreme Court to block some government decisions deemed as going against the “reasonableness standard”.

In other developments, on 24 July, Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyad al-Maliki submitted a written statement to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the context of the General Assembly’s December 2022 request to the 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 General Assembly resolution was adopted with 87 votes in favour, 53 abstentions and 26 votes against. Among Security Council members, China, Gabon, Malta, Mozambique, Russia, and the UAE voted in favour; Brazil, Ecuador, France, Ghana, Japan, and Switzerland abstained; and Albania, the UK, and the US voted against the resolution.)

In a 3 February order, the ICJ decided that the UN and “its Member States, as well as the observer State of Palestine, are considered likely to be able to furnish information on the questions submitted to the Court for an advisory opinion” and set 25 July as the deadline for the submission of written statements on the questions posed to the ICJ in the General Assembly resolution requesting the advisory opinion. States and organisations that presented written statements will be able to submit written comments on the written statements made by other states or organisations by 25 October.

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