The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations
On Monday morning (21 August), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, 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.
Wennesland is expected to provide an update on the security situation in the West Bank and Israel. According to an 11 August OCHA Protection of Civilians report covering the period from 25 July to 7 August, 167 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and Israel by Israeli security forces in 2023, a number which surpasses “the total number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in all of 2022 (155), which already saw the highest fatalities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 2005”. On Monday, Council members are likely to call on Israeli security forces to exercise restraint and adhere to the principles of proportionality and distinction during their operations in the West Bank.
Members are expected to condemn all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror. Some may refer to recent incidents such as the 4 August Israeli settler attack in the West Bank village of Burqa during which, according to a statement by the Palestinian Health Ministry, a 19-year-old Palestinian was “shot dead by settlers”; and the 5 August attack in Tel Aviv in which a Palestinian shot an Israeli patrolman who later died of his wounds, according to an account of the incident by the Israeli police.
In a 4 August statement, Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) Lynn Hastings said that “the UN recorded 591 settler-related incidents resulting in Palestinian casualties, property damage, or both” during the first half of 2023. When compared with 2022—which had already registered “the highest number of settler-related incidents since the UN began recording such data in 2006”—this represents “a 39 per cent increase in the monthly average of such incidents”. In 2022 and 2023 OCHA documented the displacement of about 400 people from seven Palestinian herding communities across the OPT. The statement says that “[t]he most-often-cited reason for leaving is settler activities, including violence and settlement expansion resulting in the loss of access to grazing land”.
On Monday, Council members are likely to condemn all actions that undermine the viability of the two-state solution. In this regard, they may reiterate previous calls on Israel to stop advancing settlement activity and carrying out evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures. On 17 August, Israeli authorities demolished an elementary school which was attended by pupils from the Palestinian herding community of Ein Samiya in the West Bank. According to UNICEF, three schools were demolished across the West Bank in the past 12 months, affecting 78 students, while “58 schools remain under the threat of demolition”. In an 18 August tweet, the EU, which funded the school in Ein Samiya, said that it was appalled by the demolition and called on Israel to “respect Palestinian children’s right to education and to compensate [the] EU for the funding lost”. On Monday, some Council members may reiterate similar messages.
Council members are likely to call on Israelis and Palestinians to take steps to de-escalate tensions with the goal of restoring a political horizon to address the underlying drivers of the conflict and achieve a two-state solution. Some may stress the importance of a viable Palestinian Authority and express concern about the difficult financial situation that it and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) are facing.
Although not an expected focus of Monday’s meeting, members have been following closely recent diplomatic exchanges on the Middle East by key international interlocutors. On 27 July, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan travelled to Saudi Arabia for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A readout issued by the White House said that Sullivan and Saudi officials discussed, among other issues, “bilateral and regional matters, including initiatives to advance a common vision for a more peaceful, secure, prosperous, and stable Middle East region interconnected with the world”.
According to an article by the New York Times, the 27 July meeting had among its objectives the exploration “of some kind of U.S.-Saudi-Israeli-Palestinian understanding” as part of US President Joe Biden’s assessment of “whether to pursue the possibility of a U.S.-Saudi mutual security pact”. The deal would reportedly include “Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel, provided that Israel make concessions to the Palestinians that would preserve the possibility of a two-state solution”.
Following the 27 July meeting, Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer travelled to the US to meet Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 17 August. According to a readout of the meeting, the two officials discussed “ongoing efforts to further Israel’s full integration into the Middle East”.
On 30 July, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chaired a meeting of Palestinian factions in Egypt to discuss “ways to restore national unity and end the division in light of the great challenges facing the Palestinian cause”, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA. The meeting, which was attended by Hamas, was boycotted by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), reportedly to protest the detention of some of its members by the Palestinian Authority.
On 13 August, Abbas, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met in Egypt. According to a senior Palestinian source cited by Israeli news outlet Haaretz, one of the main issues that the meeting was expected to discuss was “American pressure to obtain an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel” in order to coordinate a common message that “any progress on the Israel-Saudi axis must include significant steps involving the Palestinians”.