What's In Blue

Posted Tue 26 Sep 2023

Briefing on “The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”

Tomorrow morning (27 September), the Security Council will hold its monthly meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland is the expected briefer.

Wennesland is expected to provide an oral report on the implementation of resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016, covering developments since his last report of 21 June. In resolution 2334, the Security Council stated that Israeli settlements constitute a “flagrant violation under international law” and demanded an end to all settlement activity. Tomorrow, Wennesland is likely to note that Israeli steps to expand settlements have continued during the reporting period. He may reference in this regard the Israeli authorities’ 7 August decision to advance plans for approximately 2,000 housing units in the settlements of Nof Zion and Ramot Alon in East Jerusalem. More recently, on 11 September Israeli authorities advanced plans for the construction of a new settlement, Kidmat Zion, in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud. At tomorrow’s meeting, Wennesland and many Council members may reiterate that settlements erode the possibility of achieving a two-state solution and may urge Israel to stop evictions and demolitions of Palestinian structures.

Resolution 2334 also called for immediate steps to prevent violence against civilians, including acts of terror, and called on both parties to refrain from provocative actions, incitement, and inflammatory rhetoric. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are expected to condemn acts of violence against civilians on all sides, including acts of terror. A 21 September OCHA fact sheet notes that settler violence has been increasing in the West Bank over the past years, as “three settler related incidents per day occurred on average in the first eight months of 2023 compared to an average of two per day in 2022” and one per day in 2021. The fact sheet says that a total of 1,105 people from 28 herding communities “have been displaced from their places of residence since 2022, citing settler violence and the prevention of access to grazing land by settlers as the primary reason”.

Wennesland is also likely to provide an update on volent incidents in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. According to a 26 September OCHA Protection of Civilians report covering the period from 5 to 18 September, 184 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and Israel by Israeli security forces in 2023, a number which exceeds “the yearly death toll by Israeli forces in the West Bank since 2005”. Tomorrow, Council members may call on Israeli security forces to exercise restraint and adhere to the principles of proportionality and distinction during their operations in the West Bank.

Council members may stress the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem and refraining from provocations, incitement, and inflammatory rhetoric. Following reports that large numbers of Jewish worshippers had entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site in Jerusalem on 17 and 24 September, several Arab states, including Council member the United Arab Emirates (UAE), issued statements on these incidents, with the UAE condemning “the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyards by extremists under the protection of the Israeli police”. (Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism and the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest in Islam. Under an agreement reached after the 1967 Six-Day War, only Muslims are allowed to pray at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. Palestinians view the increasing number of visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site by Jews as steps towards disrupting the status quo at the holy sites.)

Some members may also condemn all forms of hate speech and antisemitism. For instance, the US may echo the 7 September remarks by US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Deborah E. Lipstadt condemning Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ “hateful, antisemitic remarks at a recent Fatah meeting” for having distorted the Holocaust and “maligned the Jewish people”.

Members may be interested in receiving an update from Wennesland on the situation in Gaza, where there are ongoing demonstrations near the separation fence delimiting the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. According to OCHA’s 26 September report, Palestinian demonstrations started on 13 September to mark the 18th anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The report says that Palestinians have been burning tires and throwing stones and explosive devices at Israeli observation points, while Israeli security forces have fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and teargas cannisters. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) also conducted airstrikes and launched missiles into Gaza “reportedly targeting military outposts belonging to armed groups near the fence”. The report also notes that the Erez border crossing into Gaza remained closed as at 18 September, when it was scheduled to re-open after “a general closure on the occupied Palestinian territory” for three days imposed by the Israeli authorities on the occasion of the Jewish New Year. Tomorrow, members may express concern at the deterioration of the situation in and around Gaza. Some might also call on Israel to fully lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip. Today (26 September), some Israeli media sources reported that Wennesland entered Gaza through the Erez crossing in order to facilitate a return to calm.

Tomorrow, Wennesland and Council members may reference some of the meetings and diplomatic exchanges that have taken place on the sidelines of the high-level segment of the 78th session of the General Assembly. For instance, some members may refer to the 18 September ministerial-level forum titled “the Peace Day Effort” co-hosted by Saudi Arabia, the League of Arab States (LAS), and the EU, in cooperation with Egypt and Jordan. According to a statement issued by the co-hosts, this initiative aims to produce a “Peace Supporting Package” that “will maximize peace dividends for the Palestinians and Israelis once they reach a peace agreement” and to elaborate “detailed programmes and contributions, conditional upon achieving a final status agreement” to that end.

Wennesland may also reference the recent meeting of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which took place on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s high-level segment on 20 September. (The AHLC is a 15-member committee that coordinates development assistance to the Palestinian people at policy level.) In his statement at the AHLC meeting, Wennesland stressed the need for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to address urgently the conflict drivers, which “will require not only economic and security steps, but political moves as well”. He highlighted the importance of restoring mechanisms that would facilitate regular, institutional, and sustained contacts between the parties and stressed the need for the international donor community to strengthen its strategic coordination with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to facilitate key reforms and improve its fiscal stability.

Tomorrow, several Council members may stress the importance for the future of the peace process of a viable PA, enjoying both fiscal stability and democratic legitimacy. Members may also express concern at the funding shortages of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). A statement released following a 21 September meeting in support of UNRWA, which was co-hosted by Jordan and Sweden on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s high-level segment, notes that the pledges received at the meeting will only enable UNRWA “to sustain its critical core services to Palestine Refugees for the months of September and October”. Tomorrow, the US may reference its announcement at the 21 September meeting that it was providing an additional $73 million to support UNRWA’s core and emergency services. The US and other members might also call on member states to financially support UNRWA to make sure that its services can continue.

Although not an expected theme of tomorrow’s meeting, Council members will continue to follow closely developments related to a possible agreement on the normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia which is being facilitated by the US. (For more information, see our 20 September What’s in Blue story on “Cooperation between the UN and the League of Arab States”.)

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