What's In Blue

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Emergency Closed Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (8 October), Security Council members will convene for emergency closed consultations on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Malta, joined later by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), requested the meeting to discuss the recent escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland is expected to brief.

It seems that the meeting was initially requested in the private meeting format but was later changed to consultations after several members expressed a preference for the latter format. While both formats are closed to the public, consultations differ from a private meeting in that it is not a formal meeting of the Security Council. In addition, only Council members can participate in consultations, whereas member states whose interests are directly affected may be invited to participate in a private meeting in accordance with rule 37 and rule 39 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

In the early hours of today (7 October), Palestinian armed group Hamas launched a large-scale attack against Israel, firing thousands of rockets and killing and capturing Israeli soldiers and civilians in several towns in southern Israel after crossing the fortified border between Israel and Gaza. At the time of writing, the attacks have reportedly resulted in the deaths of at least 300 Israelis and the wounding of over 1,400 others. According to media reports, some of the Israelis captured by Hamas operatives are being held inside Gaza.

In a 7 October statement, Mohammed Deif, the commander-in-chief of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas’ military wing), said that the operation was “in response to the continued Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people and violations at the Al-Aqsa mosque”, a reference to the large numbers of Jewish worshippers that have entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site in Jerusalem in recent weeks. (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.) Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) are also reportedly participating in the fighting.

Following the attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel was “at war”.  He said that he had ordered the security forces to “clear out the communities that have been infiltrated by the terrorists” and that Israel would return fire “of a magnitude that the enemy has not known”. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched several rounds of airstrikes on what it identified as Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. At press time, figures provided by Palestinian officials cited in media reports say that at least 230 Palestinians had been killed and 1,700 others had been wounded in connection with the airstrikes in Gaza.

At the time of writing, rocket fire from Gaza towards Israel and Israeli strikes were continuing, with some rockets reaching as far as Tel Aviv and the IDF destroying two high-rise buildings in Gaza. According to media reports, Israel suspended the electricity supply to Gaza this evening.

According to a readout of a telephone call between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and French President Emmanuel Macron, Abbas said that the current escalation is the “result of the political impasse, the denial of the Palestinian people’s legitimate right to self-determination and the establishment of their independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, the ongoing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people, their land, and their sacred sites, and the continued terrorism of Israeli settlers”. In a 7 October letter to the Security Council, the Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said that Hamas is a “terrorist organization directed by the Ayatollah regime in Iran” and that Hamas bears “sole responsibility” for today’s attacks. He urged “the international community including the Security Council to unequivocally condemn the appalling terror attacks carried out by Hamas and all terrorist organizations against the civilians of Israel”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, members will seek an update from Wennesland on the ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza. In a 7 October statement, Secretary-General António Guterres condemned “in the strongest terms” Hamas’ assault, adding that he was “appalled by reports that civilians have been attacked and abducted from their own homes”. Urging maximum restraint, he called for the protection of civilians and for the “immediate release of all abducted persons”. The US strongly condemned the attacks, with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin reaffirming his country’s commitment to “Israel’s right to defend itself” and stating that  the US “will work to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself and protect civilians from indiscriminate violence and terrorism”. Brazil, the EU, Japan, the UK, and Switzerland also issued statements condemning the attacks, while the UAE urged “the international community to immediately reactivate the international Quartet”, and Russia called on Palestinians and Israelis to “implement an immediate ceasefire”. Council members may reiterate similar messages tomorrow.

Members are likely to seek information about efforts to de-escalate the confrontation and mediate a ceasefire. In a 7 October statement condemning this morning’s attack, Wennesland said that he is in “close contact with all concerned to urge maximum restraint” and called on all sides to protect civilians. He warned that the current escalation represents “a dangerous precipice” and appealed “to all to pull back from the brink”.

Tomorrow, members may express concern at the possible expansion of the conflict to the West Bank and at the serious potential regional ramifications of the conflict. Although the situation at Israel’s border with Lebanon currently remains quiet, in a statement earlier today Shi’a group Hezbollah said that Hamas’ attack was a “decisive response to Israel’s continued occupation and a message to those seeking normalization with Israel”, while Iranian officials have reportedly expressed support for the attack.

A spokesperson for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said today that the force is “fully deployed along the Blue Line” and is working to “defuse tension, maintain stability, and help avoid escalation”. (The Blue Line is a withdrawal line set by the UN in 2000 to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. While not representing an international border, it acts in practice as a boundary between Lebanon and Israel in the absence of an agreed-upon border between the two states.)

Tomorrow, Wennesland and several Council members may cite the ongoing escalation as evidence of the urgent need for a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Wennesland may echo the Secretary-General’s 7 October statement, which stressed that “violence cannot provide a solution to the conflict, and that only through negotiation leading to a two-state solution can peace be achieved”.

The next regular meeting on this file is the quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” scheduled for 24 October. However, given the gravity of the situation, members will continue to closely monitor developments in Israel and Gaza and may choose to hold one or more meetings or issue a statement if the situation deteriorates further.

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