What's In Blue

Posted Sun 3 Dec 2023

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Closed Consultations on the Situation in Gaza

Tomorrow afternoon (4 December), Security Council members will convene for closed consultations on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) called for the meeting, citing the “deeply concerning resumption of hostilities” and the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief.

On 1 December, hostilities resumed between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in the Gaza Strip, after a seven-day pause in fighting facilitated by Qatar, Egypt, and the US. The pause marked the first halt in hostilities since the 7 October large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, and the subsequent massive airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on the Gaza Strip and, since 27 October, their ground operation in northern Gaza.

Following the collapse of negotiations between Israel and Hamas on extending the pause, Israel resumed heavy bombardment in several areas of the Gaza Strip, including in the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, while Palestinian armed groups resumed rocket launches towards Israel.

Speaking from Khan Younis after visiting the city’s Nasser Hospital on 3 December, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder said that “everywhere you turn there are children with third degree burns, with shrapnel, with brain injuries, with broken bones. There are mothers crying over children who look like they are hours away from death, there are medical workers who run from wounded child to wounded child, there are bombs that have been relentless”.

Following the resumption of hostilities, the UN, human rights and humanitarian organisations have renewed their calls for a ceasefire.

Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 2 December, over 15,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and more than 1.8 million people are estimated to be internally displaced. Since the collapse of the ceasefire, only limited humanitarian operations have taken place within Gaza, where the humanitarian situation remains extremely dire.

According to figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA, over 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel, the vast majority on 7 October. Over 200 hostages were taken into the Gaza Strip during the 7 October attacks. During the pause, 86 Israelis and 24 foreign nationals were released as a result of the deal between Israel and Hamas. As part of the deal, Israel reportedly released 240 Palestinian held in Israeli jails.

At the time of writing, all negotiations for a new pause in the hostilities and for the release of the remaining hostages have reportedly been suspended.

Tomorrow, Council members may seek an update from DiCarlo on the situation in Gaza and on her 19-22 November visit to Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), and Jordan, during which she reiterated three priorities on the crisis previously highlighted by the Secretary-General:

  • achieving a humanitarian ceasefire and improving humanitarian access in Gaza;
  • the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages; and
  • preventing the escalation or expansion of the conflict.

Council members are likely to express concern at the resumption of hostilities and to reiterate the importance of respecting international humanitarian law and protecting civilians. Members are likely to express concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza and stress the need to protect health facilities as well as medical and humanitarian personnel. Some members may reiterate their calls for a ceasefire.

Members may also call for increasing humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza, including of food, water, medicines, and fuel. Several members may stress the need for Israel to open its border crossings into Gaza to facilitate a scaled-up delivery of humanitarian assistance. (Since the start of the escalation, humanitarian aid has been delivered only through the Rafah crossing which connects Gaza with Egypt.)

At the time of writing, Council members were negotiating a draft Security Council resolution proposed by the UAE on scaling up and monitoring humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. Tomorrow, some members may point to the resumption of hostilities and the collapse in the negotiations between Israel and Hamas as evidence of the need for a stronger Council response to the crisis.

Although not an expected focus of tomorrow’s briefing, some members may seek an update from DiCarlo on the Secretary-General’s proposals for monitoring the implementation of resolution 2712. Adopted on 15 November, this resolution called, among other things, for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip for a sufficient number of days” to enable unhindered humanitarian access, and for the release of all hostages held by Hamas and other groups. The resolution requested the Secretary-General to identify “options to effectively monitor” its implementation. At the 29 November Security Council ministerial-level briefing on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Secretary-General António Guterres said that he has established a working group comprised of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), the Department of Peace Operations (DPO), OCHA, and the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) to “urgently prepare proposals in this regard”. At the time of writing, the Secretary-General’s proposals apparently have not yet been circulated.

Tomorrow, members may be interested in an update from DiCarlo on diplomatic efforts in the region and may seek her analysis about the possible space for political discussions aimed at resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. At the 29 November Council briefing, many members—including China, Ecuador, Ghana, Gabon, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, the UAE, and the US—stressed the importance of the two-state solution for lasting peace in the region. Some participants, including China, Russia, and incoming Council member Slovenia, called for an international peace conference, with Brazil saying that it unequivocally supports any such initiative. Switzerland said that “it is essential to find a comprehensive political solution to the conflict”, adding that “[i]n this process it is important to pay attention to the voices and contributions of Palestinian and Israeli women who want to build peace”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to express concern at the risk of an escalation in the West Bank and the wider region. At the 29 November Security Council briefing, several members, including Malta and the UAE, expressed concern at the worsening situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, with France condemning settlers’ violence against Palestinians, and the UK and the US calling for accountability for such acts.

Exchanges of fire across the Blue Line resumed on 1 December following a period of relative calm during the pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas. (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 border between the two states.)

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