What's In Blue

Posted Tue 9 Jan 2024

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Closed Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (10 January), Security Council members will hold closed consultations on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Malta requested the meeting to discuss the implementation of resolution 2712 of 15 November 2023, which called for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses and corridors” throughout Gaza to facilitate the provision of essential goods and services as well as for the unconditional release of all hostages held in Gaza. The resolution, which was authored by Malta, requested the Secretary-General to identify options to effectively monitor its implementation. Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Mohamed Khaled Khiari and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths are the anticipated briefers.

Following the 7 October 2023 large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have carried out massive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. On 27 October 2023, the IDF also launched a ground operation initially focused on northern Gaza and later extended to most other areas of the Gaza Strip.

Since 7 October 2023, Council members have held over 15 meetings and have voted on seven draft resolutions, adopting two of these texts: resolution 2712 and resolution 2720 of 22 December 2023. (For more information, see our 15 November and 20 December 2023 What’s in Blue stories.) Resolution 2720, which was authored by former Council member the United Arab Emirates (UAE), called for “urgent steps to immediately allow safe, unhindered, and expanded humanitarian access and to create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities”. It also requested the Secretary-General to report, within five working days of the resolution’s adoption, on the implementation of resolution 2712. The Secretary-General submitted this report in a 5 January letter (S/2024/26).

The Secretary-General’s 5 January letter and an 18 December 2023 letter that identified three options for monitoring the implementation of resolution 2712 are likely to serve as a basis for tomorrow’s discussion.

The three options presented in the Secretary-General’s 18 December 2023 letter are:

  • deploying additional UN personnel to strengthen monitoring by UN agencies already present on the ground—such as the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), OCHA, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO)—which would require the “cooperation of all relevant parties to the conflict to facilitate access”;
  • establishing a civilian observer mission mandated to monitor the implementation of resolution 2712, deployed by the UN or a third party, “with the consent or cooperation, as appropriate” of all parties; and
  • deploying unarmed UN military observers to monitor “compliance with humanitarian pauses/ceasefires”, which would require either the expansion of the mandate of an existing mission (for example, the UN Truce Supervision Organization [UNTSO]), or the creation of a new mandate by the Security Council, as well as “the consent or cooperation, as appropriate” of all parties.

As the Secretary-General noted in his letter, fulfilling any of these options would require the cooperation of the parties to the conflict. Council members may be interested in learning whether there are indications that the parties would be amenable to considering any of these options.

Khiari is likely to speak about the political and security implications of the current escalation, including the potential regional spillover of the violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). He may reference rising tensions and violence in the West Bank, as he did during his briefing to the Council on 29 December 2023. As at 8 January, OCHA had reported that 329 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since 7 October 2023, including 320 by Israel forces, eight by Israeli settlers, and one by settlers or Israeli forces; in the same period, nine Israelis were killed in the West Bank and West Jerusalem as a result of attacks by Palestinians.

Khiari might also warn that escalation could be sparked by the exchanges of fire across the Blue Line, the recent killings of Hamas and Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon, and Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. (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.)

Griffiths is likely to describe the devasting humanitarian effects of the war between Israel and Hamas. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 7 January, over 23,000 Palestinians had been killed and more than 58,000 were reportedly injured. Almost 1.9 million people in Gaza, nearly 85 percent of the population, are estimated to be internally displaced, including people who have been displaced multiple times. 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 2023. Over 200 hostages were taken into the Gaza Strip during the 7 October attacks, of whom 86 Israelis and 24 foreign nationals were released during a seven-day pause in hostilities, which ended on 1 December 2023.

The Secretary-General’s 5 January letter says that “the scale of death and destruction, especially in northern Gaza, is characteristic of the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in densely populated areas” by the IDF, noting that over 60 percent of homes in Gaza are estimated to have been damaged or destroyed. It further expresses concern about rampant hunger and thirst in Gaza, with over half a million people facing “what experts classify as catastrophic levels of hunger”. The letter adds that indiscriminate launching of rockets by Hamas and other groups towards population centres in Israel have continued, along with “allegations that civilians, hospitals, and other civilian objects in Gaza are being used in an attempt to shield fighters and military objectives”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the briefers and most Council members are expected to call for a humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, while emphasising the tremendous difficulty of addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza under current circumstances. This point is underscored in the Secretary-General’s recent letters, with the 5 January letter noting that “[a]n effective aid operation requires security, staff who can work in safety, logistical capacity, and the resumption of commercial activity. It requires electricity and steady communications. All of these remain absent”. As in past meetings, some Council members may warn that the conflict in Gaza could spread, echoing concerns that Khiari expressed on 29 December 2023 and is likely to reiterate tomorrow.

January is expected to be another busy month in the Council on “The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”. In addition to tomorrow’s meeting, the Council is expected to meet on Friday (12 January) to discuss concerns about the forcible displacement of Palestinians in Gaza, at the request of new Council member Algeria.

The quarterly open debate on “The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”, scheduled for 23 January, will be held at ministerial level this month. Secretary-General António Guterres may brief. Other Council meetings on this issue may be convened depending on developments in Israel and Gaza.

In addition, the UN General Assembly met today (9 January) following the 22 December 2023 veto cast by the US on a Russian-proposed amendment to the draft text which was adopted as resolution 2720. (General Assembly resolution A/RES/76/262 of 26 April 2022 stipulates that the President of the General Assembly shall convene a formal meeting of the General Assembly within ten working days of a veto being cast by a permanent member of the Security Council.)

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