The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Closed Consultations
This afternoon (12 February), Security Council members will convene for closed consultations on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Algeria requested the consultations to discuss the situation in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip.
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.
Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 12 February, over 28,300 Palestinians had been killed. Entire neighbourhoods have been bombed to the ground, with 1.7 million people estimated to be internally displaced as at 5 February. According to figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA, more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel, the vast majority on 7 October 2023. As at 12 February, an estimated 134 Israelis and foreign nationals remained captive in Gaza.
Today’s meeting follows the 9 February announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he had ordered the IDF and the Israeli security establishment to prepare a “combined plan” to evacuate civilians and destroy Hamas’ forces in Rafah.
On 12 February, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said that according to OCHA “strikes in Rafah have heightened concerns of an escalation in Gaza’s southernmost city, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge”.
Key international interlocutors have warned against an Israeli offensive on Rafah. In his 7 February address to the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General said that he was “alarmed by reports that the Israeli military intends to focus next on Rafah–where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been squeezed in a desperate search for safety”, noting that “[s]uch action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences”.
According to a 7 February statement by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths, over half of Gaza’s population is currently concentrated in Rafah, a town of originally 250,000 people, in abysmal living conditions. “Further fighting in Rafah risks claiming the lives of even more people. It also risks further hampering a humanitarian operation already limited by insecurity, damaged infrastructure and access restrictions”, Griffiths added. In a 12 February statement , UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said that the prospect of “an operation into Rafah, as circumstances stand, risks further atrocity crimes”. Humanitarian and human rights organisations such as the Norwegian Refugee Council and Human Rights Watch have also warned of the catastrophic consequences of a military operation targeting Rafah.
At today’s meeting, Council members are likely to express concern at the situation in Rafah. In an 11 February statement, France said that a “large-scale Israeli offensive in Rafah would create a disastrous and unjustifiable humanitarian situation on a new scale” and that it “opposes any forcible displacement of populations, which is prohibited under international humanitarian law”. France and several other members are likely to echo these messages today. The US, Israel’s strongest ally at the Security Council, may reiterate the message that US President Joe Biden reportedly conveyed to Netanyahu in his 11 February phone call. According to media reports, Biden said that “a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there”.
Council members are also expected to express concern at the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. As in past meetings, members are likely to underscore the importance of protecting civilians and respecting international humanitarian law and may call for safe and unhindered humanitarian access for humanitarian agencies to be able to scale up their operations in Gaza.
Council members are currently negotiating a draft resolution put forward by Algeria on 31 January which would demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. At today’s meeting, members might discuss this initiative. Algeria is likely to argue that in light of an imminent Israeli offensive on Rafah there is a renewed urgency for the Council to adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire. The US, which has opposed any calls for a ceasefire, has publicly criticised the Algerian initiative claiming that the resolution could jeopardise the ongoing negotiations for a deal for an extended humanitarian pause and the release of the remaining hostages. If the initiative is brought up today, the US may take a similar stance.