What's In Blue

Posted Wed 17 Apr 2024

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Ministerial-level Open Debate and Possible Vote on the Palestinian Application for UN Membership*

Tomorrow (18 April), the Security Council will hold its quarterly open debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Maltese Foreign Minister Ian Borg will chair the meeting, which is one of the signature events of Malta’s April presidency. Secretary-General António Guterres is expected to brief.

A vote on a draft resolution authored by Algeria recommending the admission of the State of Palestine to UN membership was initially expected to take place tomorrow afternoon but was apparently later scheduled for Friday (19 April). At the time of writing, the final timing of the vote was still being debated and remained unconfirmed. While no admission of a new member has been vetoed since 1976, it seems unlikely that the resolution will be adopted.

Following the 7 October 2023 large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, 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 17 April, at least 33,899 Palestinians had been killed. Large areas of Gaza have been bombed to the ground, with up to 1.7 million people estimated to be displaced across the Gaza Strip, most of them multiple times. Figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA indicate that more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel, the vast majority on 7 October 2023. As at 17 April, an estimated 133 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza. (For more background, see the brief on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question” in our April 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

At tomorrow’s meeting, Guterres and Council members are expected to express alarm at the dire humanitarian situation and the scale of destruction in Gaza. Several participants are likely to deplore the disregard for international humanitarian law during the war, condemn all attacks on civilians—including aid workers—and call for accountability. Members are likely to refer to the high levels of acute food insecurity faced by the Palestinian population in Gaza and the increasing risk of famine and may stress the need for UN and humanitarian organisations to have safe access to all people in need.

As in previous Council meetings on the crisis, Council members are likely to approach these issues with varying levels of criticism. For instance, at the 5 April meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Guyana and Slovenia said that starvation is being used in Gaza as a method of war, and Malta stated that “Israel has obstructed a meaningful humanitarian aid scale-up in Gaza by placing onerous, arbitrary bureaucratic and administrative impediments on aid delivery”. Other members, such as the UK and the US, have used less direct language saying, respectively, that the amount of aid getting into Gaza “has until now been insufficient” and that humanitarian assistance “must be facilitated to mitigate the impact of an impending famine”.

Tomorrow, Guterres and several Council members are expected to reiterate their demands for a ceasefire and the release of all hostages. Members are likely to decry the lack of implementation of the resolutions adopted by the Security Council on the war, including resolution 2728 which demanded an immediate ceasefire for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan—which ended on 9 April—and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. Participants may also reiterate their condemnations of the 7 October 2023 Hamas-led attacks and their rejection of any forcible displacement of Palestinians.

Members are likely to refer to the situation in the West Bank and the rising tensions and violence across the Middle East—including between Israel and Iran, in the Red Sea, and along the Blue Line. (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.) Participants are likely to underscore the urgent need to de-escalate tensions and Guterres may reiterate his recent appeals for all parties to “step back from the brink” and avoid “any action that could lead to major military confrontations”.

Council members and Guterres are also expected to stress the importance of working towards re-establishing a political horizon for a two-state solution.

It is likely that tomorrow several members will refer to the potential admission of the State of Palestine to UN membership. Yesterday (16 April), Algeria put a draft of a resolution on this issue in blue. The short draft text follows the format generally used in Security Council resolutions to recommend the admission of states to UN membership. It says that the Security Council, having examined the application of the State of Palestine for admission to the UN, recommends to the General Assembly that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the UN.

The Algerian initiative follows the inability of the Security Council’s standing Committee on the Admission of New Members to make a unanimous recommendation to the Council on the Palestinian application for UN membership. (Following the State of Palestine’s request for renewed consideration of its 23 September 2011 application for UN membership (S/2024/286), on 8 April, Malta, as the Council’s president for the month of April, referred the issue of the application to the Committee. The Committee met on 8 and 11 April to deliberate on the Palestinian request. Although most members were reportedly open to the Council recommending the State of Palestine as a UN member to the General Assembly, it seems that two members were not in favour of doing so and a few other members apparently would have preferred having more time to evaluate the request. It appears that on 16 April the Committee transmitted a final copy of its report to the Security Council, apparently stating that it had concluded its work but had been unable to reach a unanimous recommendation on the Palestinian application. For background, see our 7 April What’s in Blue story.)

Separately, Council members are negotiating a broader draft resolution authored by France which, among other issues, calls for a ceasefire, the delivery of humanitarian aid and the release of all hostages. France and other Council members might refer to this initiative tomorrow.


* Post-script (18 April, 5:45 pm EST): The vote on the draft resolution submitted by Algeria recommending the admission of the State of Palestine to UN membership was scheduled for 5pm on 18 April. The draft text failed to be adopted owing to a veto by the US. All other members—except the UK and Switzerland, which abstained—voted in favour of the text.

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