What's In Blue

Posted Tue 28 May 2024

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (29 May), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland is the expected briefer.

Although tomorrow’s meeting is the regular monthly meeting on the file, recent developments in Gaza—particularly the Israeli offensive in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost governorate—are likely to be a major focus of the discussion. On 7 May, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began a military offensive targeting this area, despite repeated warnings from the UN and humanitarian agencies about the catastrophic consequences of such action. Israel’s operation in Rafah is the latest phase of the IDF’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip involving massive airstrikes and ground operations following the 7 October 2023 large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza. The offensive in Rafah, which Israel maintains is necessary to eliminate Hamas’ forces in the area, has thus far led to the displacement of more than 945,000 Palestinians from Rafah and the killing of what UN Secretary-General António Guterres referred to on 27 May as “scores of innocent civilians”.

Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, between 7 October 2023 and 27 May, at least 36,050 Palestinians have been killed across the Gaza Strip. 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 27 May, an estimated 125 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza.

On 20 May, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, filed applications for warrants of arrest for three Hamas leaders, including for the Head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, and two Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on various counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

At tomorrow’s meeting, Wennesland and several Council members are expected to condemn the 26 May Israeli airstrikes which hit tents sheltering displaced people in Rafah and resulted in the killing of 45 people, according to figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA. Wennesland may echo his 27 May statement, which noted that “[w]hile the IDF said it struck a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants in the strikes”, he was “deeply troubled by the deaths of so many women and children in an area where people have sought shelter”. The statement also called on Israel to investigate the incident, hold those responsible to account, and “take immediate steps to better protect civilians”.

According to updates from OCHA and media sources, Israeli bombardment has continued to be reported across the Gaza Strip, including in areas of the Rafah governorate, as well as ground incursions and heavy fighting.

Following the start of the Israeli operation in Rafah, South Africa requested on 10 May that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) indicate provisional measures and/or modify its previous provisional measures in the context of its proceedings against Israel concerning alleged violations of obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“Genocide Convention”) in the Gaza Strip. On 24 May, the ICJ ordered Israel, among other measures, to “[i]mmediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. Tomorrow, several Council members may refer to the ICJ’s 24 May order and urge Israel to cease its offensive in Rafah.

After the 26 May airstrikes, Algeria called for emergency consultations on the situation in Rafah for this afternoon (28 May). Ahead of the consultations, France, whose President Emmanuel Macron expressed outrage at the airstrikes, said in a statement to the press that it supports “action by the Security Council to put a stop [to] the military actions in Rafah and implement, or contribute to implement” the ICJ’s 24 May order. During today’s emergency consultations, Algeria apparently announced that it will pursue a draft resolution focused on the situation in Rafah.

More broadly, at tomorrow’s meeting, Wennesland and Council members are also expected to reiterate their demands for a ceasefire and the release of all hostages. Some participants may also condemn indiscriminate rocket launches from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. Members may regret the lack of implementation of the resolutions adopted by the Security Council on the war and deplore the conflict parties’ disregard of the rules of international humanitarian law.

Council members are also likely to express deep concern at the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, including at the destruction of healthcare facilities and the growing food insecurity, and may stress the urgent need for unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid at scale. In a 28 May press briefing on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Director of Communications of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Juliette Touma said that the humanitarian supplies that have recently reached Gaza are but “a drop in the ocean” amid growing needs. She attributed the scarcity of humanitarian aid to several factors, including “heavy movement restrictions” imposed by Israeli authorities on the humanitarian sector, the ongoing Israeli airstrikes and the “recent expansion of the military operation”, recent rocket launches by Hamas, and the insufficient amount of fuel coming into Gaza.

In recent Council meetings on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”, Council members have repeatedly expressed concern about attacks against humanitarian personnel in Gaza and may do so again tomorrow. In this regard, some members might reference resolution 2730 on the protection of humanitarian personnel and UN and associated personnel and their premises and assets, which was adopted on 24 May. In a 14 May statement, Human Rights Watch said that “Israeli forces have carried out at least eight strikes on aid workers’ convoys and premises in Gaza since October 2023, even though aid groups had provided their coordinates to the Israeli authorities to ensure their protection”. The statement also noted that the “attacks are having a chilling effect on efforts to provide lifesaving aid in Gaza”.

Wennesland is also expected to provide an update on recent violent incidents in the West Bank and the wider region and may call for de-escalation. He may refer to a 26 May ministerial-level meeting held in Brussels by several states and entities, including the UN, which focused on issues such as strengthening Palestinian institutions and the economic challenges faced by the Palestinian Authority (PA). According to a 27 May joint statement issued by the EU and Norway, which hosted and chaired the meeting, respectively, participants stressed the need for “an immediate reversal in Israeli policies that undermine the PA and the Palestinian economy, and an enhanced political and economic partnership between international partners and the PA, including increased financial assistance”. The statement also calls for prioritising “efforts to unify the West Bank and Gaza under one single legitimate, economically viable and sufficiently funded” PA, adding that Gaza’s future “can only be ensured within such a political framework”.

In another development, today (28 May), Ireland, Norway and Spain formally recognised the State of Palestine.

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