What's In Blue

Posted Mon 24 Jun 2024

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

Tomorrow morning (25 June), the Security Council will hold its monthly meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland is expected to brief on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s latest quarterly report on the implementation of resolution 2334 of 23 December 2016. Among other things, resolution 2334 demanded an end to all Israeli settlement activity, called for immediate steps to prevent violence against civilians (including acts of terror), and called on both parties to refrain from provocative actions, incitement, and inflammatory rhetoric.

Although tomorrow’s meeting is the regular monthly meeting on the file, recent developments in the war between Israel and Hamas are likely to be a major focus of the discussion. Wennesland and Council members may express concern about the lack of implementation of resolution 2735 of 10 June, which was authored by the US and welcomes the three-phase ceasefire proposal announced by US President Joe Biden on 31 May. As outlined in the resolution, the first phase includes “an immediate, full and complete ceasefire with the release of hostages including women, the elderly and the wounded…the exchange of Palestinian prisoners, [and the] withdrawal of Israeli forces from the populated areas in Gaza”. The resolution further notes that the first phase entails “the safe and effective distribution of humanitarian assistance at scale throughout the Gaza Strip to all Palestinian civilians who need it”. The second phase consists of a permanent end to hostilities “in exchange for the release of all other hostages still in Gaza” and “a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza”, while the third phase entails the “start of a major multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza and the return of the remains of any deceased hostages still in Gaza to their families”. (For more information, see our 10 June What’s in Blue story.)

Following the resolution’s adoption, Israel and Hamas described several conditions for their potential acceptance of the ceasefire proposal, which could in both cases be interpreted as effective rejection of the deal. Israel has underscored that Hamas can no longer rule in Gaza. It has also expressed concern about maintaining a ceasefire if the phase one negotiations extend beyond a period of six weeks, which conflicts with a clause in resolution 2735 underlining that “if the negotiations take longer than six weeks for phase one, the ceasefire will still continue as long as negotiations continue”. In a television interview yesterday (23 June), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he was ready to make “a partial deal” to secure the release of some hostages, but that the war would continue “after a pause, in order to complete the goal of eliminating Hamas”. Hamas has proposed amendments to the deal, which signify its rejection, according to Israel. Among other things, these reportedly included a timeline for the permanent end of fighting and the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip.

As at 21 June, with the ceasefire proposal apparently making little traction, heavy fighting continued to be reported across much of the Gaza Strip. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicated that, between 7 October 2023 and 20 June, at least 37,400 Palestinians have been killed across the Gaza Strip. 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 12 June, an estimated 120 Israelis and foreign nationals remained captive in Gaza.

Concerns about the conflict’s mounting death toll are likely to be a key feature of tomorrow’s discussion. Some Council members may reiterate the need to respect international humanitarian law and human rights law in the conduct of military operations. They may reference the 8 June Israeli operation in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza that led to the rescue of four Israeli hostages but resulted in a high number of casualties. Palestinian officials in Gaza have said that 274 Palestinians were killed and 698 wounded during the operation, which was accompanied by heavy bombardment. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) maintained that the operation resulted in under 100 casualties. Reference may also be made to reported Israeli shelling in the Al-Mawasi area near an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) facility on 21 June, which led to the deaths of 22 people in the coastal area, according to the ICRC.

In referring to civilian casualties, some members may note the devastating effects of the conflict on children. They may note in this respect that the Secretary-General decided to list in the annexes to his most recent annual report on children and armed conflict, dated 3 June, the Israeli armed and security forces for killing and maiming children as well as for attacks against schools and hospitals, while Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades and affiliated factions and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades are listed for killing and maiming children and abduction.

The severe humanitarian situation in Gaza and the need to improve access in this regard are also expected to be a topic of discussion tomorrow. OCHA recently reported that constraints on access “continue to severely hamper the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance and services across Gaza, including the provision of critical food and nutrition aid, medical care, protection and shelter support, as well as water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services to hundreds of thousands of people”. Some members may underscore the need to implement a ceasefire to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid throughout the Gaza Strip, as envisaged in resolution 2735.

Tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border continue to escalate, with cross-border exchanges of fire rising in recent weeks. In a 21 June press encounter, Secretary-General António Guterres expressed alarm at the escalation along the Israel-Lebanon border, emphasising that the risk of a widening conflict in the region “is real—and must be avoided”.  At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may echo Guterres’ messages, call for de-escalation, and express concern that fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border could trigger a wider conflict in the Middle East.

Wennesland and Council members are likely to discuss the ongoing tensions and violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2334 (S/2024/480), which was circulated to Council members on 19 June and covers the period between 19 March and 10 June, says that Israeli security forces killed 95 Palestinians in the West Bank “during search-and-arrest operations, armed exchanges, airstrikes, demonstrations and other incidents”, while settlers killed one Palestinian and four others died at the hands of settlers or Israeli forces. In the same period, Israeli sources have said that Palestinians killed six Israelis in Israel and in the West Bank. The Secretary-General concluded in his report that the “escalating violence and tensions in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are deeply worrying and could explode at any moment”.

Some members may criticise the Israeli government’s decision to withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority. The decision to withhold these funds was made by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in May, reportedly in part because of Ireland, Norway, and Spain’s recognition of Palestinian statehood, a move for which the Palestinian Authority had apparently campaigned. At its 13-15 June meeting in Apulia, Italy, leaders of the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US, in addition to the EU) issued a communiqué, in which they stated that actions that “weaken the Palestinian Authority must stop, including the withholding of clearance revenues by the Israeli Government”. In the communiqué, the leaders argued that “[m]aintaining economic stability in the West Bank is critical for regional security”, a view that may be reiterated by some members tomorrow.

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