posted on Tue 22 May 2018 4:25 PM
Middle East (Israel/Palestine) Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (23 May), the Security Council will hold its scheduled monthly meeting on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine). The Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, is expected to brief from Jerusalem via video-teleconference, and some members may make statements. The briefing will be followed by consultations.

The Council has been following Israel/Palestine issues closely in recent weeks since violence erupted between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protestors along the Gaza fence on 30 March. On 14 May, the same day as the controversial US embassy move to Jerusalem, over 50 Palestinians approaching the Gaza fence were killed by Israeli security forces using live ammunition and rubber bullets. The developments in Gaza prompted Kuwait to call for an emergency meeting of the Council, which was held on 15 May (S/PV.8256).

Tomorrow’s meeting takes place as Council members are considering a draft resolution on Israel/Palestine circulated by Kuwait on 17 May. The draft consists of three main elements: a call for measures to protect Palestinian civilians, an end to the blockade of Gaza, and a call to the Secretary-General and Mladenov to assist in immediate efforts to de-escalate the situation. Some sources have noted the difficulty of avoiding a US veto, but it is likely that efforts will be made to garner as much support for the draft as possible before it is put to a vote. The first round of negotiations was held yesterday (21 May).

At tomorrow’s meeting, Mladenov is expected to reiterate the need for Palestinians and Israelis to avoid any further provocations that could escalate tensions. In his 15 May briefing to the Council, he said that Israel had a responsibility “not to use lethal force except as a last resort under the imminent threat of death or serious injury”, while also maintaining that Hamas must not “use the protests as a cover…to plant bombs at the fence” and risk the lives of civilians by hiding its operatives among the demonstrators. Members may be interested in any ideas, coming out of meetings that Mladenov has had with key Israeli and Palestinian officials, on how to de-escalate tensions.

Mladenov will also most likely brief on efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He may present proposals that his office is developing to address the humanitarian and economic situation in Gaza, as requested by the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK at the Council’s 15 May meeting. Mladenov might refer to Egypt’s decision to open the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza during Ramadan, and how this might help ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Members may want to know if there are prospects for a longer-term opening. They might also be interested in how operational the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza is at the current time. Kerem Shalom, a key entry point for fuel and medical supplies into Gaza, was damaged by Palestinian protestors and is undergoing repairs.

The divergent perspectives on recent developments in Gaza were clearly displayed during the 15 May meeting. Ambassador Mansour Alotaibi (Kuwait) placed the blame for the Gaza violence directly on Israel, stating: “We condemn in the strongest terms the massacre perpetrated by the Israeli occupation authorities”. He underscored the need for international protection for the Palestinian people, and stated that “relocation of…diplomatic missions to Jerusalem…is a blatant violation of the relevant Council resolutions, particularly resolutions 476 and 478”. In contrast, Ambassador Nikki Haley (US) said that there was no connection between the embassy move and the deadly events in Gaza on 14 May. She blamed Hamas for inciting the protestors to approach the fence and maintained that Israel had exercised restraint in defending its border.

Following the meeting, EU members of the Council (France, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the UK) held a joint stakeout together with Belgium and Germany, the aspiring Council members from the EU, as well as Italy, which last year served the first year of a split term with the Netherlands. These members echoed some of the points that they had made in the chamber. They expressed deep alarm at the sharp escalation of violence the previous day, which had resulted in a high number of Palestinians killed and wounded, and urged all parties to de-escalate the situation. They called on Israel to refrain from using excessive force against civilians, while stating that Hamas and those leading the protests had a responsibility to avoid provocations and to ensure that the protests were non-violent. They further underscored the EU’s position that Jerusalem is a final status issue. Finally, they reiterated the need for a two-state solution.

In addition to recent Security Council engagement on Israel/Palestine, the Human Rights Council met on the issue on 18 May and adopted a resolution condemning the “disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians” and established an independent international commission of inquiry “to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory…particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018”. Twenty-nine states voted in favour of the resolution, two (Australia and the US) voted against, and 14 abstained. Among current Security Council members, in addition to the negative US vote, Peru voted affirmatively and Ethiopia and the UK abstained. Among aspiring Council members, Belgium and South Africa voted affirmatively, and Germany abstained.