posted on Wed 17 Oct 2018 1:56 PM
Middle East (Israel/Palestine) Open Debate

Tomorrow (18 October), the Security Council is expected to hold its quarterly open debate on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine). Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, and Hagai El-Ad, an Israeli human rights activist who serves as the Executive Director of B’Tselem, are expected to brief the Council.

As in recent months, the security and humanitarian situation in Gaza is expected to be a key focus of the meeting. Since 30 March, when protests began along the Gaza fence, some 200 Palestinians have died in encounters with Israeli forces. One Israeli has also been killed in these clashes.

Mladenov will most likely reiterate his calls on the parties for restraint and a de-escalation of tensions. Several Council members are expected to echo these calls, as there has been an uptick in violence along the fence in recent weeks. Seven Palestinians died in clashes with Israeli troops on 29 September: in response, Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory Jamie McGoldrick released a statement in which he said that the “growing number and expanding nature of demonstrations in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks reflects increasing frustration over worsening conditions of daily life and the continued deprivation of basic human rights, alongside the lack of a political process.” On 12 October, a further seven Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli forces near the fence.

Over the past six months, a number of Council members have questioned whether Israel has used disproportionate force in Gaza, including the use of live fire against protestors, while also expressing concern about provocative actions by Hamas. The US, however, has placed the blame for the violence squarely on Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group, saying that Israel is acting in self-defense against hostile acts such as the construction of tunnels from Gaza into Israel, the planting of explosive devices along the Gaza fence, and the use of incendiary kites and balloons that have started fires on Israeli territory.

Several members have maintained that the work of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which provides humanitarian and educational services to Palestinians, is critical to efforts to maintain stability in Gaza and elsewhere. In this regard, there will most likely be an emphasis on the importance of continued support for UNRWA, which faces a funding shortfall due to the decision in August by the US, which had been its largest donor, to withdraw its funding for the agency. Recent efforts to address the funding gap, including the 27 September ministerial event which raised some $122 million for UNRWA on the margins of the General Assembly debate, may be recognised in the meeting.

There will probably be several expressions of concern from Council members and other member states about ongoing Israeli settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and its negative impact on the possibility of a two-state solution. In this regard, at his 20 September briefing to the Council, Mladenov said that in the preceding quarter no steps had been taken by Israel to cease settlement activity, which he described as a violation of international law and a hindrance to peace.

Criticism of plans to demolish the village of Khan al-Ahmar on the West Bank will most likely be voiced during tomorrow’s meeting, as they were by several Council members—France, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, the UK—at the 20 September meeting. Some members may reiterate their calls for this decision to be reconsidered and note that the destruction of Khan al-Ahmar could clear territory for additional Israeli settlement construction and further undermine the prospects of a Palestinian state on contiguous territory. On 16 October, Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon forwarded a letter to the Security Council saying that, following an “exhaustive and intensive proceeding”, the Israeli Supreme Court had ruled that the structures in Khan al-Ahmar “were illegally built and that the families living there had settled without legal authorization.” He added that Israel had “offered the residents of Khan al-Ahmar a location in close proximity (8 kilometers) to another Bedouin community, and complete with individual plots of land for each family”.

El-Ad was invited to participate in tomorrow’s meeting by this month’s Council president, Bolivia. Israeli ambassador Danon has registered his dismay at El-Ad’s participation, claiming that the organisation he heads, B’Tselem (also known as The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), “has already proven itself a collaborator with Israel’s enemies” and that Israel would “expose the incitement and lies not only of the Palestinians, but also of Hagai El-Ad and B’Tselem” during the debate. According to its website, B’Tselem “strives to end Israel’s occupation, recognizing that this is the only way to achieve a future that ensures human rights, democracy, liberty and equality to all people, Palestinian and Israeli alike, living…between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.” During tomorrow’s meeting, El-Ad is likely to express concerns about Israeli settlement activity, the demolition of Palestinian homes on the West Bank, and the use of live fire against protestors along the Gaza fence.

El-Ad was one of the briefers in the 14 October 2016 Arria-formula meeting entitled “Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution” that was co-hosted by Angola, Egypt, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela.

Tomorrow’s meeting takes place at what appears to be a time of tension between Mladenov and the Palestinian Authority. Media sources indicate that these tensions have been generated by Mladenov’s efforts as an intermediary between Israel and Hamas on political and humanitarian issues, which the Palestinian Authority has viewed as interference in internal Palestinian matters.