posted on Tue 23 Jun 2020 8:42 PM
Meeting on “The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”

Tomorrow (24 June) Security Council members are expected to hold an open videoconference (VTC), followed by a closed VTC, on “The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is expected to brief. Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit may also brief, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres may participate in the meeting as well. A number of Council members will be represented at ministerial level. The meeting is expected to focus on the threat of annexation by Israel of parts of the West Bank, and the implementation of resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and called for “immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror”.

Under the terms of the coalition deal signed on 17 May by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political rival, Benny Gantz, the new Israeli government will be able to move forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank as early as 1 July.  At the time of writing, it remained unclear precisely which areas would be annexed and whether it would be undertaken in a phased manner.

The briefer(s) in tomorrow’s meeting are likely to reiterate their alarm at the threat of annexation. When Mladenov briefed Council members on 20 May, he said that Israel’s annexation of parts of the West Bank “would constitute a most serious violation of international law, deal a devastating blow to the two-state solution, close the door to a renewal of negotiations and threaten efforts to advance regional peace and…broader efforts at maintaining international peace and security”. Mladenov is likely to reiterate this view tomorrow, and similarly dire expressions of concern are expected from a wide array of Council members.

Mladenov may also address the concrete impacts of the Palestinian Authority’s decision to scale back its cooperation with Israel and the US. Speaking in Ramallah on 19 May, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the Palestinian leadership would be absolved from security and other agreements with Israel and the United States in light of the Israeli government’s threat to annex parts of the West Bank. Members may be interested in details from Mladenov on the extent to which the Palestinians have followed through on Abbas’ declaration. In this regard, the Palestinian Authority has withdrawn some of its forces from Abu Dis, indicated that it was ending its intelligence cooperation with the United States, and declared that it would no longer accept clearance funds collected for it by Israel.

Given the heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Mladenov and some members may emphasise the importance of resurrecting a viable peace process. The US has maintained that its January peace plan should be a viewed as a starting point for negotiation. This plan envisions the incorporation into the state of Israel of existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem, and the establishment of a Palestinian state contingent upon the fulfillment of several conditions determined by Israel, such as the renunciation of violence and the disbanding of militant groups such as Hamas. However, the US plan has been widely rejected, including by the Palestinians, the League of Arab States, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and the EU. One option that has been proposed by a number of Council members—and could be reiterated tomorrow—is to revitalise the Middle East Quartet, which consists of the EU, Russia, the UN, and the US.

In discussing the Secretary-General’s recent written report on the implementation of resolution 2334, Mladenov may also reiterate his concern with continued Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He may refer to the Jerusalem District Planning Committee’s approval on 26 May of the construction of as many as 2,200 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem’s Har Homa settlement. The Secretary-General’s report maintains that this expansion and the envisioned “construction of 3,000 housing units in the Giva Hamatos settlement…would further consolidate the ring of settlements around Jerusalem’s southern perimeter, separating the Palestinian areas of the city from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank”.

Mladenov may also refer to violence that has taken place in recent months in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This has included clashes between Israeli Security Forces and Palestinians, attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers, and stabbings of Israelis by Palestinians, among other violent incidents. The security situation in the Gaza Strip has generally been calm in recent months, although some incidents have been reported. On 6 May, Palestinian militants fired two rockets into Israel from Gaza. Palestinian militants have also resumed launching incendiary devices into Israel since mid-May. No casualties have been reported from these incidents.

Another issue that might be addressed in the meeting is what the UN system and the parties are doing to address the impact of COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) has taken a number of measures to curtail the spread of the virus in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including closing schools and providing medical advice to patients whose condition is less severe by phone rather than in person. Notwithstanding these efforts—as well as the collaboration between Israel and the Palestinians to counteract the virus—there are concerns about the potentially devastating humanitarian and economic impacts of a wider outbreak of COVID-19. Citing recent surveys, the Secretary-General estimates that in Gaza some “35 percent of industrial firms…have ceased their operating capacity” and nearly “all restaurants and hotels have ceased operations” as a result of the virus. This has resulted in thousands of people losing their jobs in a place where the unemployment rate was already 45 percent in 2019.