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Israel/Palestine Briefing

On Monday (19 November), the Security Council will hold its monthly meeting on the Middle East (Israel/Palestine). Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov will most likely provide the briefing (via video teleconference from Jerusalem), which will be followed by statements from Council members.

Monday’s meeting takes place less than a week after a new round of violence between Israel and Hamas heightened the risk of a return to war in the Gaza Strip for the first time since 2014. The latest escalation followed several weeks during which Israel had eased restrictions on fuel entering Gaza, and two Friday protests in Gaza during which Hamas had urged protestors to stay away from the border fence separating the area from Israel. On 10 November, during what several sources have said was a failed Israeli intelligence operation in Gaza, an exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters led to the deaths of one Israeli soldier and seven members of Hamas. Over the next three days, Hamas fired approximately 460 rockets into Israel, and Israel responded with airstrikes against what the Israel Defense Forces have called “Hamas and Palestinian Islamic terror targets throughout Gaza”. One person in Israel and seven people in Gaza died in the exchange of fire. On 13 November, a ceasefire was reached between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza with mediation support from Egypt, Norway, Switzerland and the UN.

At the request of Bolivia and Kuwait, Council members received a briefing on 13 November under “any other business” on the recent violence between the parties. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča briefed. He recounted the developments of the previous three days, culminating in the 13 November ceasefire. He further emphasised the need for the parties to maintain this ceasefire, spoke about the dire economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza, and reiterated the need to promote political dialogue between the parties based on a two-state solution.

During the meeting, Council members expressed full support for international efforts to restore calm and reiterated Jenča’s call for the ceasefire to be honoured. Some noted the need for the Council to reassess its efforts and engage more creatively on the Israel/Palestine file. In this context, one member suggested that the Council could undertake a visiting mission to the region, even if it were to include only a subset of the Council. Others expressed support for the idea. (In February 2011, then Russian Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin proposed a Council visit to Israel and Palestine, as well Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. This proposal never came to fruition.)

In Monday’s meeting, Mladenov may describe the international efforts that helped to deescalate the recent hostilities, which he called “dangerous and reckless” in a 12 November tweet. He may emphasise the need to maintain the ceasefire and for the Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations. He may further reiterate the calls he has made in recent months for a reduction of tensions between the parties and enhanced efforts to address the dire humanitarian and economic needs of Gaza as a means to mitigate the potential for a full-scale conflict. In discussing efforts to address the humanitarian crisis and the longer-term development needs in Gaza, he might call for consistent and sustainable financial support for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) and describe the work being done by the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), the international mechanism responsible for coordinating development assistance to the Palestinians.

The importance of promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation, supporting the efforts of Egypt in this regard, and bringing the Gaza Strip under the control of the Palestinian Authority may also be reiterated during Monday’s meeting. These points were made by Mladenov, and echoed by several Council members, at last month’s briefing (S/PV.8375 and Resumption 1).

Mladenov and some members may also cite their ongoing concerns about Israeli settlement building as violation of international law and an impediment to the two-state solution.

Both Israeli and Palestinian representatives to the UN have appealed to Council members to respond to the latest round of hostilities between the Israelis and Palestinians. While Council members convened under “any other business” on 13 November, Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon addressed the press at the Council stakeout, saying that “certain morally bankrupt members of the Security Council would…blame Israel”, while other members “that claim to be objective will call for restraint on both sides”. He then asserted that the Council “must only condemn Hamas today for its aggressive assault on civilians and finally designate it to be a terrorist organisation”. On the same day, Ambassador Riyad Mansour of the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the UN submitted identical letters to the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Secretary-General in which he referred to “the dangerous situation unfolding in the besieged Gaza Strip”, stating that “once again the Palestinian civilian population is facing the terror and trauma of Israeli military aggression.” In the letter, Mansour called on the Council “to uphold its obligations under the Charter for the maintenance of international peace and security”.

Monday’s meeting on Israel/Palestine will be the first public session on this issue since last month’s open debate. During the debate, Danon responded in Hebrew to Hagai El-Ad, an Israeli human rights activist, following a briefing he gave criticising Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank. Since Hebrew is not an official UN language, there was no translation of his remarks. On 26 October, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK submitted a letter to the Council (S/2018/957) in which they called Danon’s remarks “deeply regrettable”, as they “were delivered in a language for which interpretation is not provided” and constituted “a breach of the procedures of the Council and of the basic rules which are intended to make sure that we understand each other…even when we disagree”.

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