Israeli and Palestinian diplomats traded barbs at a UN Security Council meeting yesterday morning, convened by Japan, the current Council President, to address mounting tension in the Middle East.

The head of the UN Observer Mission of the State of Palestine, Riyad Mansour, said that in the two weeks since the beginning of the new year, 15 Palestinians had been killed, including four children. He accused Israeli representatives of living in "a parallel dimension where the entire world is wrong and they are right".

"Israel considers the world cannot hold it accountable for its illegal unilateral actions and yet it allows itself to punish us for resorting to legitimate multilateral mechanisms," he said, referring to a Palestinian request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice in the Hague, on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

The UN General Assembly voted in favour of the request last month. Within days, the new Israel government, a coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, considered the most right-wing administration in Israel’s history, responded with fresh sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and by withholding tax revenue.

Benjamin Netanyahu (C) chairs a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem

Israeli officials also called the UN resolution an "act of political terrorism," and accused the organisation of being "morally bankrupt".

In Wednesday's Security Council meeting, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, took the floor directly following his Palestinian counterpart's remarks, which he called "an Academy Award-winning act of false victimisation".

He called the ICJ resolution "multilateral terror" and a "step initiated by the Palestinians with the sole purpose of destroying Israel as the Jewish state".

"Over and over again, we have heard how the past year has been the deadliest year for the Palestinians," he said.

"We have heard this from both the Palestinian Representative and from Mr Wennesland (UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process) and we have read this in numerous UN reports. Yet these numbers and statistics are not facts. Not even close," he said.

"This may have been the deadliest year for Palestinian terrorists, but it was also the year with the most terror attacks committed against Israelis in a decade," he added.

He said more than 5,000 attacks had been carried out against Israelis in 2022, killing 31 and injuring 418.

Palestinian women and children call for family reunification in front of the Erez Crossing in Beit Hanoun

The new Israeli government has vowed to extend settlements in the occupied territories, including the Galilee, the Naqab Desert (Negev), the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and the occupied West Bank, in contravention of international law.

Earlier this month, the government announced a ban on the Palestinian flag in public spaces with the new interior minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, describing the flag as a "symbol of terrorism".

At the Security Council meeting, the Palestinian envoy called the move the latest manifestation of Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights.

"The Palestinian flag floats here in front of the United Nations," he said.

"It is raised by millions of people in every corner of the globe - watch soccer matches in Doha, in Ireland, in Scotland, in the UK, in the United States, in Brazil, Argentina, Chile," he said and expressed appreciation for the symbol of "solidarity with the Palestinian people".

Last week, tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets in Tel Aviv - a small minority carrying Palestinian flags - to protest their new government’s policies to place curbs on the authority of the Supreme Court.

Palestinian flags can be seen during a recent protest in Tel Aviv

It followed earlier street protests in support of the LGBTQ community amid fears the new rightist government will crack down on their rights. The demonstrations have prompted some observers to speculate about the prospect of a "civil war" in Israeli society between left and rightwing supporters.

With regional tensions rising, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan arrived in Israel yesterday where he is expected to re-affirm the US commitment to a two-state solution.

But Merissa Khurma, director of Middle East Policy at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington DC, said governments in the region question the current level of US engagement in the Middle East, at a time when extremists on both sides are gaining ground.

"My worry is that we will not be seeing a pro-active US role to get the two parties together to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and establish an independent Palestinian state - basically implement the two-state solution that has been at the centre of international consensus on how this conflict ends," she said.

"There are so many changes on the ground since the political solution has been defined - more annexation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank as well as the disintegration of governance and the impending power vacuum on the Palestinian side that, again, can only be exploited by extremist voices," she said, but "the US foreign policy plate is full and the priorities are elsewhere currently".