If talks between Fatah and Hamas fail, the risk of conflict in #Gaza increases

21/11/2017 Leave a comment

On Monday November 20th I briefed the UN Secuirty Council on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian question. The session came as critical intra-Palestinian talks were scheduled to open in Cairo on the next day (ie today).  The United Nations, the Middle East Quartet and the international community continue our support for Egyptian efforts to sustainably implement the recent intra-Palestinian agreement and return Gaza under the control of the legitimate Palestinian Authority.

By signing the Cairo agreement on 12 October, Palestinians embarked on a long road that could lead to reconciliation. First, however, they must solve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and return the Strip under the full civilian and security control of the Palestinian Authority. If success is to be achieved the failed policies of the past must be avoided, security for Palestinians and Israelis must be preserved, and all sides must be willing to compromise in the interests of peace.

There are good news. On November 1st we witnessed

a landmark step as the Palestinian Authority regained control over Gaza crossings.

And for the first time in more than a decade, on 18 November, the Rafah crossing opened under PA control. The handover has eased access at the crossings for Palestinians with permits and ended illegal taxation imposed by Hamas at the crossings since June 2007.

This handover, if translated into the full civilian and security control by the Palestinian Authority of Gaza, could be a step towards the normalization of movement in and out of the Strip.

Another important step happened on November 2nd when the Palestinian committee tasked with rationalizing and integrating Gaza’s public sector, held its first meeting.

Meanwhile, the transfer of responsibility at Gaza-based public institutions is slowly proceeding. As well Ministers of Education, Health, Transport and Environment, among others, as well as technical teams from ministries in Ramallah, have travelled to Gaza to begin restoring Government control. Some 150 PA-employed teachers have returned to work for the first time since 2007. A ten-day registration period for all PA employees in Gaza began on 12 November, to determine staffing numbers, based on an evaluation of qualifications against needs. The process is proceeding in an organized manner.  Some ministries with low numbers of employees have already accomplished the task and the others are expected to finish within the set time-frame.

I encouraged all sides to use the forthcoming Cairo meeting to reinforce their commitment to a gradual process of implementing it, and to ensure that positive momentum is sustained through upholding commitments and ensuring follow-up.

Regrettably there are also some not-so-good news. Despite progress in implementing the Cairo agreement,

Gaza residents have not seen any improvements to their daily lives.

The lack of electricity has been devastating for basic services. Power outages of 18 to 20 hours a day continue; most of the population has access to piped water for only 3-5 hours every five days; untreated sewage continues to flow into the Mediterranean Sea at catastrophic levels; 45 per cent of essential drugs and medical supplies have now reached zero stock in Gaza.

Only the most critical health, water and sanitation facilities are functioning thanks to donor-funded emergency fuel distributed by the United Nations.

As the Palestinian Government seeks to return to Gaza, it should take immediate action to reverse measures that add to the burden of Palestinians living there.

The UN 2017 Gaza Humanitarian Appeal called for $25 million in new funding to meet the most critical priorities – $10.8 million remains unmet. I urge donors to support this appeal to save lives.

Last week Norway, as Co-Chair of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), convened a donor meeting in Ramallah to discuss how to support returning Gaza under PA control.

The discussion focused on three themes. First, the need to immediately alleviate the humanitarian situation on the ground, namely, by increasing electricity supply to at least pre-crisis levels, and accelerating the delivery of projects that have direct impact on the lives of Gaza’s residents. The Quartet Envoys have already tasked the Office of the Quartet with producing a list of projects that can be expedited. I encouraged donors to do the same. These actions are necessary to sustain support for the Cairo-led process on the ground.

The donors also discussed the need to see a realistic plan by the Palestinian Authority on how it intends to take up its responsibilities in Gaza, which the international community can support financially and technically.

Our common goal remains the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza. Difficult issues, including security and putting all weapons under Government control, rule of law and the functioning of the judiciary, civil service reform and other complicated challenges, will have to be dealt with in step-by-step manner.

Turning to broader dynamics on the ground, I welcomed the restoration of full security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, publicly announced on 8 November. This is a positive as coordination is critical to the security of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

In a very worrying development, on 30 October the Israeli Defense Forces uncovered yet another tunnel that extended from Gaza into Israel. During the operation, at least 12 Palestinian militants were killed underground.

According to statements by a spokesperson for Islamic Jihad, the group’s aim in constructing the tunnel was to “kidnap Israeli soldiers” and it also stated that it will continue to pursue this goal.

I called on the international community to

join the UN in condemning the continued construction of tunnels

and such reckless statements. At a time when Palestinians in Gaza – who have lived with closures for a decade, who have survived three conflicts, and have had to struggle to merely exist – are seeing hope for the future, such actions and statements risk a dangerous escalation that could destroy the prospects for intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

In other developments, on 31 October, a 25-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli Security Forces while in his car near a West Bank settlement. The Israeli authorities launched an investigation after an initial IDF probe indicated that the driver did not appear to have been attempting a vehicular attack when he was killed.

On 17 November, two Israelis were injured in a ramming attack in the West Bank; the Palestinian driver was shot and injured also by the security forces.

Violence and incitement remain one of the hallmarks of the conflict and need to be addressed in order to rebuild trust between both sides.

Turning to the question of settlements, Israeli planning authorities approved building permits for at least 418 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlements of Gilo and Ramat Shlomo.  They also issued a conditional approval of 178 housing units in the settlement of Nof Zion located in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.

On November 10th, the Israeli Prime Minister pledged to advance $226 million for the construction of infrastructure in the occupied West Bank that improves the connectivity of settlements to Israel potentially facilitating their expansion.

The UN considers all settlement activities illegal under international law. They constitute a substantial obstacle to peace and should cease.

Legislative action that undermines the viability of the two-state solution also continues, as the Knesset considers a legislative amendment that would require a majority of 80 out of 120 members for any transfer of territory currently included in Israel-defined municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to a “foreign entity”.

Against this background, Israeli authorities demolished or seized 30 Palestinian structures, displacing 53 persons, including 31 children across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Three Bedouin herding communities in Area C, including Ein al Hilwe, Um al Jmal, and Jabal al Baba, are at risk of having a total of 520 structures demolished after receiving “removal of property” orders in recent weeks.

Of particular concern are donor-funded structures serving as schools threatened with demolition.

Turning very briefly to Lebanon, Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation, while on a trip to Saudi Arabia on 4 November, shocked Lebanon and the region. While new uncertainties have arisen, the people of Lebanon have united behind President Aoun’s call for Hariri to return. Following the Secretary-General’s statement of 5 November, international statements of support for Lebanon’s security, stability, sovereignty and independence has been issued at the highest levels. Prime Minister Hariri is now in Paris and expected to return to Lebanon this week.

Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, my colleague Philippe Lazzarini, is scheduled to brief the Council on 29 November.

The security situation on the Golan remains of concern. Fighting between the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and armed groups, as well as between different armed groups, in parts of the areas of separation and limitation on the Bravo side continued. In recent weeks, there were reported incidents of spillover fire from the Bravo to the Alpha side and retaliatory fire across the ceasefire line. These developments undermine the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement and have the potential to escalate tensions and jeopardize the long-standing ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

I closed with a few observations on Palestinian unity efforts and commend Egypt for its leadership throughout the process. Many previous attempts to bridge the Palestinian divide have failed. We cannot allow this current effort to become another missed opportunity.

From the outset, I have consistently engaged with Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, the region and all stakeholders. Everyone understands that failure today will destroy hope for the foreseeable future. That division damages the Palestinian cause for statehood.

Two million Palestinians in Gaza have high hopes that the Government’s return will improve their lives. After living in abject misery under Hamas control and locked in by the closures, their situation is close to exploding.

With all the difficulties inherent in the Egyptian-led process and concerns about the timing and modalities of the Palestinian Authority’s assumption of full civilian and security control of Gaza, the process must not be allowed to fail.

If the Cairo process fails, it will most likely result in another devastating conflict.

Whether that conflict would be triggered by a meltdown of law and order in Gaza, by the reckless action of extremists or by strategic choice the result will be the same – devastation and suffering for all. This cycle must be avoided at all costs.

All of us, especially Palestinian leaders, Israel and the international community, have an important responsibility to advance the peace efforts. In this context, I am concerned about the implications of the latest developments related to the PLO representative office in the US. Only through constructive dialogue can we hope to advance peace and I call on all parties to remain engaged in the peace efforts.

I believe and hope that a genuine change in Gaza, including full security control by the Palestinian Authority, would contribute to restoring confidence in the feasibility of a comprehensive peace agreement. This is a Palestinian-owned process. All Palestinian factions must seize this opportunity to open a new page for their people.

As #PA returns to #Gaza it must be empowered, security maintained & militant activity must end

01/11/2017 1 comment

DAD79705-5CB2-4322-8FE2-FE1C0725492DI welcome the full return of the Gaza crossings to the control of the Palestinian Authority. This is a landmark development in the implementation of the intra-Palestinian agreement, signed in Cairo on 12 October. The positive momentum should be maintained and the Palestinian Government must be fully empowered to function in Gaza.

The return of the crossings should facilitate the lifting of the closures, while addressing Israel’s legitimate security concerns, and unlock increased international support for Gaza’s reconstruction, growth, stability and prosperity.

I take this opportunity to remind all factions in Gaza of the importance of maintaining security and ending militant activities that undermine peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis alike.

The United Nations will continue to work with the Palestinian leadership, Egypt and the region in support of this process, which is critical for reaching a negotiated two-state solution and sustainable peace.

https://unsco.unmissions.org/sites/default/files/statement_by_un_special_coordinator_mladenov_-_1_november_2017.pdf

The first test of the Cairo agreement is the return of the crossings to PA control & resolving the humanitarian crisis in #Gaza

16/10/2017 Leave a comment

DMQVWLhX4AAOwWuThis afternoon I met with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr to discuss the implementation of the intra-Palestinian agreement that was signed in Cairo on 12 October.

The agreement provides for the return of the crossings of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority by 1 November. The timely and effective implementation of this provision and concrete steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis will be critical for effectively empowering the Palestinian Government in Gaza.

The United Nations will continue working with the Palestinian leadership, Egypt and the region in support of this process, which is critical for reaching a negotiated two-state solution and sustainable peace.

Third report on the implementation of #UN Security Council Resolution #2334

25/09/2017 Leave a comment

IMG_4692Today I delivered the third report under UNSCR 2334 to the Security Council. In it I focused on developments on the ground in accordance with the provisions of the resolution, including on regional and international efforts to advance the peace process.

During the reporting period, Israel did not “cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard,” as called for by the resolution. Since 20 June, Israel’s illegal settlement activities have continued at a high rate, a consistent pattern over the course of this year.

Activity during this period settlement activity was concentrated primarily in occupied East Jerusalem, where plans were advanced for over 2,300 housing units in July, 30 per cent more than for the whole of 2016. This includes plans for some 1,600 units expanding a ring of settlements north of East Jerusalem as well as in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, adjacent to the Old City. While no plans were advanced in Area C during the reporting period, in early September construction resumed on the new settlement of Amihai, in the heart of the West Bank.

The reporting period witnessed the eviction of a Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah, residents for over fifty years, after a protracted legal battle. The building is located in a section of the neighborhood in which several settlement plans were among those promoted in July. Eviction proceedings are under way for some 180 Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, over 60 of whom reside in Sheikh Jarrah.

Meanwhile, according to OCHA, the destruction of Palestinian-owned property across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, continued, albeit at a significantly lower rate. Overall since the beginning of 2017, 344 structures have been demolished, a third of them in East Jerusalem, displacing some 500 people.

In Area C of the occupied West Bank in August, three educational facilities, serving 175 children, were demolished or confiscated, citing the lack of building permits, which are virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

On 25 July, in the city of Hebron, 15 Israeli families illegally occupied the Abu Rajab/Machpelah House despite ongoing legal proceedings over its ownership. On 27 August, the Israeli Government notified the High Court of Justice that it would evict the settlers within one week, however this process has been put on hold by a temporary injunction issued by the Court.

In other related developments, on 26 July an amendment to the “Basic Law: Jerusalem the Capital of Israel” passed a first reading in the Knesset. If approved, this law would further cement Israeli control over East Jerusalem.

On 17 August, the High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction formally postponing application of the so-called “Regularisation law”.

Later this month, on 31 August, a military order was issued establishing a civil services administrationthat upgrades the status of settlements in the H2 area of Hebron, further consolidating Israeli presence there and reinforcing the existing separation and division of this highly volatile area, where some 500 Israelis live among some 40,000 Palestinians.

The United Nations considers all settlement activities to be illegal under international law and an impediment topeace.  Resolution 2334 states that the international community will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed to by the parties themselves through negotiations.

Moving on to the issue of violence, I noted that it persists as one of the main obstacles to resolving the conflict. Resolution 2334 calls on all sides to prevent such acts and to strengthen efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination.

Although the reporting period was characterized by relatively low levels of fatalities, a number of incidents occurred, particularly related to the unrest following the fatal 14 July attack against two Israeli policemen in Jerusalem’s Old City. During the reporting period, 19 Palestinians, five of whom were in Area A of the West Bank, were killed in attacks, clashes and Israeli military operations. Eight Israelis were killed in clashes and attacks, including the three Israeli-Arab perpetrators of the 14 July attack, who were killed by the security forces. Of the 19 Palestinian fatalities, five were killed during protests and subsequent clashes related to the unrest in Jerusalem. On 21 July, a Palestinian brutally murdered three members of an Israeli family in a terrorist attack in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.

In a reaction to the events at the Holy Esplanade, on 21 July, Palestinian President Abbas declared a freeze of all contacts with Israel on all levels, including security coordination.

After three months of quiet, on 26 June, 23 July and 8 August Palestinian militants fired rockets towards Israel with no injuries reported. In response, Israeli Defence Forces conducted five airstrikes in Gaza, resulting in three Palestinians being injured. On 17 August, one Palestinian was killed by a suicide bomber, who was also killed, close to the Egyptian border in Gaza. This appears to be the first suicide bombing affecting Hamas forces in Gaza.

During the reporting period settler related violence also continued. Some twenty-five incidents were documented, the majority involving the vandalization of Palestinian agricultural property around Nablus, and assaults against Palestinians in or around Hebron. Meanwhile, at least 21 Palestinian attacks also took place against Israeli settlers resulting in casualties or property damage.

Punitive demolitions also continued during the reporting period with Israeli authorities demolishing five homes belonging to families of Palestinian perpetrators of attacks.

The reporting period also witnessed a shrinking space for civil society and freedom of expression.

On 24 June, the Palestinian President issued, by decree, the Cybercrime Law. Since then at least six journalists, one human rights activist in Hebron and a number of others have reportedly been arrested. While most have been subsequently released, these arrests raise strong concerns that the law is being used to curtail freedom of expression.

In Gaza, a social media activist was arrested by Hamas on 3 July and detained for almost two weeks on charges of incitement against the de facto authorities, while a journalist was  detained for more than two months on unclear allegations of collaborationwith the authorities in Ramallah.

Security Council resolution 2334 called upon both parties to refrain from acts of provocation, incitement, and inflammatory rhetoric, and to condemn all acts of terrorism. At the height of the July crisis around the holy sites of Jerusalem, officials and representatives on all sides employed provocative rhetoric.

In the midst of what were largely peaceful protests, Hamas and senior Palestinian Authority officials called for an escalation and a “day of rage” across the occupied Palestinian territory. Hamas and others continued to openly glorify attacks, describing the murder of three Israelis at their home in Halamish as “heroic.”

Meanwhile, President Abbas explicitly condemned the 14 July attack, and, in an attempt to calm tensions at the holy sites, some Palestinian leaders and religious authorities on both sides called on protestors to avoid violence and provocation.

With regard to settlements, Israeli officials continued to use provocative rhetoric in support of expansion. On 3 August, the Israeli Prime Minister delivered an inaugural speech at the launch of construction for 1,000 new housing units in the Beitar Ilit settlement in which he praised the achievements of his Government in promoting settlement construction.  On the 28th of August, he said that “there will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel (…) we will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle”. Other senior Israeli politicians also made repeated calls for annexation of the West Bank, with one Member of Knesset expressing his desire to destroyhopes for Palestinian statehood, and stated that there is room to define and realize the national aspirations of one people only — the Jewish people.

Resolution 2334 also reiterated the call by the Middle East Quartet for both parties to take steps to “reverse negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution.”

On 10 July, an interim power purchasing agreement was signed between the Palestinian and the Israeli Electricity companies, energizing the first Palestinian-owned and operated substation in Jenin and allowing for an increase in electricity supply in the northern West Bank.

On 13 July, the United States facilitated an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel allowing for an increase in water supply for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as part of the 2013 Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project.

Moving on to Gaza, I noted that the situation there remains extremely fragile. The chronic energy deficit has been substantially worsened by the decision of the Palestinian Authority to reduce electricity supply to the Strip. While Egyptian fuel has enabled the Gaza Power Plant to resume operations, electricity supply is still down to about four hours per day.

Basic services in some 190 health, water and sanitation facilities, continue to rely on back-up generators powered by United Nations-provided fuel. As part of the Gaza Emergency Appeal issued in July, an additional USD 4 million from the United Nations Central Emergency   response fund has been released to support critical services. The appeal is now 51 per cent funded.

To end the standoff, the Palestinian Authority has remained firm in its demands for Hamas to dissolve the Administrative Committee it established in March 2017, and allow the Government of National Consensus to take up its responsibilities in Gaza. On 17 September, Hamas officially accepted these conditions. It now remains to be seen whether the agreement will be implemented and electricity supply will be restored to Gaza.

I informed the Council that I had just returned from a trip to Gaza and would like to report on developments there during closed consultations.

During the reporting period there have been no developments related to Member States’ distinguishing, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories it occupied in 1967.

Meanwhile, the international community has continued its efforts to advance the goal of peace as well as the deteriorating situation in Gaza.

The Envoys of the Middle East Quartet continue to meet to discuss current efforts to advance peace as well as the deteriorating situation in Gaza. In August, a US delegation travelled to the Middle East and met with regional interlocutors, with a focus on reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. All parties agreed to continue working toward a sustainable peace and to promote security and stability across the region.

Shortly thereafter, on August 27th, the Secretary-General arrived in the region for his first official visit to Israel and Palestine. He strongly reaffirmed the United Nations position that there is no alternative to the two-state solution and suggested a three-track approach to end the occupation and advance the prospects for peace: firstly, a serious political process with a clear end goal — two states living side-by-side in peace and mutual recognition; secondly, a simultaneous effort to improve the socio-economic conditions of Palestinians; and thirdly, active engagement with regional partners. He conveyed his personal commitment to help the parties return to meaningful negotiations, based on relevant United Nations resolutions, international law and prior agreements.

In September, Egypt hosted delegations from Hamas and Fatah in an effort to advance Palestinian unity, which led to the breakthrough decision by the de facto-Gaza leadership to dissolve the Administrative Committee and invite the Government to return to the Strip.

On 18 September, Norway convened the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee in New York with Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr, PA Minister of Finance and Planning Shukri Bishara and Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzahi Hanegbi, in attendance. The meeting agreed that additional concerted action was needed to make progress on fiscal sustainability, economic development and Gaza reconstruction and recovery. It was also noted that socioeconomic conditions cannot be adequately addressed without progress in the peace process.

In closing, I shared some broad observations on the reporting period.

  1. Continuing settlement expansion, most notably during this period in occupied East Jerusalem, is making the two-state solution increasingly unattainable and undermining Palestinian belief in the international peace efforts. In addition to illegal settlements, the practice of demolishing Palestinian structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and displacing Palestinians undermines the prospects of peace.
  2. Continued violence against civilians and incitement perpetuate mutual fear and suspicion, while impeding any efforts to bridge the gaps between the two sides. I once again urge both parties to demonstrate their commitment to rejecting violence, inflammatory rhetoric and provocative actions.
  3. The Jenin agreement was an important first step towards a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian power purchasing agreement that would lead to greater Palestinian energy autonomy. I encourage Israelis and Palestinians to fully implement the Red Sea-Dead Sea agreement to enable delivery of much-needed water to the West Bank and Gaza.
  4. While all initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy are welcome, much more needs to be done, as part of a political process aimed at establishing a Palestinian state. Economic development, critical as it is, is no substitute for sovereignty and statehood. As the Secretary-General has called for, efforts aimed at achieving both must proceed in parallel.
  5. Intra-Palestinian reconciliation remains critical to preventing the continuing militant buildup and restoring hope for the future. In this respect, I welcome the recent statement by Hamas announcing the dissolution of the Administrative Committee in Gaza and agreement to allow the Government of National Consensus to assume its responsibilities in the strip.
  6. I commended the Egyptian authorities for their tireless efforts in creating this positive momentum. All parties must seize this opportunity to restore unity and open a new page for the Palestinian people. This should facilitate the removal of Israeli closures on Gaza, in line with Security Council Resolution 1860. The United Nations, as always, stands ready to assist all efforts in this process.
  7. It is critical that the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza, most notably the crippling electricity crisis, be addressed as a priority as well.

In closing I said that collective and determined action by the parties, the region and the international community is needed to initiate a serious political process, drawing upon all relevant UN resolutions, that will realize a two-state solution, ending the occupation and resolving all final status issues.

As the Secretary-General said on his recent visit, “the international community cannot simply turn away and allow the situation to deteriorate. We have a role and a responsibility to support the parties in resolving this conflict.” With that responsibility comes an obligation, an obligation to do what is necessary to establish a peaceful, prosperous and secure future – for Palestinians, for Israelis and for the entire region.

Categories: Uncategorized

#Palestinian parties must seize opportunity created by #Egypt for reconciliation

17/09/2017 Leave a comment

I welcome the recent statement by Hamas announcing the dissolving of the Administrative Committee in Gaza and agreement to allow the Government of National Consensus to assume its responsibilities in Gaza.

I commend the Egyptian authorities for their tireless efforts in creating this positive momentum. All parties must seize this opportunity to restore unity and open a new page for the Palestinian people.

The United Nations stands ready to assist all efforts in this respect. It is critical that the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza, most notably the crippling electricity crisis, be addressed as a priority.

#Palestinian factions must seize positive momentum for unity created by #Egypt and solve #Gaza humanitarian crisis 

13/09/2017 Leave a comment

I welcome the recent developments related to Palestinian unity in Cairo. Reconciliation is critical to addressing the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza, preventing the continuing militant buildup and restoring hope for the future. 

I urge all parties to seize the current positive momentum and reach an agreement that would allow the the Palestinian Government to immediately take up its responsibilities in Gaza. 

Gaza is and must be an integral part of any future Palestinian state. Unity is an essential step towards the peaceful realisation of the Palestinian national aspirations. 

Categories: statement

As we deal with the crisis in #Jerusalem, we must not lose track of ongoing crisis in #Gaza

25/07/2017 Leave a comment

My remarks as delivered here, or you can watch the video here.

After the closed session of the UN Secuirty Council yesterday on Jerusalem, today the Council convened the regular debate on the Middle East and the Palestinian question. The risks of escalation and violence in the region continue to increase, despite the emergence of a newfound agreement among a number of countries of the need to stand united against terrorism and radicalism. As societies continue to fracture along ethnic or religious lines and non-state actors continue to control large territories, recent events in Jerusalem resonate across the Middle East. For nearly a century, despite a myriad of peace efforts, one conflict has evaded solution. Some say it is irresolvable. Others challenge the basic premises of international consensus on how it can be resolved.

The Palestinian – Israeli conflict is not only about land and peace. It is about two peoples who both have legitimate national aspirations for statehood and recognition. Two nations, whose histories are intertwined, and whose future is forever intricately linked. Fortunately until now, Israelis and Palestinians have not succumbed to the torrent of violent upheaval that has engulfed the region in recent years. But half a century of occupation have produced tens of thousands of casualties and left deep psychological scars on both sides.

Developments over the past 11 days at the holy sites of the Old City in Jerusalem, however, have demonstrated the grave risk of dangerous escalation that exists, a risk of turning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious one and dragging both sides into the vortex of violence with the rest of the region.

On 14 July, two Israeli policemen were killed by three assailants at the Lion’s Gate entrance of the Holy Esplanade. The attackers fled inside the compound before being shot by police. According to the Israeli authorities the assailants had initiated the attack from within the compound. In the immediate aftermath, the Palestinian President condemned the attack, while the Israeli Prime Minister committed to upholding and respecting the status quo at the holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. Citing security concerns, the Israeli authorities closed the compound to all, including, for the first time since 1969, to Muslims for Friday prayers, and restricted entrance to the Old City in order to secure the area of the attack, search for further threats and conduct an investigation. Two days later, on Sunday 16 July, the compound was reopened, first for Muslim worshippers, and later for visitors, placing metal detectors outside its entrances. The Islamic Waqf immediately rejected this move as a change in the status quo and called on worshippers not to enter the compound through the metal detectors but to pray outside the entrance and in the streets of Jerusalem. Palestinian factions also immediately rejected the security measures. Hamas and Islamic Jihad issued a joint statement warning that this is a red line that would lead to an escalation and Fatah called for “a day of rage”.

Starting on 16 July, prayers and peaceful protests were conducted at Lion’s Gate, followed by clashes with the Israeli police. Tensions rose by Friday 21 July, as the Waqf announced the closure of all Jerusalem mosques for Friday prayer, directing worshippers to pray outside the compound. In response, Israel announced a restriction of entry for all Muslim men under 50 into the Old City. Clashes that evening and the next turned fatal. Later on Friday evening, three Israelis were killed in a brutal terror attack at their home in the settlement of Halamish by a 19-year-old Palestinian assailant who in his last will made a clear connection between his act and the events in East Jerusalem. Overall in clashes since 14 July attack, at least four Palestinians have been killed and over 300 injured. I asked Member States to unequivocally condemn the violence of the last few days. Our thoughts and prayers must go out to their families of the victims. On 21 July, President Abbas announced that the Palestinian Authority was freezing all contact with Israel, including high-level security coordination.

Let us make no mistake that while events in Jersualem may be taking place over a couple of hundred square meters in Jerusalem, they affect hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Therefore, I welcomed last night’s decision by the Israeli security cabinet to remove the metal detectors, while ensuring the security of visitors and worshippers to the holy sites. I hope that the cabinet decision will lead to a calming of the current tensions and will enable a return of worshippers to the Holy Esplanade. It is expected that President Abbas will convene the Palestinian leadership later night to discuss these development.

As we have seen over these past 11 days, it is vital that the status quo, established since 1967, be preserved while security be maintained for worshippers and visitors to the holy sites. I encouraged Israel to continue its intense contacts with Jordan, recognizing the special and historic role of the Hashemite Kingdom.

All parties must refrain from provocative actions, show restraint, and bring a conclusive end to this crisis in the next few days. In these efforts, constant discussion with the Islamic religious authorities in Jerusalem and the Palestinian leadership can greatly contribute to maintaining calm in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank.

As this crisis has unfolded I reflected briefly on the views of residents of East Jerusalem, who have been in the midst of events in the last few weeks. They often tell us that for many years they have felt that religious and ethnic identity is under threat; that their very livelihood in their own city is at risk while living under occupation; their children live in fear of security operations and house demolitions. They want to pray in peace and live in security and freedom. Many of them feel alone. They talk of the ‘special status’ that United Nations Resolution 181 (1947) had bestowed on Jerusalem, yet they see the reality around them. This is why often they come to us appealing for protection. It is critical that any decision made at the highest political and religious levels, if it is to be sustainable, take into consideration the fears and hopes of the people.

Jerusalem remains is a final status issue that needs to be decided and negotiated between the two sides. As the occupying power, Israel has a responsibility to uphold its obligations under International Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law, and must show maximum restraint in order to avoid further loss of life and an escalation of the situation. At the same time, Palestinian leaders also have a responsibility to avoid provocative statements that further aggravate an already tense environment. I am particularly concerned by statements made over the past weeks by some factions that have sought to fan the flames of violence. Such provocations are dangerous and I call on all to condemn them.

This crisis has diverted us from the real tasks ahead, namely how to restore a political process in order to find a solution that meets the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians; a solution that is based on United Nations Resolutions and is achieved through negotiations. A solution, whose ultimate goal is two states living side by side in peace and security.

These latest incidents have taken place have taken place against a backdrop of other developments in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
In July alone, plans were advanced for over 2,300 housing units in East Jerusalem – 30 per cent more than were advanced during all of 2016. This includes plans for 1,600 units expanding a ring of settlements in northern East Jerusalem, as well as plans in Sheikh Jarrah, which may involve demolition of Palestinian houses. I once again emphasized that settlement activity in occupied territory is illegal under international law, and undermines the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous, sovereign Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.

On a positive note, some constructive steps have been taken that are in line with the recommendations of the Middle East Quartet report. On 10 July, an interim power purchasing agreement was signed, energizing the first Palestinian-owned and operated substation in Jenin. This will increase electricity supply in the northern West Bank and help the Palestinian Authority take control of the energy sector. Both sides should now move to negotiate a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian power purchasing agreement that would be a landmark achievement towards Palestinian energy independence.

On July 13th, with United States facilitation, the Palestinian Authority and Israeli Government also reached an agreement allowing for an increase in water supply for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Under its terms, the Palestinian Authority will purchase some 32 million cubic meters of water from Israel, 22 million cubic meters for the West Bank and 10 million for Gaza. The water will come from a desalination plant to be constructed in Aqaba, Jordan.

The implementation of such agreements is instrumental in rebuilding trust between Palestinians and Israelis. They are, however, put at risk by the freezing of contacts between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Without resolution to the current crisis, these hard won gains will swiftly evaporate.

I then turned to the situation in Gaza with a heavy heart, where two million people have been taken hostage in the political standoff between Fatah and Hamas.

The humanitarian impact of the punishing measures taken against Gaza is appalling. In some parts of Gaza people have experienced electricity cuts of 36 hours. No electricity means no drinking water. Hospitals are struggling to survive. An environmental crisis is in the making.

Whatever the political differences between the Palestinian factions, it is not the people of Gaza who should pay the price.

Mr. President,
The UN will not give up on Gaza and its people. Despite the odds, we will continue our intense mediation efforts to resolve the standoff.
I want to thank Egypt for stepping in at a moment of need and facilitated the entry of badly needed fuel to increase electricity supply. Egyptian fuel, along with the nearly 900 thousand liters of fuel per month provided by the United Nations for the most essential services, provide a temporary lifeline to the residents of Gaza.

In this environment the continued functioning of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is more than ever critical for the people of Gaza. Recently, too, Qatar has signed contracts for eight more residential buildings as part of their commitment to reconstruction.

Today Gaza and the West Bank are further apart than ever. Palestinian leaders must make some hard choices about the future of their people. They can work to overcome their ideological divisions, or they can continue along the path that will guarantee Gaza’s complete collapse. They can work to unite Palestinians in pursuit of the goal of statehood, or they can oversee the demise of the Palestinian national project. They can resolve the current crisis, or preside over the radicalization of their population and see it fall into the hands of extremists with even more destructive agendas.

I know that this is not the future that the majority of Palestinians want for their country. I know that they want to build a state in which human rights are respected; a state that is achieved on the basis of negotiations — not violence; one that lives in peace and security with the State of Israel.

For ten years, however, the population in Gaza has lived in a state of chronic vulnerability. At what point will people say enough is enough? At what point will we say enough is enough?

Since violently seizing control of Gaza, Hamas has tightened its grip on power and suppressed dissent. The fact that no presidential or legislative elections have been held in Palestine since 2006 has also created a democratic deficit that undermines the legitimacy of institutions. Two different legal systems have emerged and diverging laws have been enacted in Gaza and the West Bank.

I once again called on Palestinian leaders to address the destructive consequences of the split. I encourage them to reach agreement that would allow the legitimate Palestinian authorities to take up their responsibilities in Gaza, as a step towards the formation of a national unity government on the basis of the PLO platform, and agree to hold elections. Meanwhile Hamas must ensure that calm is maintained by ceasing militant buildup against Israel and by maintaining security at the border of Egypt. At the same time, I encouraged Israel to step-up measures to lift the closures and facilitate development in Gaza as overall calm persists in the Strip, in line with Security Council resolution 1860

Turning to Lebanon, I refer to the briefing by the Special Coordinator for Lebanon a few days ago who briefed the Council in detail on developments and risks under UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

Meanwhile the ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic has been maintained, albeit in a volatile environment. I am alarmed by the recent spike of military activities in Syria, which has resulted in several spill-over fire incidents across the Disengagement Line and Israeli retaliatory actions. I join the Secretary-General in welcoming the announcement by the Governments of Jordan, the Russian Federation and the United States of a de-escalation zone and arrangements to support a ceasefire and delivery of humanitarian assistance in southwest Syria.

In closing, I emphasised that the events we have witnessed over the past weeks are a reminder of how easy it is to reach the precipice of a dangerous escalation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. We are not yet over this crisis, but I hope that the steps being taken by Israel will enable a return the relative calm before the violent events of 14 July, and that, with agreement between Israel and Jordan and the positive engagement of the religious authorities, we will avoid a cycle of violence that would destroy all peace efforts for the foreseeable future.

We must not lose focus on the need to restore a political perspective, on the need to bring Palestinians and Israelis back into an environment that is conducive to negotiations on a final status arrangement and avoids turning the national Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious conflict.