On March 7th I addressed the 71st session of the Foreign Minister’s Council of the League of Arab States in Cairo on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian Question.
I started by noting the unfaltering commitment of the League to supporting the Palestinian people in their rightful quest to put an end to a half-century of occupation and establish an independent state of their own.
Today, as the region faces challenges however, what is required is that all moderate forces work together against the common threat of extremism and terror. The Arab League has extended its hand through the Arab Peace Initiative. But true peace will remain elusive without the recognition that
both Palestinians and Israelis have legitimate national aspirations
that can only be realized in two states that live in peace, security and mutual recognition. That is why now is not the time to give up on the two-state solution. Unfortunately, it is being undermined not so much by statements, but by policies and actions. Settlement expansion, violence, and the absence of visionary leadership continue to define the conflict.
I spoke of the grim reality, the anger and the frustration on the ground. The adoption of the so-called “Regularisation Law”, which contravenes international law; legislative attempts to annex parts of the West Bank; a rise in the demolition of Palestinian structures and the situation in Gaza — all these developments eat away at the two-state solution, destroy hope and strengthen the hand of extremists.
Since the beginning of the year significant settlement moves have been made in the occupied West Bank. These have included tenders for around 800 units and the advancement of plans for over 3,300 units, some of which have reached the final approval stage. Construction has also been advanced in East Jerusalem.
I expressed my concern by continuing violence. So-called “lone wolf” attacks continue, though greatly reduced as compared to 2016. Clashes also continue and the UN has repeatedly warned that the use of force must be calibrated.
And I spoke about Gaza that for the last 10 years has remained under the control of Hamas. where after three brutal conflicts, Israel’s crippling closures and the decade-long political divide, two million Palestinians are trapped in a humanitarian tragedy. All this has convinced many that there is no hope for peace.
Much work remains as 50,000 Palestinians live in temporary shelters. The UN needs some USD 160 million for the reconstruction of nearly 4,000 totally destroyed homes in Gaza. Addressing chronic challenges, such as unemployment and access to basic services of water and energy, must remain a priority.
I used the meeting to once again call for the illicit arms build-up, militant activity and provocations to stop. They risk renewed escalation and further suffering for all.
Unfortunately these negative trends — settlement expansion, violence and the situation in Gaza, entrench a dangerous one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict. They must be urgently reversed.
We need a new approach to restore hope and create a political horizon.
In December, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2334 that reiterated some of the key obstacles to achieving a negotiated two-state solution. Later in January, at the Paris Conference, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to the two-state solution and to the need for follow up and international engagement. The Arab League engagement must also play its role in furthering these objectives. So must the parties.
Israel must demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution by ceasing illegal settlement activities and by implementing policy shifts consistent with prior agreements that increase Palestinian civil authority. Palestine must continue its state-building investment and tackle the challenges of violence and unity. Just days before the meeting the Palestinian government, civil society and the business community finalised an ambitious National Policy Agenda. This was an important step forward. Translating that vision into reality is critical to strengthening the foundations for a future Palestinian state and the UN stands ready to support it.
In closing I reminded everyone that resolutions and communiques alone are not enough. What is required is action. Action by the leaders themselves. Action by the international community and the region.
Today, the Knesset is scheduled to vote on the so called “Regularisation” or “Legaliasation” Bill.
It would enable the continued use of privately-owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and protect outposts built on private land. Some have pronounced it to be a step towards the annexation of the West Bank. The Attorney General of Israel has declared it to be anti-constitutional and it is in contravention of international law.
I am concerned that if adopted into law, this bill will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel and greatly diminish the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace. That is why I reiterate my call to legislators to reconsider this move.
Settlement activities are illegal under international law and run counter to the Middle East Quartet position that settlements are one of the main obstacles to peace. All core issues should be resolved between the parties through direct negotiations on the basis of relevant Security Council resolutions and mutual agreements.
On January 17th I delivered my first breifing to the UN Secuirty Council on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian Question. This was at the beginning of an open debate on the subject in which over 40 countries spoke.
I started my breifing by Reminding everyone of the appalling truck-ramming attack on January 8th that killed four Israelis and injured 17 more in Jerusalem. Such attacks can never be justified and must be universally condemned. This act of cowardice was neither courageous, nor heroic. It is regrettable that some Palestinian factions and leaders have chosen to praise such act, to glorify them or have simply remained silent.
Despite the relative tranquility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict compared to developments in the region, the specter of violence is always near. Leaders on all sides have a responsibility to reduce tensions and provide a political horizon to their people. Most importantly, we all have a responsibility to prevent this conflict from being engulfed in the nexus of violent extremism and religious turmoil that is sweeping across the Middle East.
I began by honoring the critical efforts of the UN Country Team here on the ground. The UN agencies, funds and programmes, who work in a challenging security and political environment, deserve our full support and recognition. Every day, the UN provides free basic education to over 300,000 students in 350 schools; family health services to almost 1.7 million Palestinians in 64 health centres. Every month, we deliver an average of 780,000 litres of fuel to sustain health, water and sanitation, and municipal services. Every quarter, the UN provides food assistance to 1 million Palestine refugees in Gaza and the West Bank.
Yet, the UN also plans for the future.
The UN in Palestine implements programmes that will bring about sustainable solutions to the economic challenges facing Palestinian households. UN programmes have supported the Palestinian Government in the creation of approximately 14,000 businesses and 45,000 jobs for people who were previously reliant on humanitarian assistance. We help strengthen Palestinian institutions and prepare them for the future. The UN facilitates emergency preparedness and regional disaster risk cooperation between Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian emergency authorities.
The services that we provide to Palestinians touch lives across the West Bank and Gaza. This vital work would have been impossible without the cooperation and support of both Israeli and Palestinian authorities and our counterparts. On behalf of the teams on the ground I would like to thank the Security Council and all Member States for your invaluable and continuing support.
I have repeatedly warned the Secuirty Council that failure by
leaders on both sides to reverse the current negative trajectory
will ensure that Israelis and Palestinians continue to live as prisoners of fear, trapped in a perpetual cycle of conflict.
On 23 December, the Security Council adopted resolution 2334. It reiterated some of the key obstacles to achieving a negotiated two-state solution that were identified in the July 2016 report of the Middle East Quartet: namely the construction and expansion of illegal settlements; continued acts of violence, terrorism; and incitement. The international community has clearly said that both sides must do their part in creating the necessary conditions to launch final status direct negotiations. It has called on Israel to demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution by ceasing settlement activities and by implementing policy shifts consistent with prior agreements. It has called on the Palestinian leadership to demonstrate their commitment to a peaceful two-state future by clearly condemning all acts of terrorism and taking significant steps to curb incitement.
Such steps by both sides would have a powerful and positive impact on the prospects for peace. The Middle East Quartet has been calling for such steps, a call that the Security Council and the international community has now welcomed.
In the aftermath of the vote, emotions on the ground have been heightened. Calls have been made for the annexation of parts of or the whole of Area C. Such divisive positions risk destroying the prospects for peace. All stakeholders must avoid any unilateral action that would prejudge a negotiated final status solution.
Last weekend France hosted over 70 countries and international organizations in Paris, not to impose conditions on Israelis and Palestinians, but to reaffirm their collective support for the two-state solution and their readiness to support both parties in returning to meaningful negotiations. In particular, I notedand appreciated the participants’ welcoming of the Quartet recommendations.
While these political developments were unfolding abroad, important events were taking place on the ground. After a relative lull, during the reporting period Israel conducted 24 demolitions, resulting in the displacement of 167 persons in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Yesterday the Israel Defence Forces fatally shot a 17-year-old Palestinian during clashes near Bethlehem. I reiterate that live fire should be used only as a last resort, in situations of imminent threat of death or serious injury. Such incidents where use of force has resulted in death or injury must be properly investigated.
Turning to internal Palestinian developments, the reported revocation in December of the parliamentary immunity of five Fatah-bloc members in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC)
renewed debate about the legality of the decision to lift parliamentary immunity in the absence of regular PLC meetings.
Palestine has come a long way on its path to building state institutions. Safeguarding their independence and checks and balances is vital to maintaining the public’s trust.
Much needed preparations have begun on holding a regular session of the Palestinian National Council, which was last convened some two decades ago. I encourage all factions to seize this opportunity to achieve genuine reconciliation on the basis of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) principles.
Russia’s recent initiative in Moscow, which provided a forum for Palestinian factions to hold open discussions, is also a welcome effort in this direction.
Meanwhile, I noted that I remained greatly concerned by increasing tensions in Gaza exacerbated by the continued closures and the protracted humanitarian and development situation, particularly by
Hamas’ crackdown on recent peaceful protests
after two million Palestinians were left with just a couple of hours of electricity per day in the middle of winter. The right to freedom of expression, peaceful protest and assembly in Gaza must be respected fully by all.
While the immediate electricity crisis has been averted, thanks to the generous and timely support of the State of Qatar, the responsible authorities must find a suitable sustainable long-term solution to resolve the chronic electricity shortage. The UN is working to support such efforts.
Against this backdrop, there has also been positive developments. Israel has increased the entry of critical construction materials over the past weeks, however donor funds for shelter remain critically low. The current USD 300 million reconstruction gap is far too large. Less than half of the USD 3.5 billion that were committed two and a half years ago at the Cairo Gaza pledging conference have been disbursed.
Turning to Lebanon, the formation of a Government on 18 December last year was a positive development. It sustained the momentum of the appointment of Saad Hariri as Prime Minister on 3 November and the election of President Aoun on 31 October. The President visited Saudi Arabia in early January at the invitation of King Salman. This visit paves the way for new engagement and support for Lebanon’s stability and security. Both sides have described the meeting as successful and as opening a new page.
The Government in Lebanon has outlined its priorities and vision for the country, reflecting its determination to tackle the country’s urgent challenges. These moves signal
cautious optimism and the potential for consolidating Lebanese institutions.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese Armed Forces successfully foiled an attack and arrested eleven members of a terrorist cell in Tripoli that was linked with ISIS and the Nusra Front.
On the Golan, the situation in the Syrian Arab Republic has continued to affect significantly the UNDOF area of operation. The ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic generally has been maintained, albeit in a highly volatile security environment. I rcalled that Secretary-General calls on all parties to prevent tensions or their escalation, and to strictly abide by international law, in particularly in respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries in the region. Both Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic have stated their continued commitment to the Disengagement of Forces Agreement. The full return of UNDOF to the area of separation remains a priority for the Mission.
I concluded by saying that the long, bloody history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has offered us many lessons, some of which we have learned, but too many that we have not. One lesson that we should all have learned by now is that opportunities to advance peace are rare and must be seized. Making the necessary compromises will never be easy.
In recent weeks the international community has expressed its continued commitment to the two-state solution. But resolutions and communiques alone will not achieve a just and lasting peace. What is required is action, first and foremost by the parties themselves.
The United Nations remains committed to supporting Israelis and Palestinians on the difficult road ahead.
I welcome the signature of an agreement to renew the activity of the Israeli – Palestinian Joint Water Committee to improve the water infrastructure and supply in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
This, along with previous joint agreements on electricity, water, mail and 3G cellular coverage, is in line with the Middle East Quartet’s recommendations.
If fully implemented, this agreement would be an important step towards preserving the two-state solution. I encourage further cooperation between the two sides which is critical to the viability of a future Palestinian state.
In September 2016 both sides resolved a long lasting dispute over outstanding electricity debts and agreed to create a new energy market that effectively transferred the authority to the Palestinian government for collecting payments for electricity distributed to Palestinian territory.
I am following with great concern the tense situation unfolding in Gaza after two million Palestinians have been left with just a couple of hours of electricity per day in the middle of winter.
I call for the full respect of the right to freedom of expression, peaceful protest and assembly in Gaza. All responsible authorities must cooperate to resolve the electricity crisis immediately.
On August 29th I briefed the UN Security Council on the upsurge of settlement related activity in the West Bank, warning that ‘no legal acrobatics’ can change the fact that such construction is illegal under International law. Since then a draft bill, known the “Legalization bill” is moving forward in the legislative process. It has the objective of protecting illegal settlements and outposts built on private Palestinian property in the West Bank. Some have pronounced it to be a step towards the annexation of the West Bank.
If adopted, it will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel, across the occupied West Bank and will greatly diminish the prospect of Arab-Israeli peace. I encourage Israeli legislators to reconsider this move.
I reiterate that all settlement activities are illegal under international law and run counter to the Middle East Quartet position that settlements are one of the main obstacles to peace.