Protecting #human rights, social cohesion & reconciliation are the first line of defence against the rise of #extremism in the #MiddleEast
Earlier today I deliver my brieifng to the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. I took note of the Presidency’s interest in discussing a number of issues pertaining to the Middle East and North Africa region. That is why I highlighted some of them in my presentation and deferred to my fellow UN envoys who regularly brief the Council for greater detail on many of these challenges. Today a perfect storm has engulfed the Middle East and continues to threaten international peace and security. Millions have been displaced in the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. In many countries, societies have fractured along ethnic or religious lines. Non-state actors have taken control of territory and terror attacks have spread, indiscriminately striking civilians of all origin and confession.
From the onset, I paid tribute to the countless victims of these senseless acts of violence and called on the international community to show its full and unwavering commitment to defeat terror and incitement; to support the forces of moderation against extremism; to untangle the Gordian knot of political, economic and foreign forces that are driving the myriad of conflicts in the Middle East.
Developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict continue to resonate across the region.
The question of Palestine remains a potent symbol and rallying cry that is easily misappropriated
and exploited by extremist groups. Ending the occupation and realizing a two-state solution will not solve all the region’s problems, but as long as the conflict persists, it will continue to feed them.
Sporadic violence has continued in recent weeks as five Palestinians and one Israeli were killed in various acts of violence. Among the fatalities were two Palestinian teenaged boys, shot by Israeli security forces outside Ramallah, as well as a British woman who was murdered by a Palestinian man in Jerusalem. In March Israel approved the establishment of a new settlement and declared some 240 acres as “state land” inside the occupied Palestinian territory. These moves further undermine the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state in the West Bank. Tenders for close to 2,000 housing units, the vast majority in major population centres close to the 1967 lines, were also issued. I noteed recent reports that Israel has adopted a policy of restraint by which construction will be advanced “almost exclusively” in the built-up areas of settlements but it is too early to determine how this policy will manifest itself on the ground.
Settlement construction is illegal under international law
and I urge for all such activities to be ceased.
On the Palestinian side, multiple worrying developments are further cementing the Gaza – West Bank divide and dangerously increasing the risk of escalation. In April, the Palestinian Government reduced payments to thousands of Palestinian Authority employees in the Gaza Strip. It is important that the burden of decisions to reduce expenditures are fairly distributed and made with due consideration to the harsh conditions under which people in Gaza live. Four months ago Palestinians in Gaza went to the streets when people were left with only a few hours of electricity per day. The situation was temporarily resolved with the help of Qatar, however a more serious crisis is now unfolding again as electricity is down to less than 6 hours per day. The social, economic and political consequences of these developments should not be underestimated. I call on all parties to come together and ensure the vital issue of energy for Gaza is resolved once and for all.
Meanwhile Hamas continues to tighten its iron grip over Gaza
by forming an administrative committee that is seen by many to be a direct challenge to the legitimate Palestinian government. Following the assassination of one of its militants, it temporarily put in place a series of restrictions preventing Palestinians and internationals from leaving and banning fishing for two weeks. On April 6th three Palestinians were executed by Hamas in gross violation of international law and without a fair trial. These actions were condemned by the Secretary-General and I said that I am deeply concerned that further extrajudicial executions are anticipated in Gaza.
On 7 April, nine people were killed in armed clashes between the newly formed Palestinian joint security forces and members of Islamist militants with links to al-Qaeda, erupted in Lebanon’s Ein el-Hilweh Palestine refugee camp. Young Palestinians in refugee camps across the region remain particularly vulnerable to extremists and religious radicals as living conditions in these communities remain extremely harsh.
On 17 April, an estimated 1500 Palestinian prisoners and detainees began an open-ended hunger strike to protest their conditions in Israeli prisons. I also noted my concern by today’s report of an attempt to smuggle explosive material from Gaza into Israel via medical material. These actions will only exacerbate existing tensions.
I then turned to some broader regional dynamics as several states in the region continue to bear a massive burden from the flood of Syrian refugees. While the international community must do more to stand in solidarity with Syria’s neighbors by increased assistance and burden sharing, the underlying causes of displacement must be addressed through a political solution to the ongoing conflict.
In Syria, a democracy deficit, systematic repression, and wholesale human rights violations, including by the Government – which holds the primary obligation to protect the human rights of all civilians in the country – have combined with a prolonged conflict to create a fertile ground for sectarian polarization, radicalism and violent extremism. One of the greatest contributions we all can make to the defeat of listed terrorist organisations such as ISIL and Al Nusra Front is to achieve a comprehensive and credible political settlement to the Syrian conflict and a political transition to an inclusive, democratic and participatory state. Such an outcome would also help to enable a more unified international counter-terrorism response.
I focused on recent reports of the alleged
use of chemical weapons in Syria.
If confirmed, this abhorrent action would amount to a serious violation of international law and present a threat to international peace and security. This is an area in which the Security Council has the primary responsibility and I expressed my hope it can unite to send a strong collective message that the perpetrators of such attacks will be held accountable.
In Lebanon, on 12 April President Aoun decided to adjourn the tenure of the Lebanese Parliament for one month. It is hoped that this will allow time for Lebanon’s leaders to agree on an electoral law, in accordance with the Constitution. The Council will soon receive the report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Resolution 1559 (2004), which called on the disbanding and disarming of all militias. Recognizing the vital progress achieved in restoring Lebanon’s institutions to their full functioning, it will be essential for the country to seize the current momentum to counter the maintenance and alleged increase of weapons outside the authority and the control of the state.
Libya, as Special Representative Kobler briefed the Council a day earlier, has made important strides in the fight against ISIL, which no longer holds territory in that country. However, the stalled implementation of the Libya Political Agreement is contributing to a political and security vacuum, putting Libya’s population and its neighbours at risk of further destabilization. Armed groups have committed grave violations and abuses of human rights. It is critical that the political process is resumed with the support of the international community.
In Iraq, the security forces supported by the international anti-ISIL coalition are making progress in retaking Mosul. I welcomed the efforts of the Government of Iraq to secure and rebuild destroyed areas and to advance the national reconciliation process. This will be essential for depriving ISIL of legitimacy, access to resources and support.
Across the region,
social exclusion and marginalisation, particularly in areas of prolonged and unresolved conflicts, provide fertile ground for the rise of violent extremism.
Unity across ethnic and religious lines, reconciliation and a fair sharing of resources help heal wounds and isolate extremists.
Listed terrorist organizations and other non-State actors, including armed groups such as Hezbollah, have thrived in the climate of weak governance and an absence of human rights that pervade the region. It is estimated that over 30,000 foreign terrorist fighters from over 100 Member States have travelled to the Middle East in recent years to join such groups. Their presence over expanses of territory and accumulation of resources and weaponry pose an increased threat to regional and international peace and security. Some foreign fighters have already returned to their home countries spreading violence in their own communities.
The humanitarian and social impact of the conflicts in the Middle East is catastrophic.
In Syria, hundreds of thousands have been killed since 2011 and approximately half of the population is displaced. Over five million Syrian refugees are registered with UNHCR with nearly three million in Turkey, over one million in Lebanon and more than 650,000 in Jordan, putting a huge socio-economic and security strain on these societies.
In Iraq, over 334,000 people are currently displaced in total as a result of fighting in Mosul, most of them people who have lived for two years under the barbaric rule of ISIL. Owing to intensive efforts by the Government and humanitarian partners, operations have kept pace with growing needs, but capacities are strained.
In Yemen — the poorest county in the Middle East, the situation continues to deteriorate as 18.8 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, including a shocking 10.3 million who require immediate help. More than two million are internally displaced and over two million children are acutely malnourished.
I urgeed the Security Council and all stakeholders to do everything in their power
to protect and spare civilians from the brutal effects of these conflicts,
as required under international humanitarian law. Regardless of the causes, whether defense or counter-terrorism, the abuse for human rights in the conduct of any conflict can never be justified. It only serves to reinforce the fundamental drivers of extremism and violence. The complexities of the region’s conflicts means that political solutions based on justice, dignity and social cohesion are required to achieve and sustain peace.
Developments on the political front continue. In Yemen, Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is consulting with key regional and international actors in an effort to build support for the framework for peace talks as well as to mitigate the effects on the civilian population of the military hostilities along the Red Sea coast.
On 12 April you heard from Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, who underscored that there can only be a political solution to the bloody conflict in Syria. I reiterateed his urgent call for the Council to unite behind the UN-convened intra-Syrian talks in Geneva on political transition as per Security Council resolution 2254 and the 2012 Geneva Communique.
Efforts to revive engagement between Israelis and Palestinians to achieve a negotiated and sustainable peace must also be intensified. In this regard, I said that I was encouraged by ongoing efforts by Egypt, Jordan and the United States to advance the prospects for peace.
On March 29th the League of Arab States convened in Jordan for their 28th Annual Summit where the leaders of 22 countries once again endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative.
In closing, I reiterated the words of Secretary-General Guterres that
the region requires a surge in diplomacy for peace.
Member States, especially through a united Security Council, will have to assume the leading role, including by advancing the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions. In today’s world there can be no justification for terrorism, nor for the glorification of those who commit it. But without justice, dignity and the protection of human rights, communities will continue to fracture and provide fertile ground for extremists.
To this end the fragility of states must be addressed. Governments need to respond to the legitimate demands of their people and strengthen social cohesion and reconciliation. This is the first line of defense against extremism. Efforts to strengthen the voices of moderation, and build religious tolerance must also be strengthened. Divisions within the region have opened the door to outside interference and manipulation, breeding instability and sectarian strife. Multilateral approaches and cooperation are necessary to address interlinked conflicts, cross-border humanitarian impacts and violent extremism.
I closed by reminding the Council that behind the images of savagery, behind the shocking statistics of human suffering, are the millions fighting every day not only for their own survival but for the true humane essence of their cultures and societies. They are the true faces of the Middle East, and we must do all we can to help them prevail.
As #Gaza electricty crisis grows, urgent measures needed. The poorest #Palestinians pay the price for the privileges of a few #UN
Reform of the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) is essential to improve revenue collection and transparency in line with international standards. The defacto authorities in Gaza must ensure that collection rates are improved and that revenue collected in Gaza is returned to the legitimate Palestinian authorities in order to keep fuel and electricity supply flowing. All in Gaza must share the burden by paying their bills.
It is the poorest Palestinians in Gaza who pay the price for exceptions and privileges that others enjoy.
This reform, as well as the necessary investments in reducing electricity losses and upgrading the grid in Gaza, should be financed and supported by the international community but it cannot do it alone. It must go hand-in-hand with the Palestinian Government facilitating the purchase of fuel for the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) under conditions that temporarily alleviate or substantially reduce relevant fuel taxes.
Israel also has a significant responsibility to assist by facilitating the entry of materials for repairs and maintenance of the grid and power plant. Egyptian power lines to Gaza also need to be repaired and upgraded.
The social, economic and political consequences of this impending energy crisis should not be underestimated. Palestinians in Gaza, who live in a protracted humanitarian crisis, can no longer be held hostage by disagreements, divisions and closures.
I call on all parties, including the international community, to come together and ensure this vital issue of energy for Gaza is resolved once and for all. The United Nations stands ready to provide its support in achieving this vital goal.
I am concerned at rising tensions. Expenditure reductions must be fairly distributed, leaders must bridge growing gap b/n #Gaza #WestBank
I am deeply concerned by the growing tensions in Gaza. Over the past decade, Palestinians in Gaza have lived through four conflicts, with no freedom, unprecedented Israeli restrictions, a dire humanitarian crisis, high unemployment, an ongoing electricity crisis and the lack of political perspective.
While the Palestinian Government needs to ensure its fiscal sustainability under increasingly difficult economic conditions, it is important that reforms or decisions to reduce expenditures are fairly distributed and made with consideration to the harsh conditions under which people in Gaza live.
I urge the responsible parties to work together to find a solution to the current crisis and call on all factions to allow the Palestinian Government to assume its responsibility in Gaza.
Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state and no efforts should be spared to bring about real national reconciliation that ends the division. Leaders have a responsibility to avoid escalation and bridge the growing divide between Gaza and the West Bank that further fragments the Palestinian people.
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.
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.