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As the enemies of #peace grow more confident, we must support the forces of moderation against radicals and deliver progress on resolving the #Palestinian – #Israeli conflict

20/02/2018 Leave a comment

Today, Palestinian President Abbas spoke at the UN Secuirty Council. He joined the monthly debate on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian Question. In my briefing to the Council, I opened by reminding everyone that we meet this month as regional tensions are taking an increasingly perilous turn. Fighting in Syria is increasing, endangering de-escalation arrangements and regional stability, as well as undermining efforts for a political solution. Despite the positive news from Iraq and the defeat of Da’esh, much of the Middle East continues to be in the grips of an ongoing human tragedy of immense proportions.

Against this backdrop and after over a century of hostilities including 50 years of continued military occupation, Israelis and Palestinians are still no closer to peace; many have lost hope that they will see it in their lifetimes.

The enemies of peace are growing more confident by the day.

They see every failure of the forces of moderation as a win for the forces of radicalisation. They believe the political odds are turning in their favour. Day after day they are emboldened. Hindering peace are also those who push facts on the ground, who promote unilateral moves blocking the pathway back to the negotiating table. None of this will bring us closer to resolving the conflict. None of it will respond to the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to statehood or the Israeli longing for security. It will only drive us farther down the road of confrontation, suffering and a one-state reality of perpetual occupation.

Last month the international community discussed key priorities to advance the goal of peace at the extraordinary ministerial meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC). At the meeting, I was encouraged by widespread, unequivocal messages reaffirming support for the two-state solution, in line with relevant UN resolutions, and the need to resume meaningful negotiations over all final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem. Participants also made a critical commitment to undertake efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including support for projects focused on water, electricity and economic recovery.

My message to all was clear: first, we must clearly reaffirm that sustainable peace requires a two-state solution, one that can only be achieved through a negotiated process. Israelis and Palestinians have defined the final status issues and only they, together, can determine their resolution. Second, efforts must continue to seek implementation of concrete and transformative steps on the ground – including ending Israeli settlement expansion and advancing policy shifts particularly in Area C of the West Bank – consistent with a transition to greater Palestinian civil authority, as called for in the 2016 report of the Middle East Quartet. Third, the Palestinian Authority must continue to advance institution-building and service delivery to the Palestinian people and work towards bringing Gaza back under its control. And lastly, it is critical that any future peace proposal focus on the two-state solution and all final status issues as per prior agreements and relevant United Nations resolutions. A failure to do so could have dangerous repercussions.

Maintaining support for Palestine refugees is fundamental to the pursuit of peace and stability in the region. I reiterate my ongoing concern over UNRWA’s sizeable funding shortfall, despite the welcome flexibility of some Member States in accelerating the disbursement of their funding commitments. In addition, the emergency appeals launched on 30 January seek to raise US$ 800 million for the West Bank and Gaza, as well as for the Syria regional crisis, to meet the essential needs of some 1.5 million highly vulnerable people. I encourage Member States to consider urgently providing new funding for UNRWA’s critical requirements.

As the peace process falters and the gulf between the two sides widens, Palestinians and Israelis continue to suffer the violent consequences on the ground. Seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in various incidents across the occupied Palestinian territory and one Israeli civilian was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian in the West Bank. Three of the Palestinians killed died during violent clashes with security forces, one a 16-year-old was shot near Ramallah. He was the fourth child killed under such circumstances since the beginning of the year. I once again emphasized that the use of force must be calibrated and that lethal force should only be used as a last resort, with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities. I urge Israeli security forces to exercise maximum restraint to avoid casualties under such circumstances.

I called upon all sides to reject violence, condemn terror, ensure accountability and work to reduce tensions.

In recent days we have also witnessed dangerous security incidents in and around Gaza. On 17 February four Israeli soldiers were wounded by an improvised explosive device placed at the Gaza fence. This was followed by Israeli airstrikes on some 18 Hamas targets, while Palestinian militants fired two rockets into Israel – one causing damage to a house in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Two Palestinian teens were killed by Israeli security forces while reportedly attempting to approach the fence. Prior to this latest flare-up during the course of the past month, three more rockets were fired towards Israel, with two Israeli retaliatory strikes, all without injuries.

I encouraged the international community to

join the UN in calling on militants in Gaza to refrain from such provocations

and end the building of tunnels and the firing of rockets towards Israel. Such actions, and the response they elicit, only risk the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, undermine peace efforts and increase the likelihood of another devastating conflict.

I also took the opportunity to note the need to resolve the matter of the missing Israeli soldiers and civilians that are being held in Gaza.

Two additional incidents, Mr. President, highlight the risk of escalation and the need for continued Israeli-Palestinian security coordination. These were the discovery of 12 roadside bombs in the West Bank on 26 January and the foiled attempt on 4 February, to smuggle a dual-use component used to make explosives into Gaza within a shipment of medical equipment.

I also noted that the trial of 17-year-old Palestinian girl Ahed Tamimi started on 13 February behind closed doors. She has been detained on remand for two months to date. As stated in my last briefing, the detention of a child must only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time.

Throughout the reporting period Israel’s illegal settlement-related activities continued unabated. In response to last month’s killing of a resident of the illegal Havat Gilad outpost, on February 4th, Israel approved the establishment of a new settlement to absorb its residents. I strongly denounced the expansion of the settlement enterprise as compensation for Israeli deaths.

Settlement construction is not a morally appropriate way to respond to murder.

On February 12th, Israel also advanced two settlement plans for some 85 housing units near Bethlehem. I reiterated the long-standing UN position that all settlement-related activities are illegal under international law and are a substantial obstacle to peace; and I call on Israel to seize and reverse such policies.

Demolition and seizure of Palestinian-owned structures also continued, with 31 structures affected, resulting in 33 Palestinians displaced. Particularly concerning was the demolition of two donor-funded classrooms serving Palestinian children in the Bedouin community of Abu Nuwar. This is the sixth demolition or confiscation in the school since February 2016. Overall, according to OCHA, 44 schools in the occupied West Bank are currently at risk of demolition. I urged Israel to cease this practice.

I briefed the Council last week on the situation in Gaza. Month after month, we have raised the alarm about the humanitarian, economic and ecological calamity underway. It bears repeating that the situation is unsustainable.

Continuing power cuts of up to 20 hours per day severely undermine the provision of basic services. Without additional immediate fuel deliveries, the situation could deteriorate with dramatic consequences.

I reiterated the Secretary-General’s

appreciation to the United Arab Emirates and to the State of Qatar

for their support to deal with this emergency. Their immediate response to our appeal has helped stave off a further deterioration.

I stated that I was encouraged by the trilateral meeting I had last week with Palestinian Prime Minister Hamdallah and Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Mordechai in which we focused on the humanitarian problems in Gaza. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism and agreed on the need for a joint review to improve its functionality, transparency and predictability.

As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza escalates, the implementation of the Egyptian-brokered intra-Palestinian agreement has stalled. Absent immediate steps to address the humanitarian crisis and to revive the economy, we will face a total institutional and economic collapse in Gaza. This is not an alarmist prediction Mr. President – it is a fact. I welcomed the proposal of the Palestinian Government to incorporate into its 2018 budget some 20,000 civil service employees in Gaza. A positive outcome, however, is contingent, inter alia, upon the collection of taxes, the payment of salaries, the return of the Government administration, and ultimately, security control of Gaza. I urged all sides to intensify their engagement and to move forward in this process.

For a decade two million people have lived under the full control of Hamas with crippling Israeli closures and movement and access restrictions. Throughout this period the international community has provided aid and humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering and to rebuild what was destroyed in three devastating conflicts.

It is time to break this cycle. It is time to return Gaza back to the control of the legitimate Palestinian Authority, for there can be no Palestinian state without Palestinian unity.

Those who stand in the way of reconciliation hurt the Palestinian national cause

and the price will be paid by generations of ordinary people.

The security situation on the Golan is also of growing concern. A worrying escalation occurred on February 10th, when Israeli Defence Forces destroyed what they identified as an Iranian Unmanned Aerial Vehicle which had reportedly entered its airspace from Syria. Shortly thereafter, Israeli aircraft targeted a Syrian airbase. During the attack, one Israeli jet was hit injuring two pilots, which further prompted Israel to attack what it described as “12 military objectives” inside Syria. I urge all sides to work towards easing tensions in this highly volatile area.

Turning briefly to Lebanon I stated that heightened rhetoric was exchanged between Israel and Lebanon over disputed maritime areas. The United Nations continues to call on the sides to act responsibly, avoid security risks and explore with the support of the United Nations ways to resolve the issue. Preparations continue for May parliamentary elections in Lebanon and for the upcoming Rome II and Cedre conferences to support the security sector and economy, respectively on 15 March and 5 April. While the situation was generally quiet in the UNIFIL area of operation, heightened rhetoric relating to the Israeli Defense Forces proposed constructions in Lebanese “reservation areas” south of the Blue Line continued. The planned construction commenced in non-reservation areas on 7 February with no incidents reported.

Returning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I reiterated in closing that we in the international community must continue advocating for substantial Israeli policy changes related to the situation in the West Bank, including a halt to settlement construction, demolition of structures and prevention of Palestinian development in Area C. On Gaza, we must collectively work to alleviate the humanitarian disaster and provide full support to Egyptian reconciliation efforts. Our support to UNRWA also remains vital.

I also expressed hope that we will be able to look beyond the closed, dark negotiating rooms that are currently empty of diplomats and politicians, to see that there are Israeli and Palestinian advocates for peace working tirelessly to promote change: civil society organizations; youth and women’s groups; religious and community leaders – they all have a critical role to play and must be supported and allowed to express their views freely. We rarely discuss their role, we don’t speak often enough of the challenges they face, but their efforts must be recognized and supported.

At the Security Council we have often spoken of the need for leadership on both sides to reach a deal, a compromise, through negotiations that would allow Israelis and Palestinians to separate and be masters of their own fate. But these negotiations would not be negotiations between equals. For one side is under military occupation. Its leadership has committed to a peaceful solution to the conflict through negotiation. I urge the international community not to give up on support for the moderate Palestinian leadership or on building up the institutions that will increase the chances of success. Our window of opportunity is closing and, if we do not seize it quickly, the Israeli – Palestinian conflict will be engulfed in the whirlwind of religious radicalization that remains present in the region.

Opportunities to advance peace are rare and must be seized

17/01/2017 Leave a comment

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.