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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.

#Gaza faces dire power crisis, health services deteriorate, untreated sewage pouring into the sea

27/05/2017 Leave a comment

On May 26th I briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. This is a regular monthly briefing, which updates the Security Council on what has been happening on the ground in the past month. Last month it was focused on a broader overview of developments in the region. This month most of it was focused on the situation in Gaza, where we are walking into another crisis with our eyes wide open. I warned the Security Council that unless urgent measures are taken to de-escalate, the crisis risks spiraling out of control with devastating consequences for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Since Hamas established an Administrative Committee in March, a parallel institution to run governmental affairs in Gaza,

the intra-Palestinian political tug-of-war has led to a significant deterioration in relations between Fatah and Hamas.

The result is a significant worsening of the humanitarian crisis which risks exploding into another conflict that can only begin to be resolved by compromise, by the implementation of intra-Palestinian agreements and an ending of the closures.

In April, the Palestinian Government upheld its decision to reduce salary allowances to nearly 60,000 public sector employees in Gaza. While the 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 in Gaza.

Gaza is also in the midst of an unprecedented energy crisis. The power plant, that supplies 30 per cent of Gaza’s electricity, stopped functioning on 16 April, due to a dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over taxation on fuel.

The lines supplying power from Egypt into Gaza are often down for technical reasons. This leaves Israeli power lines, which provide some 60 per cent of Gaza’s electricity, as the only reliable energy source. Meanwhile the Palestinian Government has decided to cap its purchase of electricity from Israel for Gaza. If implemented, this decision will further reduce electricity supply to Gaza by some 30per cent, plunging its population into a spiral of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Since April, the majority of Palestinians in Gaza are receiving about four hours of electricity per day. How long do you think they can survive if this is further reduced to two hours of electricity per day? Who will pay the price of the ensuing violence and escalation? It will certainly not be those who live a life of exemptions and privilege.

The price will be paid by poor Palestinians, by women and children, by people already traumatized by conflict, who have been held hostage for a decade now. They are the ones who will not have access to electricity, to water, to health services and sanitation.

No one has interest in another conflict in Gaza.

And everyone has a responsibility to avoid it. For months, the UN has warned that without addressing the structural problems of Gaza’s electricity supply we would face a humanitarian crisis. Those warnings are now a reality. I illustrated what that reality looks like.

Hospitals are now forced to postpone elective surgeries and have already reduced 80 per cent of cleaning, catering and sterilization services. Had it not been for the timely UN humanitarian intervention on April 27 to provide emergency fuel for generators some 51 surgical and obstetric operation theaters, five hemodialysis centers and a number of emergency departments would have had to close.

Since mid-April desalination plants are functioning at 15% of their capacity and drinking water is supplied for a few hours every 2-4 days.

100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage are discharged into the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis. This is the equivalent of 40 Olympic-size swimming pools of sewage. Untreated. Daily. An environmental disaster for Israel, for Egypt and Gaza is in the making.

Food prices are soaring as the price of water for irrigation has gone up by 65per cent. The manufacturing sector is grinding to a halt and over half of private industry workers have been suspended.

The UN is working determinedly to mitigate the humanitarian impact of this crisis.

A UN-managed emergency fuel operation is delivering fuel to essential services for water, health and sanitation – but our reserves will run-out in the coming weeks. It can only temporarily alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable, but is no substitute for a sustainable solution. Defusing the current energy crisis will require compromise on all sides, including tax concessions on fuel for the power plant and a profound reform of how energy is supplied in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority, Hamas – which has controlled Gaza for a decade – and Israel, all have obligations for the welfare of Gaza’s residents and must live up to their responsibilities to address the crisis and overcome political impasse.

Over the past weeks, I have engaged with the parties and our international partners to find both a solution to the immediate electricity challenges, but also to address the broader political challenge of returning Gaza to the control of the legitimate Palestinian authorities.

In another troubling development, allow me to join the High Commissioner for Human Rights in condemning yesterday’s executions of three men in Gaza in contravention of international law. These executions bring to 28 the number of death sentences carried out since the Hamas takeover in 2007, with nine just in the last year.

Turning to the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I noted that in recent weeks we have seen more tragic examples of the human toll that this conflict inflicting, with 6 Palestinians killed in various acts of violence.

I expressed my concern at the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian detainees protesting against their conditions in Israeli jails, which, on the eve of the Ramadan, has now entered its 40th day. According to reports, the Israel Prison Service has evacuated at least 60 hunger-striking prisoners to hospitals because their medical condition had worsened, while another close to 600 prisoners have been moved to infirmaries set up in the prisons.

Reports of punitive measures against the hunger strikers, including restricted access to lawyers and the denial of family visits, are alarming. The right of detainees to access a lawyer is a right that should never be curtailed.

I am glad that a day after my briefing to the Security Council,

it was confirmed by the ICRC that the hunger strike has ended.

On 4 May the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee met in Brussels to discuss the key socio-economic challenges faced by the Palestinian Authority. Regrettably, a number of key issues remained unresolved between the parties on access and movement, energy, water and fiscal sustainability. While many of the solutions are technical, ultimately, the decisions to implement them are political.

I encouraged that in recent weeks the Israeli and Palestinian Ministers of Finance have come together in an effort to move these issues forward. Their fruitful consultations, the first meeting of the Joint Water Committee in seven years and the progress in the implementation of last year’s landmark Electricity Agreement are positive steps that need to be encouraged and supported.

I also took note of recently announced Israeli measures designed to help the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. These steps reportedly include the proposed zoning of land in Area C adjacent to several Palestinian cities, for their residential, industrial and agricultural use; development of industrial zones in Tarkumiya and Hebron; as well as expanding the hours of operation of the Allenby Bridge Crossing. These are positive steps that also need to be substantially expanded if they are to achieve the desired effect.

Before closing, I turned very briefly to Lebanon and the Golan. Regrettably,

the Lebanese Parliament has not yet reconvened

following its one-month adjournment of 12 April. Agreement on an electoral law remains elusive, less than a month before Parliament’s tenure ends on 20 June. Hopefully negotiations can be finalized in time to avoid institutional instability and to allow for the holding of elections in accordance with the Constitution.

In the Golan, the ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic has been maintained, albeit in a volatile environment attributable to the ongoing conflict in Syria and against the backdrop of continued military activity across the ceasefire line. This has included incidents of spillover and retaliatory fire as well as Israeli air strikes in Syria targeting Hizbullah.

Both Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic have stated their continued commitment to the Disengagement of Forces Agreement and support for the full return of UNDOF to the area of separation, conditions permitting.

In closing, I said a few words on efforts to advance the prospects for peace. As the conflict has ebbed and flowed, the key messages to both sides from the United Nations, including through its role in the Quartet, and the broader international community, have remained clear, consistent and firm.

Above all, Israel’s almost 50-year occupation and settlement enterprise are untenable and must end through meaningful negotiations that address all final status issues. Their perpetuation is sending an unmistakable message to another generation of Palestinians that their dream of statehood is destined to remain just that, a dream, and to Israelis that their desire for peace, security and regional recognition also remains unattainable.

Still, much can and must be done. Israel can undertake transformative steps to improve the daily lives of Palestinians, to empower the Palestinian leadership, and to move meaningfully towards a negotiated resolution of the conflict, in accordance with international law and Security Council resolutions.

Palestinians, too, should heed the repeated calls to combat violence and incitement. Internally, they must also rise to the challenge of forging a genuine reconciliation – critical to advancing peace and fulfilling their national aspirations.

This summer will mark ten years since the 2007 Hamas violent take-over of the Gaza Strip. The past decade has seenGaza’s infrastructure, its basic services and private sector gradually debilitated, its economy weakened with real GDP per capita and employment decreasing, and the gender gap continuing to grow. Gaza faces a downward spiral of de-development. The widening socio-economic gap between Gaza and the West Bank further highlights the need to end the drivers of this inhumane and volatile situation. Deteriorating conditions only fuel anger and instability, strengthen extremists and undermine chances for a serious political process.

If Israelis and Palestinians hope to extract themselves from the immeasurable burden this conflict has wrought, they must be willing to take the painful steps that will ultimately lead to peace. Neither side can afford another missed opportunity.

You can read the remarks as delivered here

UN News Centre summary here

‪Protecting #human rights, social cohesion & reconciliation are the first line of defence against the rise of #extremism in the #MiddleEast‬

20/04/2017 3 comments

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.

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.