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If you create hope, then take it away, violence usually follows

04/01/2018 Leave a comment

DRbohebXcAAut05.jpg-largeOn December 19th 2017 I spoke at the International Peace Institite (IPI) “Leading for Peace: Voices From the Field” series in New York. The focus was on a decade of deteriorating conditions in Gaza, which has “de-developed” under Hamas,  and the risks of the stalled return of the Palestinian Authority to the Strip.

Since then the PA has decided to increase electricity supply to Gaza, which will ease the humanitarian situation and increase the chances of an agreement that will see the Government enabled in Gaza. Much however remains to be done. There is a growing risk of conflict as rockets fired by militants in Gaza towards Israel continue. One third of all the rockets fired in 2017 came in December of last year. Just yesterday four rockets were fired. This is dangerous and reckless and it only increases the chances of a conflict that no one should want.

Much of the discussion focused on the recent intra-Palestinian Cairo agreement. With that initiative hope was created, but if the agreement fails, that hope will be taken away and probably replaced by violence. The situation remains grim.

Back in December I spoke just days after President Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem. I told told the packed room that we are at a critical crossroads of the Middle East peace process for a number of reasons that include also the situation in Gaza and the political dynamics among Israelis and Palestinians. The international architecture, established for decades, to deal with this conflict is collapsing.

As most of the focus was on Gaza, we went through some shocking figures that illustrate the desperation of life there. If in the year 2000, 98 percent of the water flowing in Gaza’s pipes had been drinkable, today only 10 percent is. The local aquifer is increasingly polluted and the situation would be “irreversible” by 2020. Hospitals are working on UN provided diesel as residents make ends meet with barely three to four hours of electricity per day. Unemployment is now at 45 percent, going up to 67 percent among the youth. 40 percent of the residents of Gaza live in poverty.

By contrast, in the West Bank, in the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority, the past decade has seen progress. As Gaza’s GDP has declined by some 10%, in the West Bank GDP has grown by some 50%. That is why it is imperative to return the legitimate Palestinian Authority back to Gaza and that is why the implementation of the Egyptian brokered deal between Fatah and Hamas is critical.

There is a new climate in the region in which some Arab leaders are realising that they need to strengthen the centres of moderation, where they exist, and resist radicalisation. There is a growing understanding in the Arab world that countries need their own capabilities and capacities to deal with internal threats and outside interference. That is why bring the Palestinian Authority back to Gaza will help strengthen moderate forces and will be in line with this new Arab trend.

Warren Hoge, IPI’s Senior Adviser for External Relations, ably moderated the conversation. You can see IPI’s summary of the event, pictures and video here.

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

21/11/2017 Leave a comment

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

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

There are good news. On November 1st we witnessed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I called on the international community to

join the UN in condemning the continued construction of tunnels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting terrorism in the Middle East includes the need to strengthen the forces of moderation in the region

11/09/2017 Leave a comment

dp1_-_sc_at_icts_17th_world_summit_on_counterterrorism_-_11_sept_2017It was an honour to speak at the 17th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism that was organised by the Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzliya. In my remarks I thanked Prof Reichman, President and Founder of the IDC and Prof Ganor, Founder and Executive Director of the IDC for organising the event.

It was quite symbolic that we met on September 11th. I opened by saying that

I was also humbled to speak before an audience in which there are many who sadly remember and have lived through many other terrorist attacks. Israel is a country that has lived with terror for decades. Decades in which most families have been hurt by violence and terror. Decades in which most families have remembered the losses, the sadness, the fear and the trauma that terror causes.

I spoke at the forum also as someone who has sadly lived with that phenomena for most of my life. The first car bomb was at the age of seven. In Iraq I had lost friends and colleagues. My own country has experienced its most recent terror attack in 2012 when Hezbullah killed five Israelis and one Bulgarian in a bus bombing.

In the last couple of years, as the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, I can attest to how vastly destructive the impact of terrorism is, not just on human beings but also on the prospects of peace.

Sadly, in this part of the world, extremists have chosen terrorism as their most prominent tool to destroy political processes, to destroy the prospects of peace. That is why standing up firmly to terror must be an integral part of any peace effort, not just in words but also in deeds.

Just as we often speak of the need to promote peace through sustainable development and economic opportunity, so we must insulate efforts to achieve peace in the region from the risks that terror and violence bring.

In the Middle East of today, we face a reality in which terrorist threats are interconnected. To tackle them we need a broad approach that extends well beyond the borders of any one country and go beyond the region as a whole.

Today’s reality demands a new international approach on how we deal with the new threats that the Middle East and North Africa face. I spoke about three processes that together unfortunately create the perfect storm that we see unfolding right now in the Middle East, before making some suggestions of how to deal with these challenges.

Firstly, we see a process of collapsing states that lack democratic legitimacy, that lack strong institutions, or the ability to deliver services to their people. In Syria a president stood up against his own people. In Iraq, a collapsed state was replaced by ethnic and sectarian divisions.

When such states are unable to meet the legitimate demands of their people for representation, economic and social development, security or human dignity, they create space for radical groups and extremists.

In late 2013, the Iraqi people in the Anbar province and elsewhere took to the streets demanding jobs, dignity and fair economic and social opportunities. They were not met with dialogue but with guns. Soon their protests that had turned into sit-ins that were infiltrated by Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and ISIL and by the spring of 2014. Their agenda was hijacked by radical extremists with a destructive agenda.

Had the government reacted differently, perhaps that would not have happened.

At the same time, we see across the Middle East the implosion of marginalized communities. Groups that are impoverished, or have been disenfranchised, or feel marginalized or discriminated against quickly collapse under the pressure of radical extremists; And become breeding grounds for terror, mass atrocities and violence.

Almost two years before Mosul fell to the hands of ISIL, all the signs were there; and the United Nations had been warning the world. For years the people in Mosul lived in fear of the central government. They felt that their dignity was not respected. Their lacked economic opportunities, institutions were corrupt and ineffective. People felt marginalized. In the period before the fall of Mosul to the hands of DAESH, practically every single elected representative was killed, maimed, kidnapped or kicked out by the terror organizations.

Terror struck in waves; first it struck elected officials, then it struck civilians, then it struck religious communities, and last but not least, it struck schools.

In the last couple of months before the fall of Mosul, we had a surge of terror attacks in which suicide bombers attacked schools. This destroyed the social structures of society.

As states collapse, as social structures implode, the international community lacks the tools to deal with the trans-border threats that face the region today. Our instruments were designed to deal primarily with state-to-state conflicts. They would have helped us deal with a war between Iraq and Syria, but how do we deal with a war inside Iraq and inside Syria that risks to spread and engulf everyone around them?

These are some of the challenges that today we need to find the answers to and to deal with at an international, regional and national level.

We in the United Nations, together with our many partners around the world, are investing great attention and resources in trying to fix our own approaches so that we have a better understanding of what needs to be done.

We are investing not just in providing humanitarian relief to suffering communities but also working to help still-functioning states and as-yet-unbroken communities in the region protect themselves from the vulnerabilities of what is happening around us.

It is very important that we take the necessary actions to prevent further conflict.

UN Secretary-General Guterres has been very much focused on developing a new vision for the Organization; one which prioritizes prevention over response. As part of his efforts to focus on preventing violence, conflict and mass atrocities, he has also established a UN Office for Counter-Terrorism.

My colleague, Jehangir Khan later spoke more specifically to these developments.

I focused on five objectives related to how we deal with terror in the international community that warrant some discussion.

Firstly, is the moral foundation for our work — zero tolerance for the justification or legitimization of terror. In Israel, this is particularly pertinent discussion. It is however a very valid discussion well beyond the borders of your state.

We must constantly reaffirm and strengthen the clear international consensus against terror. Let me quote a UN General Assembly Resolution (49/60), adopted in 1994: “Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them”.

So first we need to condemn terror, then secondly we have an obligation to promote inclusive political solutions to conflicts.

Experience in this part of the world has shown us that if you create hope, and then take hope away, most of the time you end up with violence. This is particularly pertinent to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Today, we live in a historical period in which the hope for peace and for a solution to the conflict is well beyond the reach of political leaders on all sides.

Terrorism strives where there is division and suffocates when the core grievances that people have are addressed.

This is one of the reasons why in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is important to create the hope for peace by recreating a political horizon to address the final status issues. Such a political process needs to be accompanied by economic and social measures that improve the lives of Palestinians and a regional framework that insulates the process from those who will seek to destroy it.

The third objective that we must focus on is the need to address the political and socio-economic factors that breed violent extremism. Across the region, this means investing in development, upholding human rights and strengthening the resilience of communities against extremism.

Fourth, we need to focus on the coordinated fight against the drivers and enablers of terrorism at an international level. We need to strengthen the international response to incitement and radical propaganda; focus on illicit weapons smuggling and production; the financial flows to terror groups; the movement of foreign fighters; and the question of accountability for states in upholding their international obligations.

Last but not least, we also have a political objective that I believe is very important and that is to strengthening the forces of moderation in the Middle East. Over the last year or so, we have seen a growing understanding among leaders in some countries of the Arab world of the need to focus on this priority and this a welcome development.

These are just some of the priorities that I suggested we should look at in our international efforts to address the threat of terrorism, particularly here in the Middle East. Much more can be said and certainly much more can be done.

In closing, I reminded everyone that sadly terrorists have a doubly de-humanizing impact on all. On the one hand, they brand entire populations as legitimate targets. On the other, they stigmatize their own ethnic or religious groups as potential terrorists. We should not allow them to win by caving into this bias. The negative action of one terrorist today still resonates widely, while the actions of many individuals who work every day to prevent violence remain unnoticed.

I expressed my hope that this conference will be able to speak to how we challenge this visibility bias and the de-humanizing effect of terror.

But I also encouraged participants not to shy away from the political task that we have before us — how to strengthen the forces of moderation and how do we increase the residence of communities so that we can together stand against violent extremism and terror.

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.

#Ramadankareem: May freedom, justice & dignity prevail over oppression, injustice & extremism

27/05/2017 Leave a comment

3634929593As the Ramadan begins, I would like wish all my Muslim friends, their families and loved ones best wishes for health, happiness and peace.

During this month let us pray for peace but also let us remember those less fortunate than us across the Middle East, in Syria and Iraq; those who have suffered through wars and displacement, who live without freedom and whose dignity is not respected. We have an obligation to to help them as much as we have an obligation to those closest to us.

كل عام وانتم بسلام وامان
وكل عام وانتم بخير
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تحيا الحرية و العديلة و الكرامة وأنتصارها على القهر و الظلم و التطرف

Ramadan Kareem!

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

27/05/2017 1 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

Fiscal Sustainability, #Palestinian Development and #Gaza Energy Crisis at Centre of AHLC Discussions in Brussels

04/05/2017 2 comments

On 4 May Norway and the EU hosted a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liason Committee (AHLC) in Brussels. The Committee meets twice a year to coordinate international efforts in support of Palestnian development. In a day of bilater meetings, including with Israel and the Palestnian Authority, participants review what has been achieved and what is pending. It was also an opportunity to welcome newly appointed US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt. 

In my remarks I started by looking at the context in which our discussions took place. The impasse of the Middle East Peace Process has pushed both Israelis and Palestinians to take unilateral steps that drive them further away from each other and reduce the prospects for peace. Settlement expansion, violence, and the absence of visionary leadership continue to define the conflict on a daily basis. 
I noted that In this context political initiatives are important. In a Middle East that is the midst of a perfect storm of sectarian violence, terror and failing states 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. 

The first step in restoring hope is to recognize that both Palestinians and Israelis have legitimate national and historic aspirations that can only be met if they separate 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. 

The second step is to work on the ground to build trust. Steps that reverse the negative trends, including settlement expansion, violence and incitement and address the illicit arms buildup and militant activity in Gaza. But also steps that are in line with existing agreements. Progress in the areas of housing, water, energy, and other sectors, along with significantly easing Palestinian movement restrictions, can be made while respecting Israel’s legitimate security needs. There has been much discussion of these steps in the AHLC format.  

It is worth highlighting today the significant efforts of the Palestinian leadership to reduce its budget deficit as the PA faces an 800 million dollar financing gap in the coming year. We in the international community must support the Palestinian Authority’s state-building efforts, or risk losing the very foundations of the future Palestinian state. So must Israel, as it is in her security and national interest to see stability and prosperity in the neighbourhood. 

In our discussions in the last two days we agreed on the need for increased Palestinian and Israeli economic cooperation and an easing of restrictions on access and movement. While the goodwill and understanding is there — and important water and electricity agreements have been reached, their implementation is still severely lacking. The questions of fiscal leakages, energy, water and access have to be urgently addressed. We must support the parties in reviving their efforts to find solutions to these key economic challenges, as we work to restore a political perspective. 

The third step is a return to negotiations. Today it is not just the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships that recognize the risks posed by the Middle East’s turmoil. The region — Egypt, Jordan and beyond agree that cooperation — rather than confrontation, is now needed more than ever. This creates a unique opportunity that must be used. The Arab Peace Initiative is still on the table, the Middle East Quartet is engaging on the issues at hand and the new US administration has quickly taken these challenges to task. It is important that we do not miss the opportunity to help the parties find their way back to negotiations. 

I also focused on the situation in Gaza as I believe that we are walking into another crisis with our eyes wide open. For the last ten years two million people have been held hostage by disagreements, divisions and closures. It is time for this situation to end. That is why in its report to the AHLC this year UNSCO focused on the effects of the ten years of Hamas control of the Gaza strip, the ensuing military confrontations and closures. 

The current electricity crisis is a manifestation of the broader political crisis. Since the shutdown of the Gaza Power Plant, hospitals are operating on minimum capacity putting patient lives at risk. The population is supplied portable water only once every four to five days. More than 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage is being discharged daily into the Mediterranean Sea. These developments increase health risks for both Palestinians and Israelis along the coast.

I urged all parties to refrain from taking actions that would further exacerbate the situation and to seek a political solution to the standoff. This situation can only be resolved through a compromise, based on the implementation of intra-Palestinian agreements that would end the division and return Gaza to the control of the legitimate Palestinian authorities. 

Until then and under the current circumstances the United Nations can only work to mitigate the impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable. The Palestinian Authority, Israel and indeed Hamas — who have controlled Gaza for a decade now – have obligations as duty-bearers for the welfare of Gaza’s residents and must live up to their responsibilities.

In closing I stated that we cannot continue business as usual. We do not have the luxury to manage the conflict, we must resolve it. We must work in parallel on all tracks — on the political track, to restore hope; on the trust building track, to encourage the parties to refrain from unilateral steps and improve the lives of people; on the negotiations track, to help both sides find their way back to the negotiating table to address the final status issues; on the international track, to support through the Middle East Quartet framework and the region a just and lasting two-state solution; on the security front, to prevent terror and fight incitement; and last but not least on addressing the grave situation and the risks emanating from Gaza.