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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.

#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
وكل رمضان وقلوبنا انظف وانقى
رمضان_كريم
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. 

‪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.

As #Gaza electricty crisis grows, urgent measures needed. The poorest #Palestinians pay the price for the privileges of a few #UN

19/04/2017 Leave a comment

I am following with great concern the tense situation in Gaza, where a new energy crisis is now unfolding. 

Reform of the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO) is essential to improve revenue collection and transparency in line with international standards. The defacto authorities in Gaza must ensure that collection rates are improved and that revenue collected in Gaza is returned to the legitimate Palestinian authorities in order to keep fuel and electricity supply flowing. All in Gaza must share the burden by paying their bills. 

It is the poorest Palestinians in Gaza who pay the price for exceptions and privileges that others enjoy.

This reform, as well as the necessary investments in reducing electricity losses and upgrading the grid in Gaza, should be financed and supported by the international community but it cannot do it alone. It must go hand-in-hand with the Palestinian Government facilitating the purchase of fuel for the Gaza Power Plant (GPP) under conditions that temporarily alleviate or substantially reduce relevant fuel taxes.

Israel also has a significant responsibility to assist by facilitating the entry of materials for repairs and maintenance of the grid and power plant. Egyptian power lines to Gaza also need to be repaired and upgraded.

The social, economic and political consequences of this impending energy crisis should not be underestimated. Palestinians in Gaza, who live in a protracted humanitarian crisis, can no longer be held hostage by disagreements, divisions and closures.

I call on all parties, including the international community, to come together and ensure this vital issue of energy for Gaza is resolved once and for all. The United Nations stands ready to provide its support in achieving this vital goal.

Legitimate national aspirations of #Israelis, #Palestinians can only be realized in two states

07/03/2017 Leave a comment

LASOn March 7th I addressed the 71st session of the Foreign Minister’s Council of the League of Arab States in Cairo on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian Question.

I started by noting the unfaltering commitment of the League to supporting the Palestinian people in their rightful quest to put an end to a half-century of occupation and establish an independent state of their own.

Today, as the region faces challenges however, what is required is that all moderate forces work together against the common threat of extremism and terror. The Arab League has extended its hand through the Arab Peace Initiative. But true peace will remain elusive without the recognition that

both Palestinians and Israelis have legitimate national aspirations

that can only be realized in two states that live in peace, security and mutual recognition. That is why now is not the time to give up on the two-state solution. Unfortunately, it is being undermined not so much by statements, but by policies and actions. Settlement  expansion, violence, and the absence of visionary leadership continue to define the conflict.

I spoke of the grim reality, the anger and the frustration on the ground. The adoption of the so-called “Regularisation Law”, which contravenes international law; legislative attempts to annex parts of the West Bank; a rise in the demolition of Palestinian structures and the situation in Gaza — all these developments eat away at the two-state solution, destroy hope and strengthen the hand of extremists.

Since the beginning of the year significant settlement moves have been made in the occupied West Bank. These have included tenders for around 800 units and the advancement of plans for over 3,300 units, some of which have reached the final approval stage. Construction has also been advanced in East Jerusalem.

 

I expressed my concern by continuing violence. So-called “lone wolf” attacks continue, though greatly reduced as compared to 2016. Clashes also continue and the UN has repeatedly warned that the use of force must be calibrated.

And I spoke about Gaza that for the last 10 years has remained under the control of Hamas. where after three brutal conflicts, Israel’s crippling closures and the decade-long political divide, two million Palestinians are trapped in a humanitarian tragedy. All this has convinced many that there is no hope for peace.

Much work remains as 50,000 Palestinians live in temporary shelters. The UN needs some USD 160 million for the reconstruction of nearly 4,000 totally destroyed homes in Gaza. Addressing chronic challenges, such as unemployment and access to basic services of water and energy, must remain a priority.

I used the meeting to once again call for the illicit arms build-up, militant activity and provocations to stop. They risk renewed escalation and further suffering for all.

Unfortunately these negative trends — settlement expansion, violence and the situation in Gaza, entrench a dangerous one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict. They must be urgently reversed.

We need a new approach to restore hope and create a political horizon.

In December, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2334 that reiterated some of the key obstacles to achieving a negotiated two-state solution. Later in January, at the Paris Conference, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to the two-state solution and to the need for follow up and international engagement. The Arab League engagement must also play its role in furthering these objectives. So must the parties.

Israel must demonstrate its commitment to the two-state solution by ceasing illegal settlement activities and by implementing policy shifts consistent with prior agreements that increase Palestinian civil authority. Palestine must continue its state-building investment and tackle the challenges of violence and unity. Just days before the meeting the Palestinian government, civil society and the business community finalised an ambitious National Policy Agenda. This was an important step forward. Translating that vision into reality is critical to strengthening the foundations for a future Palestinian state and the UN stands ready to support it.

In closing I reminded everyone that resolutions and communiques alone are not enough. What is required is action. Action by the leaders themselves. Action by the international community and the region.