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There are no shortcuts to #peace

22/05/2019 1 comment

Today I briefed the UN Secuirty Council on the latest developments in the Middle East, starting with Gaza.

Just a few short weeks ago we teetered on the precipice of another devastating conflict, as we witnessed the most intense fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza since 2014.

The United Nations worked intensively with Egypt and all sides to calm the situation, but Israeli and Palestinian lives were – tragically – lost. My sincere condolences go out to the families and friends of all who have been killed, and I wish a speedy recovery to the injured.

While the situation has now stabilized, it remains very tense. One thing is clear, these dangerous cycles of escalation and de-escalation are not sustainable in the future.

On 3 May, thousands of Palestinians participated in the weekly demonstrations at the Gaza perimeter fence. Incendiary balloons were launched, stones and pipe bombs were thrown at Israeli soldiers, who responded with live fire, rubber bullets and tear gas, killing two Palestinians and injuring 49.

Later that day, a sniper reportedly from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired across the fence, injuring two Israeli soldiers. In response to the sniper attack, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched several tank shells and the Air Force targeted military sites in Gaza, killing two Palestinian militants and injuring two civilians. This was the beginning of the most serious escalation since 2014.

Over the course of the following 48 hours, 650 rockets were fired from Gaza. While some 240 projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, several houses, two kindergartens, a school and a hospital in Israel were directly hit. Four Israeli civilians were killed and over 200 were injured, according to the IDF.

During the same period, the IDF reported that it hit over 300 Palestinian militant targets in Gaza, including a senior Hamas official, who was targeted and killed by an airstrike. According to sources in Gaza 25 Palestinians were killed and over 150 were injured.

After intense efforts by the United Nations and Egypt, as of the early morning of 6 May a cessation of hostilities was established, ending the escalation.

I once again urged all sides to use this period to reduce tensions, solidify the fragile calm and commit to implementing the understandings that have been established in the past few months.

Sniper fire from Gaza has been a constant threat that has, on at least four occasions over the past year, pushed both sides closer to confrontation. This latest incident followed a pattern that has been well established – the closer we get to consolidating an understanding that would relieve the pressure on people in Gaza and reduce the risk of rocket fire towards Israel, an incident like the last one would appear and undermine our careful and painstaking efforts.

Despite this, UN and Egyptian teams will continue to work intensely with all sides in order to use the window of opportunity to provide assistance to the people of Gaza and further reduce the risk of conflict.

Sustained calm is also crucial to supporting Egyptian-led efforts to advance intra-Palestinian reconciliation that should enable the return of a unified, legitimate Palestinian Government to the Gaza Strip.

I welcomed Israel’s decision to lift the ban on accessing the fishing zone and expanding the zone to 15 nautical miles in some places, to reopen the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings as normal on 12 May and other steps that have been taken in the past few days. I also welcomed the renewed commitment by the Palestinian government in Ramallah to engage constructively on addressing the situation in Gaza.

I reiterated the call by the Secretary-General who condemned in the strongest terms the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, particularly the targeting of civilian population centres and also call on the Israel to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from using lethal force against protesters, except as a last resort.

Turning briefly to the humanitarian situation, I informed the Council that Deputy Special Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick has himself warned that health providers in Gaza are struggling to treat the high numbers of injuries sustained during the weekly demonstrations. Many of the wounded require complex surgeries, not currently available there. Yet access to treatment outside of Gaza continues to be challenging as the lack of consistency in the approval process is having very serious and negative implications on people.

The international community has continued its efforts to address the dreadful situation in Gaza. The Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) met in Brussels on 30 April and reiterated its support for implementation of a package of urgent humanitarian and economic interventions in Gaza by the United Nations. Between October 2018 and April 2019, some USD 112 million were mobilized enabling a significant increase in electricity supply through the Gaza Power Plant, the creation of thousands of temporary jobs in Gaza, and the delivery of essential medical supplies and other support for the struggling health sector.

Fuel deliveries for the Power Plant have been extended and we are moving forward on other more sustainable efforts for the energy sector and focusing on renewable energy. On 13 May, I visited the second largest hospital in Gaza where a landmark World Health Organization-developed solar power plant will cover a substantial part of the energy needs of that hospital.

I appreciated the financial support provided by Japan and many others for these critical projects and urge other donors to further increase their support for our joint efforts to improve the situation on the ground.

To date, the most significant contribution remains that of the State of Qatar. On behalf of the Secretary-General, I expressed our sincere appreciation to the assistance provided by Qatar, without which the situation in Gaza would have been untenable. On 6 May, His Highness the Emir announced an assistance package for the Palestinian people of some USD 480 million, USD 180 million of which is for Gaza, USD 250 million as loans for the Palestinian Government and USD 50 million as grants for projects in the West Bank. In relation to Gaza, some of this funding will allow the UN to provide fuel for electricity until the end of the year, expand temporary employment programmes and focus on permanent job creation.

While Gaza continues to command significant attention, the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is of growing concern to all of us.

The prolonged absence of a political horizon to resolve the broader conflict has coincided with a steady deterioration of the living conditions of Palestinians. This, coupled with violence, settlement expansion, demolitions of Palestinian property, and the persistent threat of further economic decline, are creating an explosive mix that could have serious security implications.

During the reporting period 24 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces, including 9 children during demonstrations, clashes, security operations and other incidents in the West Bank.

According to OCHA, four Palestinians were injured or had their property damaged by settlers, while one Palestinian attack against Israeli civilians in the West Bank was recorded resulting in one injury and damage to a vehicle.

I unequivocally condemned all attacks on Palestinian and Israeli civilians and call on all sides to refrain from violence. All perpetrators must be held accountable for their crimes.

Allow me to reiterate that settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace.

During the reporting period, Israeli authorities demolished or seized 40 structures, displacing 31 people, overwhelmingly on the grounds of a lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

On 29 April, 31 structures were demolished in East Jerusalem, the highest single day total monitored by OCHA since 2009. On 3 May, a joint statement by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNRWA called for “an immediate halt to the Israeli authorities’ destruction of Palestinian-owned property in East Jerusalem.”

On the following day four structures were demolished in Silwan, displacing eleven Palestinians. According to OCHA, five people were seriously injured when Israeli forces reportedly beat, used stun grenades and sponge-covered bullets to push residents away as they tried to retrieve belongings prior to the demolitions.

Also in a worrying move, Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) upheld a new Israeli military order, which accelerates the demolition process for new structures built without permits in Area C of the West Bank.

Regrettably, the reporting period saw no resolution to the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis. For the third consecutive month, the Palestinian Government has refused to receive Israel’s transfer of any tax revenues less than the full amount owed to it. I shared my concern that, despite the PA’s announced austerity measures and the support package committed by Qatar, the latter’s survival remains at risk.

In March, I briefed the Council that the crisis would have a substantial impact on the Palestinian economy with reduced purchasing power and weakened growth. The first signs of this negative trend are already beginning to show.

A long-term resolution of the financial crisis is urgently required. Its continuation threatens to further destabilize an already volatile situation. Both parties should implement their bilateral agreements and avoid taking unilateral actions that undermine the stability of the Palestinian Authority.

Against this backdrop, an UNSCO team recently visited al-Fawwar Palestinian refugee camp, where the residents endure harsh living conditions, and UNRWA’s ability to deliver essential services is hampered by its own financial crisis. High Commissioner Krähenbühl, who will also be briefing the Council today, will speak more on the severity of the current challenges facing Palestine refugees.

On a positive note, with the advent of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Muslims from the occupied West Bank were able to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque during this holy month. I welcomed the relative calm at the holy site and urge continued respect for the status quo and relevant agreements.

Turning very briefly to the region, the situation on the Golan is calm. However, the potential for heightened tension between the parties to the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement remains.

On 1 May, UNDOF observed some Israel soldiers, had been laying razor concertina wire in the area between the Israeli technical fence and an UNDOF position, had crossed the ceasefire line. During this activity, the Syrian Arab Armed Forces soldiers deployed close to that location to monitor their activities. UNDOF liaised with both sides to deescalate the situation.

In Lebanon, the Cabinet started reviewing the draft 2019 State budget on 30 April, as some protests over reported austerity measures continued. At stake in the ongoing budget discussions is meeting commitments from the 2018 CEDRE conference on economic development and reform, which include the need to reduce Lebanon’s deficit.

In closing, I returned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The recent escalation in Gaza has once again demonstrated the urgency of solidifying and expanding the existing understandings on the ground.

We must ask ourselves, how many more years will Palestinians in Gaza be forced to live on pittance from the international community, under the control of Hamas, and suffer from Israeli closures?

How many more years will Israelis be forced to run for shelters as rockets launched by Palestinian militants in Gaza rain down indiscriminately from above?

The United Nations and its partners have – yet again – tried to mitigate the impact of the crisis in Gaza, but these efforts will ultimately fail unless there is progress on resolving the Palestinian divide, on lifting the closures and on charting a course towards the two-State solution based on long-standing international parameters, including relevant UN resolutions and previous agreements.

There are no shortcuts to sustainable peace. 

I also took note of the invitation by the United States and the Kingdom of Bahrain to convene government, civil society, and business leaders to discuss the potential for economic investments and initiatives that would be made possible by a future Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement and a solution to the final status issues.

Humanitarian and economic support is very important for people, and it is also critical as for creating an environment conducive for viable negotiations. However, the solution to the conflict remains fundamentally political.

I welcome the formation of a new #Palestinian government and call on all to work together in the interest of peace and to overcome internal divisions. Unity and elections are essential to reconciliation.

13/04/2019 1 comment

I congratulate Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on the formation of a new Palestinian government and look forward to continuing to work closely with him and his team on improving the economic, humanitarian and social situation of the Palestinian people. At a time of significant financial and political challenges to the Palestinian national project, all must support the Government’s efforts and work to overcome internal divisions. Unity is essential to advancing the goal of a lasting peace. Elections, conducted in line with national laws and established international democratic standards can contribute to advancing reconciliation.

I thank former Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah for his leadership, engagement and cooperation. The adoption of the National Policy Agenda, ensuring financial stability, supporting Gaza reconstruction, and improving key social indicators, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda, are important achievements at a time of severe restrictions.

The United Nations remains fully committed to working with the Palestinian leadership and people in ending the occupation and advancing their legitimate national aspirations for statehood based on UN resolutions.

Categories: Uncategorized

Avoid war, alleviate humanitarian crisis, support #Egypt to bring back the legitimate government to #Gaza. No other way forward. Enough words, time to act. My briefing to the #UNSC

18/10/2018 1 comment

Every month I brief this Council on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian Question.

Every month we speak of how continued settlement construction and the demolition of Palestinian structures in the occupied West Bank undermine the very foundations of the prospect of a sovereign Palestinian state. We condemn terror, violence and incitement that eat away at the trust between Israelis and Palestinians. We call for unity and reconciliation.

Every month we appeal to political leaders on both sides to find their way back to the table for negotiations, to reverse the negative trends on the ground and to restore hope that it is through peaceful negotiations, not violence that both Israelis and Palestinians will be able to live side-by-side, masters of their own fate. 

Day after day however we see the situation on the ground slipping in a different direction, we see it sliding into a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and violence that does not serve peace, we see the international consensus on how to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict being challenged.

Yet we all understand that without a negotiated resolution based on the final status issues – as they have been defined by Israelis and Palestinians themselves – there can be no sustainable peace that realizes the national, historic, and religious aspirations of both peoples.

It is our shared responsibility to restore that prospect, to facilitate negotiations, to help the weaker party, to insulate the process from radicals and extremists and to show results. 

Before I turn to the most urgent questions related to the situation in Gaza, in my briefing to the Council today I wanted like to begin with developments in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, where violence is on the rise and Israeli authorities have continued the demolition and confiscation of Palestinian-owned structures.

According to OCHA, 39 structures were demolished or seized in the West Bank, including five in East Jerusalem, displacing some 33 people and affecting the livelihoods of over 100 others. 

Thirty-four of the targeted structures were in Area C, including five installed in solidarity with Khan al-Ahmar – Abu al Helu, the Bedouin community at imminent risk of demolition and displacement.

On 23 September, the Israeli authorities requested the residents of Khan al-Ahmar – Abu al Helu to self-demolish their homes by 1 October or face demolition by the authorities, in line with the 5 September final ruling of the Israeli High Court.

On 8 October, the authorities extended the validity of land requisition orders for roadwork to enable the demolition. The community was given one week to object to the order. 

Khan al-Ahmar is among the 18 communities located in or adjacent to the controversial E1 area, where plans for new settlement construction would create a continuous built-up area between the Ma’ale Adumim and East Jerusalem, undermining the contiguity of a future Palestinian state. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator, along with the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, the Arab League and others have called on Israel not to go ahead with its plan to demolish the village.

I once again joined this call to cease demolitions and other measures that run contrary to its obligations under international law.

All structures lacking permits from the Israeli authorities in Area C and East Jerusalem, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain, are potentially subject to demolition. And, while the rate of demolitions has declined since the beginning of 2017, over 13,000 demolition orders are pending against structures in Area C, three-quarters of which are on private Palestinian land.

Meanwhile, on 14 October the Israeli Government reportedly approved the allocation of USD 6 million for advancing the construction of 31 housing units in the Jewish settlement in Hebron, which would be the first new construction there in 16 years.

I reiterate the long-standing United Nations position that all settlement activities are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace.

Violent incidents also continued in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Among these, on 7 October, an Israeli man and woman were shot dead by a Palestinian man in the Barkan Industrial Area in the West Bank. The assailant fled the scene and Israeli Security Forces are currently carrying out widespread search operations in the area.

On 12 October, a Palestinian woman was killed, near a checkpoint south of Nablus, injured by stones allegedly thrown by Israeli assailants. 

I extend my condolences to the bereaved families. Such incidents must be condemned in the strongest of terms, and I call on everyone to stand up to violence and condemn terror. 

Settler-related violence is also a continuing concern. There were 23 attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians, resulting in one death, 12 injuries and property damage.

To date in 2018, according to OCHA over 1,600 Palestinian-owned trees were vandalized across the West Bank. As the annual olive harvest begins, concerns are particularly high. I call on the authorities to ensure smooth access of Palestinian farmers to their land and that sufficient measures be taken to protect farmers and their property from attacks.

In recent weeks, protests at the Gaza fence have expanded to include night demonstrations. Hamas and other militants continued to send incendiary kites and balloons across the border causing fires on the Israeli side. The Israeli Defence Forces have responded with riot dispersal means and live fire.

Thirty-three Palestinians, including nine children, were killed by Israeli Security Forces during demonstrations and other incidents. Three Israeli soldiers were meanwhile injured.

Intense clashes took place at the Gaza fence during Friday protests on 12 October in which an estimated 20,000 Palestinians participated. Seven people were killed and over 150 injured by live fire on this day alone. Incendiary kites launched from Gaza started fires, an IED detonated at the fence, and a group of protesters breached the fence and entered Israeli territory.

In addition, overall during the reporting period, Palestinian militants have fired two rockets which landed in Israel. Israel fired 45 missiles and shells at sites in the Gaza Strip. 

In the early hours of 17 October, Palestinian militants fired a rocket from central Gaza towards Israel that hit and significantly damaged a residential house in the Israeli city of Be’er Sheva. The city, some 40 kilometers from Gaza and well beyond the ring of communities in the immediate vicinity of the Strip, can be reached only by medium range rockets. After the 9 August Grad rocket that landed in the outskirts of Be’er Sheva, this was the second projectile to reach such a distance since the 2014 conflict. Three Israelis were reportedly injured. A second rocket landed in the sea southwest of Tel Aviv.

The Israeli Air Force responded with a series of airstrikes, firing at several locations, most of them identified as military sites around Gaza. One Palestinian militant was killed and at least two injured in a strike on a group that was in the process of launching rockets.

On 11 October, the Israeli Defence Forces announced that they had destroyed another tunnel extending from near the city of Khan Yunis in Gaza 200 meters into Israel territory. 

In response to violence at the fence, for the third time since March, on 7 October, Israel reduced the permissible fishing area off the Gaza coast from nine to six nautical miles. And again on 17 October, following the rocket attack in Be’er Sheva, Israel further reduced the fishing zone to three nautical miles, and closed all crossings between Israel and Gaza.

I briefed the Secuirty Council at a time when we enter a pivotal phase in Egyptian-led efforts to overcome intra-Palestinian divisions.

I conveyed two very clear messages to the Council.

The first is that the situation in Gaza is imploding. This is not a hyperbole. This is not alarmism. It is a reality.

The World Bank recently warned that the Gaza economy is in “free fall” with an official unemployment rate of 53 per cent, and over 70 per cent among the Palestinian youth. 

Every second person in Gaza now lives below the poverty line.

All key indicators – humanitarian, economic, security and political – continue to deteriorate.

We remain on the brink of another potentially devastating conflict, a conflict that nobody claims to want, but a conflict that needs much more than just words to be prevented.  

As I have outlined in detail in recent months, the United Nations and its partners have engaged, in response to requests from several UN Security Council members, in an extraordinary effort to stabilize the situation in Gaza and prevent an escalation. We have done so in full coordination with Egypt and in full transparency with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The effort has aimed at avoiding war and facilitating a return to the informal understandings reached in 2014 to maintain calm. This will not only alleviate the suffering of two million Palestinians but will give political leaders time to achieve progress in reconciliation. Since the beginning of this process, the UN has firmly held that we need to make every effort to return Gaza to the control of the legitimate Palestinian Government.  

But let me assure this Council that, barring substantial steps to reverse the current course, this precarious sense of calm is doomed to give way under the mounting pressure. 

It is already beginning to fray.

Recent days have seen tensions and violent confrontations rising again.

This should be of great concern to all of us. The gravity of the situation compels us to take decisive action.

The latest rockets that were fired from Gaza towards Be’er Sheva are a dangerous escalation of the situation. Unfortunately, they also fit a pattern of provocations that seek to bring Israel and Gaza into another deadly conflict. It is our responsibility to do everything possible to avoid that outcome.

I am afraid that there is no more time for words. Now is the time for action. And we must see very clear actions on all sides that de-escalate the situation. Otherwise, the consequences will be terrible for everyone.

My second key message is cautiously more optimistic. There is a growing consensus and determination among key international and regional partners on moving forward to defuse the powder keg that Gaza is.

On 27 September, a ministerial Meeting on UNRWA was held on the margins of the high level General Debate. Member States contributed generously to the Agency, raising some USD 122 million. This has been a very impressive collective international effort that has prevented an immediate shut down of key UNRWA services, including in Gaza.

Nevertheless, a significant gap remains.

On 27 September, the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) agreed on the implementation of an urgent set of humanitarian projects in Gaza. These interventions are aimed at addressing the immediate needs of the population in energy, water, sanitation, health care and economic conditions. The goals are concrete. They are realistic. And they are achievable. There is no discussion here of projects – such as airports or seaports or sea channels. 

I took this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Government of the State of Qatar for its swift and generous response to the AHLC call by providing USD 60 million for fuel to increase the supply of electricity in the Gaza Strip.

Relieving the humanitarian pressure on the ground will reduce the threat of escalation and give space for Egyptian-led efforts to return the legitimate Palestinian Government to Gaza.

The Middle East Quartet has also endorsed this approach.

Disengaging from Gaza, plunging it into another conflict or tightening the closures furthers the divide with devastating humanitarian and political consequences for the Palestinian national cause. 

I appealed to all Council Members and to all friends of Israel and friends of Palestine, to join the United Nations in calling on all sides to step back from the brink. 

All parties must maintain their continued commitment to the 2014 ceasefire arrangements.  

Hamas and other militant groups must immediately and effectively stop all provocations and attacks, including rockets and mortars, IEDs, attempts to breach the fence, incendiary balloons and kites, and tunnel construction, and rein in all violence at the fence.

Israel must restore the delivery of critical supplies to Gaza and improve the movement and access of goods and people; and Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint in the use of live ammunition. 

The Palestinian Authority must not disengage from Gaza and must continue its engagement with the international community to help alleviate the suffering of its people in Gaza. 

Any effort by any party to block the provision of critical assistance designed to relieve humanitarian suffering must not be tolerated.

These steps are only temporary and aim at avoiding war. We must never forget that, at its heart, Gaza is not a humanitarian problem, it is a political problem.

The humanitarian efforts are taking place in coordination with, and in support of, Egyptian efforts to bring Gaza back under the full control of the legitimate Palestinian Government.

The Government’s return to Gaza and the lifting of the suffocating movement and access restrictions are necessary for addressing the humanitarian and economic needs of the population in a sustainable manner, but also addressing the important political challenges ahead.

In addition to the unification of all Palestinians under one single, legitimate democratic Palestinian national authority, the bigger picture must also be addressed: an end to the occupation; and the realization of the two-state solution based on relevant UN resolutions, with Gaza as an integral part. 

And make no mistake, the consequences of failure will be severe, just as the benefits of success will be profound.  

Briefly turning to Lebanon, the country has entered its fifth month without a government. Prime Minister-designate Hariri continues consultations for an agreement on a national unity government. I hope that political stakeholders will soon overcome their differences and provide Lebanon with a new government that can deliver on its commitments vis-a-vis its citizens and the international community. 

While the situation in South Lebanon and along the Blue Line remained calm, the rhetoric between Israel and Lebanon underpin risks of miscalculation. It is essential that the parties refrain from provocative actions and renew their commitment to resolution 1701 in word and in deed. Furthermore, I call on Lebanese authorities to complete the investigation into the 4 August attack on a UNIFIL patrol.

Turning also to the situation on the Golan, military conflict on the Bravo side ceased in late July, with the Syrian Government regaining control of parts of the area of separation that had previously been under the control of various non-State armed opposition groups. In recent weeks, low levels of military activity have been observed in the areas of separation and limitation on the Bravo side. UNDOF has assessed that this has been due to controlled detonations of explosive ordnance as part of the clearance by Syrian security forces.

I personally visited UNDOF facilities in the Israeli-occupied Golan on 4 October and was encouraged with the progress made in implementing the phased UNDOF plan for the continued return of forces to the Bravo Side. I welcome the re-opening on 15 October of the Quneitra crossing, which was facilitated by the parties to the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement.

In closing I reiterated that we must break out of the endless cycle of emergency responses and stop-gap measures. The Palestinian people – whether they live in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, whether they live in Gaza, or as refugees in the region – deserve sustainable and just solutions. Both deserve a chance to restore their dignity and build a better future for themselves and their families. Just as the people of Israel deserve to live in peace and security, Palestinians deserve to be masters of their own fate, to be governed by democratically elected institutions, to have a state of their own that lives in peace and security with the State of Israel, without the walls of occupation, without the fear of reprisal or displacement, and certainly without the fear that the entirety of their lives will be spent struggling with no end in sight.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leaders must confront anti-Semitism, not perpetuate the conspiracy theories that fuel it

02/05/2018 Leave a comment

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas chose to use his speech at the opening of the Palestinian National Council to repeat some of the most contemptuous anti-Semitic slurs, including the suggestion that the social behavior of Jews was the cause for the Holocaust.

Such statements are unacceptable, deeply disturbing and do not serve the interests of the Palestinian people or peace in the Middle East.

Denying the historic and religious connection of the Jewish people to the land and their holy sites in Jerusalem stands in contrast to reality.

The Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum, it was the result of thousands of years of persecution. This is why attempts to rewrite, downplay or deny it are dangerous.

Leaders have an obligation to confront anti-Semitism everywhere and always, not perpetuate the conspiracy theories that fuel it.

Categories: statement, Uncategorized

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.

Of all the final status issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict #Jerusalem is perhaps the most emotionally charged and difficult subject

09/12/2017 2 comments
Security Council meeting on the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.

UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Jersualem

On December 8th I was asked to brief the UN Security Council on the situation in Jerusalem. Of all the final status issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as identified in the Oslo Accords — refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and cooperation with  neighbours, and other issues of common interest – Jerusalem is perhaps the most emotionally charged and difficult subject.

For the Jewish people, it is and will always be the centre of their faith. For centuries, they have looked to it as a symbol of hope for their future. It is also the centre of faith for Palestinians and, since the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, many have lived in fear of losing their livelihoods, or their connection to the city. For both Israelis and Palestinians, Jerusalem is and will always remain an integral part of their national identity. For billions of people around the world, it also serves as a symbol and a cornerstone of their Christian, Jewish or Muslim faith. That is why it remains one of the most sensitive places in the world.

Throughout the past 70 years, there has been broad agreement among UN Member States about the particular status of Jerusalem, including through Security Council resolutions 252 (1968), 476 (1980) and 478 (1980) as well as General-Assembly resolution 181.

The United Nations has repeatedly declared that any unilateral decision that seeks to alter the character and status of Jerusalem or that may alter these long-standing principles could seriously undermine current peace efforts and may have repercussions across the region.

As stated by the Secretary-General the United Nations position is clear:

Jerusalem is a final status issue

for which a comprehensive, just and lasting solution must be achieved through negotiations between the parties, and on the basis of relevant United Nations resolutions and mutual agreements.

On December 6, United States President Donald Trump announced that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. In this recognition, he said that final status issues, including the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty, remain for the parties to determine. He made clear his commitment to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians and called for the status quo at the Holy Sites to be respected. The announcement also signaled the start of preparations to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while renewing a six-month waiver by which the Embassy remains in Tel Aviv.

Without doubt, this decision has been widely welcomed in Israel. It has also caused much anger among Palestinians and anxiety across the Middle East and beyond. Palestinian President Abbas condemned the move and stressed that through this decision, the United States has withdrawn from its role as a mediator in the process. He warned of the potential consequences for security and stability in the region and underlined the need for immediately work towards national reconciliation. Hamas described the proclamation as an attack against the Palestinian people and called on the PLO to withdraw its recognition of Israel. In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked President Trump for the decision. He reaffirmed his commitment to maintaining the status quo at the holy sites; and President Rivlin said that Jerusalem is not an obstacle to peace for those who want peace.

I expressed my concern about the potential

risk of a violent escalation. 

In anticipation of the U.S. decision, Palestinian factions, called for three days of rage to take place from 6 to 8 December. Some called for 8 December to be the start of a new uprising or intifada. Since the decision, we have seen widespread demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israel Security Forces throughout the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. According to OCHA, one Palestinian was killed and more than 140 have been injured. There have also been protests in Arab cities and villages within Israel, as well in cities around the region and the Muslim world, from Lebanon and Jordan to Malaysia and Bangladesh.

On 7 December, six rockets were reportedly fired from Gaza towards Israel. All but one landed short, without causing damage or injury. Israel Defense Forces responded by shelling a Hamas military installation in the Strip and bombing another from the air, causing damage but no injuries.

We all understand the symbolic, religious and emotional charge that Jerusalem holds for people across the region and beyond. Nevertheless, I urge all political, religious and community leaders

to refrain from provocative action and rhetoric that could lead to escalation;

and I call on all to exercise restraint and engage in dialogue.

It is now more important than ever that we preserve the prospects for peace. It will be ordinary Israelis and Palestinians – their families, their children – who will ultimately have to live with the human costs and the suffering caused by further violence. They will look to their leaders to find the strength and the will to return to the negotiating table and achieve a just and comprehensive peace that addresses all final status issues, that ends the occupation of Palestinian territory that started in 1967 and that brings security and stability to both Israelis and Palestinians.

The United Nations remains strongly committed to supporting all efforts towards a negotiated two-state solution. This is the only way to achieve the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. This point has been clearly re-affirmed by Secretary-General Guterres and I stress again his words –

there is no Plan B to the two-state solution. 

Palestinian and Israeli leaders, but also the international community, have an important responsibility to advance peace efforts to this end. Only through constructive dialogue can we hope to achieve peace and I call on all parties to remain engaged.

This is another critical moment in the long-running history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are yet to see if the prospects of peace can be preserved and advanced. It is up to all of us in the international community, as much as it is up to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to urgently advance a just and lasting resolution to this conflict. The Secretary-General has been clear that ending the occupation and realizing a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestine, is the only way that such a vision can be achieved.

I have warned many times in the past and I will do so again today: if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not resolved on the basis of a two-state solution, in line with relevant United Nations resolutions, and in a manner that meets the legitimate national aspirations of both peoples, it risks being engulfed into the vortex of religious radicalism throughout the Middle East. There is a serious risk today that the parties may walk away from the negotiation table. That this will spark a chain of unilateral actions, which can only undermine the achievement of our shared goal. It will be critical in the coming days that leaders demonstrate their wisdom and make all efforts to reduce the rhetoric, prevent incitement and rein in radical elements.

In its report in 2016, the Middle East Quartet called for steps to reverse negative trends that undermine the two-state solution so as to build the conditions necessary for successful final status negotiations. Today, that call remains as valid as ever. I urged the international community to fulfil its historic responsibility to support the parties in achieving peace and a comprehensive agreement. The Secretary-General and the United Nations are committed to supporting Palestinian and Israeli leaders to return to meaningful negotiations in order to achieve a lasting and just peace for both peoples. We remain deeply committed to working with the parties and with our international and regional partners to realise this objective.

Categories: Uncategorized

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.