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

04/01/2018 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09/12/2017 1 comment
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.

The first test of the Cairo agreement is the return of the crossings to PA control & resolving the humanitarian crisis in #Gaza

16/10/2017 Leave a comment

DMQVWLhX4AAOwWuThis afternoon I met with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr to discuss the implementation of the intra-Palestinian agreement that was signed in Cairo on 12 October.

The agreement provides for the return of the crossings of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority by 1 November. The timely and effective implementation of this provision and concrete steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis will be critical for effectively empowering the Palestinian Government in Gaza.

The United Nations will continue working with the Palestinian leadership, Egypt and the region in support of this process, which is critical for reaching a negotiated two-state solution and sustainable peace.

Third report on the implementation of #UN Security Council Resolution #2334

25/09/2017 Leave a comment

IMG_4692Today I delivered the third report under UNSCR 2334 to the Security Council. In it I focused on developments on the ground in accordance with the provisions of the resolution, including on regional and international efforts to advance the peace process.

During the reporting period, Israel did not “cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard,” as called for by the resolution. Since 20 June, Israel’s illegal settlement activities have continued at a high rate, a consistent pattern over the course of this year.

Activity during this period settlement activity was concentrated primarily in occupied East Jerusalem, where plans were advanced for over 2,300 housing units in July, 30 per cent more than for the whole of 2016. This includes plans for some 1,600 units expanding a ring of settlements north of East Jerusalem as well as in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, adjacent to the Old City. While no plans were advanced in Area C during the reporting period, in early September construction resumed on the new settlement of Amihai, in the heart of the West Bank.

The reporting period witnessed the eviction of a Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah, residents for over fifty years, after a protracted legal battle. The building is located in a section of the neighborhood in which several settlement plans were among those promoted in July. Eviction proceedings are under way for some 180 Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, over 60 of whom reside in Sheikh Jarrah.

Meanwhile, according to OCHA, the destruction of Palestinian-owned property across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, continued, albeit at a significantly lower rate. Overall since the beginning of 2017, 344 structures have been demolished, a third of them in East Jerusalem, displacing some 500 people.

In Area C of the occupied West Bank in August, three educational facilities, serving 175 children, were demolished or confiscated, citing the lack of building permits, which are virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

On 25 July, in the city of Hebron, 15 Israeli families illegally occupied the Abu Rajab/Machpelah House despite ongoing legal proceedings over its ownership. On 27 August, the Israeli Government notified the High Court of Justice that it would evict the settlers within one week, however this process has been put on hold by a temporary injunction issued by the Court.

In other related developments, on 26 July an amendment to the “Basic Law: Jerusalem the Capital of Israel” passed a first reading in the Knesset. If approved, this law would further cement Israeli control over East Jerusalem.

On 17 August, the High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction formally postponing application of the so-called “Regularisation law”.

Later this month, on 31 August, a military order was issued establishing a civil services administrationthat upgrades the status of settlements in the H2 area of Hebron, further consolidating Israeli presence there and reinforcing the existing separation and division of this highly volatile area, where some 500 Israelis live among some 40,000 Palestinians.

The United Nations considers all settlement activities to be illegal under international law and an impediment topeace.  Resolution 2334 states that the international community will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed to by the parties themselves through negotiations.

Moving on to the issue of violence, I noted that it persists as one of the main obstacles to resolving the conflict. Resolution 2334 calls on all sides to prevent such acts and to strengthen efforts to combat terrorism, including through existing security coordination.

Although the reporting period was characterized by relatively low levels of fatalities, a number of incidents occurred, particularly related to the unrest following the fatal 14 July attack against two Israeli policemen in Jerusalem’s Old City. During the reporting period, 19 Palestinians, five of whom were in Area A of the West Bank, were killed in attacks, clashes and Israeli military operations. Eight Israelis were killed in clashes and attacks, including the three Israeli-Arab perpetrators of the 14 July attack, who were killed by the security forces. Of the 19 Palestinian fatalities, five were killed during protests and subsequent clashes related to the unrest in Jerusalem. On 21 July, a Palestinian brutally murdered three members of an Israeli family in a terrorist attack in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.

In a reaction to the events at the Holy Esplanade, on 21 July, Palestinian President Abbas declared a freeze of all contacts with Israel on all levels, including security coordination.

After three months of quiet, on 26 June, 23 July and 8 August Palestinian militants fired rockets towards Israel with no injuries reported. In response, Israeli Defence Forces conducted five airstrikes in Gaza, resulting in three Palestinians being injured. On 17 August, one Palestinian was killed by a suicide bomber, who was also killed, close to the Egyptian border in Gaza. This appears to be the first suicide bombing affecting Hamas forces in Gaza.

During the reporting period settler related violence also continued. Some twenty-five incidents were documented, the majority involving the vandalization of Palestinian agricultural property around Nablus, and assaults against Palestinians in or around Hebron. Meanwhile, at least 21 Palestinian attacks also took place against Israeli settlers resulting in casualties or property damage.

Punitive demolitions also continued during the reporting period with Israeli authorities demolishing five homes belonging to families of Palestinian perpetrators of attacks.

The reporting period also witnessed a shrinking space for civil society and freedom of expression.

On 24 June, the Palestinian President issued, by decree, the Cybercrime Law. Since then at least six journalists, one human rights activist in Hebron and a number of others have reportedly been arrested. While most have been subsequently released, these arrests raise strong concerns that the law is being used to curtail freedom of expression.

In Gaza, a social media activist was arrested by Hamas on 3 July and detained for almost two weeks on charges of incitement against the de facto authorities, while a journalist was  detained for more than two months on unclear allegations of collaborationwith the authorities in Ramallah.

Security Council resolution 2334 called upon both parties to refrain from acts of provocation, incitement, and inflammatory rhetoric, and to condemn all acts of terrorism. At the height of the July crisis around the holy sites of Jerusalem, officials and representatives on all sides employed provocative rhetoric.

In the midst of what were largely peaceful protests, Hamas and senior Palestinian Authority officials called for an escalation and a “day of rage” across the occupied Palestinian territory. Hamas and others continued to openly glorify attacks, describing the murder of three Israelis at their home in Halamish as “heroic.”

Meanwhile, President Abbas explicitly condemned the 14 July attack, and, in an attempt to calm tensions at the holy sites, some Palestinian leaders and religious authorities on both sides called on protestors to avoid violence and provocation.

With regard to settlements, Israeli officials continued to use provocative rhetoric in support of expansion. On 3 August, the Israeli Prime Minister delivered an inaugural speech at the launch of construction for 1,000 new housing units in the Beitar Ilit settlement in which he praised the achievements of his Government in promoting settlement construction.  On the 28th of August, he said that “there will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel (…) we will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle”. Other senior Israeli politicians also made repeated calls for annexation of the West Bank, with one Member of Knesset expressing his desire to destroyhopes for Palestinian statehood, and stated that there is room to define and realize the national aspirations of one people only — the Jewish people.

Resolution 2334 also reiterated the call by the Middle East Quartet for both parties to take steps to “reverse negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-state solution.”

On 10 July, an interim power purchasing agreement was signed between the Palestinian and the Israeli Electricity companies, energizing the first Palestinian-owned and operated substation in Jenin and allowing for an increase in electricity supply in the northern West Bank.

On 13 July, the United States facilitated an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel allowing for an increase in water supply for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as part of the 2013 Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project.

Moving on to Gaza, I noted that the situation there remains extremely fragile. The chronic energy deficit has been substantially worsened by the decision of the Palestinian Authority to reduce electricity supply to the Strip. While Egyptian fuel has enabled the Gaza Power Plant to resume operations, electricity supply is still down to about four hours per day.

Basic services in some 190 health, water and sanitation facilities, continue to rely on back-up generators powered by United Nations-provided fuel. As part of the Gaza Emergency Appeal issued in July, an additional USD 4 million from the United Nations Central Emergency   response fund has been released to support critical services. The appeal is now 51 per cent funded.

To end the standoff, the Palestinian Authority has remained firm in its demands for Hamas to dissolve the Administrative Committee it established in March 2017, and allow the Government of National Consensus to take up its responsibilities in Gaza. On 17 September, Hamas officially accepted these conditions. It now remains to be seen whether the agreement will be implemented and electricity supply will be restored to Gaza.

I informed the Council that I had just returned from a trip to Gaza and would like to report on developments there during closed consultations.

During the reporting period there have been no developments related to Member States’ distinguishing, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories it occupied in 1967.

Meanwhile, the international community has continued its efforts to advance the goal of peace as well as the deteriorating situation in Gaza.

The Envoys of the Middle East Quartet continue to meet to discuss current efforts to advance peace as well as the deteriorating situation in Gaza. In August, a US delegation travelled to the Middle East and met with regional interlocutors, with a focus on reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. All parties agreed to continue working toward a sustainable peace and to promote security and stability across the region.

Shortly thereafter, on August 27th, the Secretary-General arrived in the region for his first official visit to Israel and Palestine. He strongly reaffirmed the United Nations position that there is no alternative to the two-state solution and suggested a three-track approach to end the occupation and advance the prospects for peace: firstly, a serious political process with a clear end goal — two states living side-by-side in peace and mutual recognition; secondly, a simultaneous effort to improve the socio-economic conditions of Palestinians; and thirdly, active engagement with regional partners. He conveyed his personal commitment to help the parties return to meaningful negotiations, based on relevant United Nations resolutions, international law and prior agreements.

In September, Egypt hosted delegations from Hamas and Fatah in an effort to advance Palestinian unity, which led to the breakthrough decision by the de facto-Gaza leadership to dissolve the Administrative Committee and invite the Government to return to the Strip.

On 18 September, Norway convened the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee in New York with Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr, PA Minister of Finance and Planning Shukri Bishara and Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzahi Hanegbi, in attendance. The meeting agreed that additional concerted action was needed to make progress on fiscal sustainability, economic development and Gaza reconstruction and recovery. It was also noted that socioeconomic conditions cannot be adequately addressed without progress in the peace process.

In closing, I shared some broad observations on the reporting period.

  1. Continuing settlement expansion, most notably during this period in occupied East Jerusalem, is making the two-state solution increasingly unattainable and undermining Palestinian belief in the international peace efforts. In addition to illegal settlements, the practice of demolishing Palestinian structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and displacing Palestinians undermines the prospects of peace.
  2. Continued violence against civilians and incitement perpetuate mutual fear and suspicion, while impeding any efforts to bridge the gaps between the two sides. I once again urge both parties to demonstrate their commitment to rejecting violence, inflammatory rhetoric and provocative actions.
  3. The Jenin agreement was an important first step towards a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian power purchasing agreement that would lead to greater Palestinian energy autonomy. I encourage Israelis and Palestinians to fully implement the Red Sea-Dead Sea agreement to enable delivery of much-needed water to the West Bank and Gaza.
  4. While all initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy are welcome, much more needs to be done, as part of a political process aimed at establishing a Palestinian state. Economic development, critical as it is, is no substitute for sovereignty and statehood. As the Secretary-General has called for, efforts aimed at achieving both must proceed in parallel.
  5. Intra-Palestinian reconciliation remains critical to preventing the continuing militant buildup and restoring hope for the future. In this respect, I welcome the recent statement by Hamas announcing the dissolution of the Administrative Committee in Gaza and agreement to allow the Government of National Consensus to assume its responsibilities in the strip.
  6. I commended the Egyptian authorities for their tireless efforts in creating this positive momentum. All parties must seize this opportunity to restore unity and open a new page for the Palestinian people. This should facilitate the removal of Israeli closures on Gaza, in line with Security Council Resolution 1860. The United Nations, as always, stands ready to assist all efforts in this process.
  7. It is critical that the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza, most notably the crippling electricity crisis, be addressed as a priority as well.

In closing I said that collective and determined action by the parties, the region and the international community is needed to initiate a serious political process, drawing upon all relevant UN resolutions, that will realize a two-state solution, ending the occupation and resolving all final status issues.

As the Secretary-General said on his recent visit, “the international community cannot simply turn away and allow the situation to deteriorate. We have a role and a responsibility to support the parties in resolving this conflict.” With that responsibility comes an obligation, an obligation to do what is necessary to establish a peaceful, prosperous and secure future – for Palestinians, for Israelis and for the entire region.

Categories: Uncategorized

#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.