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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.

It is time to turn the challenges of the past into opportunities for the future

21/06/2017 1 comment

On 20 June I briefed the UN Security Council, on behalf of the Secretary- General, on the implementation of resolution 2334 during the period from 25 March to 19 June. I focused on developments on the ground in accordance with the provisions of the resolution, including on regional and international efforts to advance peace.

From the beginning I noted that nothing in the report can be divorced from the broader context in which it is happening: the half century of occupation, the stalled peace process, the lack of dialogue between the parties, as well as continued illegal settlement activities, terror, violence and increased radicalization. This briefing coincides with the 50-year anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war, which resulted in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan. Achieving a negotiated two-state outcome is the only way to lay the foundations for enduring peace that is based on Israeli security needs and the Palestinian right to sovereignty and statehood.

Now is not the time to give up on this goal. Now is the time to create the conditions for a return to negotiations to resolve all final status issues on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, mutual agreements and international law.

Resolution 2334 calls on Israel to take steps “to cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” No such steps have been taken during the reporting period. In fact — since the 24th of March –

there has been substantial increase in settlement-related announcements

as compared with the previous reporting period, with plans for nearly 4,000 housing units moving forward and 2,000 tenders issued. The United Nations considers all settlement activities to be illegal under international law. Resolution 2334 states that the international community will not recognize any changes to the 4th of June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed to by the parties themselves through negotiations.

Plans for some 3,200 units were advanced through the various stages of the planning process in 22 settlements in Area C of the occupied West Bank. These plans include 2,000 housing units in major population centers of Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel, and over 800 units in Kerem Reim, Oranit and Beit El.

One hundred units were advanced for the new settlement of Amihai, established in the eastern Shiloh Valley for the former residents of the Amona outpost, where the Israeli authorities also declared 241 acres as ‘state land’ in the same zone. Both acts would further sever the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian State, solidifying a line of settlements dividing the northern and central West Bank. As construction on the new settlement began today, the Prime Minister stated that “there will never be, a Government that is more prosettlement than our Government”.

Separately, tenders were issued for close to 2,000 housing units in four settlements close to the 1967 line — Alfei Menashe, Beitar Illit, Beit Arie and Karnei Shomron. Infrastructure tenders for a future construction of over 200 settlement units in Kochav Yaakov, located between Ramallah and Jerusalem were also re-issued. In East Jerusalem 770 housing units in the Gilo Southern Slopes reached the final approval stage, and building permits for over 360 housing units were granted in Ramat Shlomo, Pisgat Ze’ev and Ramot.

Meanwhile, according to OCHA, the reporting period witnessed a sharp decline in the number of demolished Palestinian-owned structures in Area C: 29 structures were demolished or seized, down from 149 in the previous reporting period. East Jerusalem saw a less pronounced decrease in demolished structures from 49 to 32; however, the monthly average of demolitions in East Jerusalem since the beginning of 2017 remains at the same levels as in 2016 when demolitions reached a 15-year record.

Resolution 2334 calls on all sides to refrain from violence and undertake efforts to combat it. During the reporting period,

the security situation on the ground remained relatively calm. 

No rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces did not conduct any airstrikes in Gaza.

However, according to OCHA seventeen Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces, in various incidents including reported terror attacks, clashes, and military operations. One Israeli soldier was killed in a car ramming attack on 6 April outside the Ofra settlement, northeast of Ramallah, and, on 16 June, a policewoman was killed in a shooting and stabbing attack by Palestinian assailants in the vicinity of the Old City of Jerusalem. On 14 April, a British exchange student was killed by a Palestinian assailant in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem. The Israeli Security Forces killed a Jordanian citizen reportedly involved in a stabbing incident in the Old City on 13 May, and on 25 May a Palestinian fisherman off the coast of Gaza. The reporting period also witnessed the shooting of two Palestinian men during protests at the fence along Gaza’s northern border.

On March the 24th, a senior Hamas military commander was assassinated by unknown assailants in Gaza City. This was followed by a lockdown of Gaza by Hamas in which for a period of a few days the de facto authorities did not allow Palestinians or internationals to leave the Strip. In April, Hamas executed six Palestinian men for alleged collaboration with Israel, an act that was condemned by the international community.

Settler-related violence continued during the reporting period as well. According to OCHA, 31 incidents were documented, resulting in one Palestinian killed, ten injured, and damage to Palestinian property. Much of the violence has centred around the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus, a recurrent source of violent actions against neighbouring villages in the past.

Against the backdrop of Israeli security officials reportedly warning of the increased risk of another terror attack by Jewish extremists, like the one against the Dawabshe family two years ago, a Rabbi from Yitzhar was indicted for incitement to violence against Palestinians, while a number of others have been arrested.

Resolution 2334 called upon both parties to refrain from acts of provocation, incitement, and inflammatory rhetoric, and to “clearly condemn all acts of terrorism.” Regrettably, such calls continued to go unanswered during the reporting period.

Palestinian officials and media outlets affiliated with Fatah continued to commemorate perpetrators of past terror attacks against Israeli civilians.

One community center was recently named after a Palestinian woman who was involved in an attack in which 38 Israelis, including 13 children were killed in Tel Aviv in 1978. UN Women and Norway withdrew support from the organisation.

Hamas leaders have also continued their deplorable practice of celebrating recent attacks against Israeli civilians as “heroic,” including the 1 April stabbing in Jerusalem’s Old City in which two civilians were injured. And, just a few hours after the complex attack at Damascus Gate last Friday, in which a policewoman was killed, Hamas was quick to praise “the three martyrs from today’s heroic Jerusalem operation.”

Some Israeli officials have also employed provocative rhetoric. Politicians have repeatedly declared that there will never be a Palestinian state, pledging to take the idea of statehood “off the agenda.” In a regrettable incident, an Israeli minister spoke at an event, attended by other members of the Knesset, celebrating the publication of a book promoting abhorrent views towards Israel’s Arab citizens. The book was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League as “dangerous and inhumane” and a number of the participants expressed regret at their attendance.

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

Israel approved a number of positive measures to improve the Palestinian economy.

These included the 24-hour opening of the Allenby Bridge for a three-month period, which is effective as of today, in addition to extended operating hours at the Tarkumiya, Ephraim, Gilboa, Maccabim and Reihan crossing points, and the construction of a vehicular crossing at Eyal. In addition, the package envisions the development of an industrial zone that includes bonded warehouses and a natural gas and fuel terminal, aiming to enhance Palestinian authority over trade and customs issues. The measures also included the demarcation of approximately 4,000 acres of land in Area C, including next to three major Palestinian cities — Ramallah, Nablus and Tulkarem – in which the regulation of planning and zoning will undergo changes, with potentially positive implications for Palestinian development.

Palestinian and Israeli Finance Ministries held a number of meetings to discuss fiscal leakages, a critical issue given the Palestinian Authority’s 800 million dollar financing gap. The parties have progressed in discussions on VAT clearance revenues. In early June, in accordance with the Electricity Agreement signed last September, Israel transferred 30 million dollars to the Palestinian Authority in lieu of equalization levies and health stamps and agreed to conduct monthly transfers in the future. In May, the Joint Water Committee held its first meeting in seven years.

During the reporting period, the situation in Gaza has heightened intra-Palestinian tensions, creating an increasingly dangerous humanitarian situation, and raising serious concerns about the prospect of another conflict. By establishing an Administrative Committee to run civilian affairs, Hamas tightened its control of Gaza and further antagonized the legitimate Palestinian authorities, reducing the prospects for reconciliation.

Meanwhile, a standoff between Fatah and Hamas over the payment of taxes on fuel led to the shutdown of the only power plant in Gaza, leaving residents with four hours of electricity per day. Basic services, including health facilities, water supply and wastewater management have almost ground to a halt increasing the risk of health and environmental disasters. Today Gaza depends exclusively on Israeli electricity lines, which normally provide 60 percent of supply; on Egypt; and on a UN-managed emergency fuel operation that given the funding available, will expire in two to three months.

On May 15th , the Palestinian Authority informed Israel that it would reduce its payment for the electricity Israel supplies to Gaza by 30 per cent. One month later, Israel agreed to the Palestinian request. An initial five per cent reduction was implemented on 19 June; further cuts are expected to have catastrophic consequences for Gaza’s population.

I went beyond the scope of today’s report on the implementation of resolution 2334 and — once again – warned all parties that Gaza is a tinderbox. If and when it explodes, it will have devastating consequences for the population and derail all efforts at advancing peace.

Two million Palestinians in Gaza can no longer be held hostage by divisions.

For a decade they have lived under the control of Hamas. They have had to deal with crippling Israeli closures, Palestinian divisions and have lived through three devastating conflicts. Perpetuating this situation breeds radicalism and extremism. We have a collective responsibility to prevent this. We have a duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.

Returning to the resolution I noted that 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 occupied in 1967. There have, however, been continuing efforts by the international community to advance peace. On the 29th of March in Jordan, at the Summit of the League of Arab States, Arab leaders committed to re-launching serious peace negotiations on the basis of the two-state solution, establishing a Palestinian state “on the lines of June 4, 1967 with its capital in East Jerusalem” and reaffirmed their commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

In May, on his first trip abroad, U.S. President Trump visited Israeli and Palestinian leaders and made clear that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is critical to combating the threat of violent extremism and terrorism. He expressed his personal commitment to helping both sides achieve a peace agreement that would begin a process of peace throughout the region.

The Secretary-General looks forward to working with the United States, Russia, the European Union and regional partners towards improving the environment for peacemaking, including by engaging with all sides to improve the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and Gaza.

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

First, I stressed the urgency of addressing the rapidly deteriorating situation in Gaza.

We must acknowledge the significant budget constraints the Palestinian Authority is currently facing and the need to support the Government in addressing them. However all decisions must be taken with due consideration of their humanitarian impact. I called on Palestinian leaders to urgently reach the necessary compromises that will return Gaza to the control of the legitimate authorities.

Last month, I warned the Security Council that this crisis is leading us toward another conflict. A conflict that no one wants. I urged all parties to act before it is too late.

Secondly, the policy of continued illegal settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory contravenes resolution 2334. The large number of settlement-related activities documented during this period undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.

Thirdly, the continuing terror attacks, violence and incitement remain a very serious concern. Leaders have a responsibility to implement measures demonstrating their commitment to combatting violence and any acts of provocation and inflammatory rhetoric.

Fourthly, while Israeli initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy are positive steps forward, it remains to be seen whether this will significantly increase Palestinian civil authority, in line with Quartet recommendations and prior commitments between the parties.

 

In this symbolic month it is time to turn the challenges of the past into opportunities for the future. As the Secretary-General recently stated: “The occupation has shaped the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis. It has fueled recurring cycles of violence and retribution. Its perpetuation is sending an unmistakable message to generations 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 remains unattainable.”

Every day that passes without peace, is another day we neglect our collective responsibility to advance a meaningful strategy towards a negotiated two-state solution that meets the national and historic aspirations of both peoples.

The United Nations will continue its determined engagement with the parties and all key stakeholders to achieve that objective.

 

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.