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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.

 

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

27/05/2017 Leave a 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

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

19/04/2017 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am concerned at rising tensions. Expenditure reductions must be fairly distributed, leaders must bridge growing gap b/n #Gaza #WestBank

08/04/2017 Leave a comment

I am deeply concerned by the growing tensions in Gaza. Over the past decade, Palestinians in Gaza have lived through four conflicts, with no freedom, unprecedented Israeli restrictions, a dire humanitarian crisis, high unemployment, an ongoing electricity crisis and the lack of political perspective.

While the Palestinian 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 under which people in Gaza live.

I urge the responsible parties to work together to find a solution to the current crisis and call on all factions to allow the Palestinian Government to assume its responsibility in Gaza.

Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state and no efforts should be spared to bring about real national reconciliation that ends the division. Leaders have a responsibility to avoid escalation and bridge the growing divide between Gaza and the West Bank that further fragments the Palestinian people.

Categories: Gaza, Palestine, statement, UN Tags: , , ,

#Israel, #Palestinian Authority sign important water agreement for #WestBank and #Gaza

16/01/2017 2 comments

img748551I welcome the signature of an agreement to renew the activity of the Israeli – Palestinian Joint Water Committee to improve the water infrastructure and supply in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

This, along with previous joint agreements on electricity, water, mail and 3G cellular coverage, is in line with the Middle East Quartet’s recommendations.

If fully implemented, this agreement would be an important step towards preserving the two-state solution. I encourage further cooperation between the two sides which is critical to the viability of a future Palestinian state.

In September 2016 both sides resolved a long lasting dispute over outstanding electricity debts and agreed to create a new energy market that effectively transferred the authority to the Palestinian government for collecting payments for electricity distributed to Palestinian territory.

We must avoid the risk of sleep-walking into another violent conflict in Gaza

19/10/2016 1 comment

On 19 October I briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the Middle East. Although international focus on the Question of Palestine may have been overtaken by the tragedy in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, but it cannot be allowed to be relegated to a secondary problem.

Sadly, settlement announcements, outbreaks of violence and terror, and the absence of visionary leadership continue to define the conflict. The inability to see beyond the horizon and grasp the benefits of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, of ending the occupation, of establishing a two-state solution that meets the national aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis alike, is a historic loss to the region as a whole.The absence of progress has led to growing anger and frustration among Palestinians and profound disillusionment among Israelis. It has strengthened radicals and weakened moderates on both sides.

On October 9th, a Palestinian opened fire, killing two Israelis and injuring six others in a terror attack in occupied East Jerusalem. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims. Deplorably, Hamas and many others chose to justify and glorify the attack and its perpetrator. 

This tragic incident once again underscores an undeniable truth – if Palestinians genuinely hope to reach the long-overdue goal of statehood and an end to the occupation, this will not be achieved through violence, but must be reached through negotiations. In separate incidents, during recent clashes in East Jerusalem, a 20-year-old Palestinian civilian died after being shot by Israeli security forces. Separately, an unarmed 12 year old girl was also shot in the legs by security guards while approaching a checkpoint.

I spoke of the fact that during the past month Israel has continued with settlement planning, including the recent promotion of an initial 98 out of 300 housing units in Shilo, located deep in the occupied West Bank. If implemented, this plan will drive a wedge between north and south in the West Bank and jeopardize the contiguity of a future Palestinian state. Israeli officials have defined this move as an attempt to relocate settlers from the illegal Amona outpost, which has been slated for demolition by the Israeli Supreme Court.
I once again reiterated the position of the Secretary-General that settlements are illegal under international law and undermine the two-state solution.
Adding to this troubling overall picture, I noted that Palestinians have again been unable to exercise their democratic rights after local council elections in the West Bank and Gaza were postponed. The political bickering, mutual accusations, legal challenges and counter-challenges that followed have left the people of Gaza and the West Bank feeling more apart.
I also stated my concern at recent calls by Hamas legislators in Gaza for the Hamas led government to resume its work in Gaza. Such a step would seriously undermine the Palestinian Government of National Consensus and would also make the reconciliation almost impossible.

In a previous breifing in August, I raised UN and international concerns about the steady continuation of Israel’s policy of expanding its presence in the occupied West Bank. Today, I focused on another impediment to a negotiated solution — the security, humanitarian and political situation in Gaza. Three deadly conflicts in the past eight years have eroded both Palestinian belief that Israel wants anything more than Gaza’s destruction and Israeli conviction that their Palestinian neighbours desire peace. Fueling Israeli fears is that Gaza is controlled by a de facto authority whose overtly anti-Semitic Charter equates resistance with violence, rejects peaceful solutions and aspires to the obliteration of Israel.

Israel accuses Gaza militants of continuously seeking to obtain money and military matériel, including by smuggling in civilian boats, concealing components for the production of rockets inside commercial shipments and diverting construction materials from needy beneficiaries. The United Nations has been informed by Israel of at least 41 serious smuggling attempts which have been intercepted since the beginning of 2016. Although the UN lacks the capacity to independently confirm the smuggling accusations, if accurate, they show the intention to continue attacks against Israel.
Last week, I travelled to Gaza where I witnessed warehouses, empty of construction materials, as the reconstruction process is significantly slowing down. And this is due to limitations of imports. No new residential reconstruction projects have been approved since March. In the recent days the approval of some 80 projects – some of which had already been started – has been revoked by Israel.
I saw residential buildings half built. I met with families whose projects have been cleared for reconstruction, yet have not received any cement for months. I heard from those that have tried to navigate the web of rules governing the import of materials considered ‘dual-use’ with no luck or response. I stand with the people in Gaza who have suffered through conflicts, closures and continue to face unimaginable suffering.

At current rates, it will take more than one year to catch up on the backlog of approved projects and years to address the full housing and reconstruction shortage in Gaza. These trends are worrying and I call on the parties to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism to recommit once again to ensuring its smooth operation. Failing to do that will put in question the viability of the mechanism and undermine the precarious calm in Gaza today.

According to some estimates, in the last decade, militants in Gaza have fired nearly 16,000 rockets and mortars at Israel. Some 200 projectiles have been fired since the end of the last conflict. While since 2014 there has been little damage or injury, there is an ever-present risk of a potentially catastrophic escalation that neither wants nor needs.
During the 2014 conflict, Israel discovered and destroyed 14 tunnels crossing into its territory and, in May of this year, detected and destroyed two more.
I reiterated the joint position of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the Secretary-General of the UN as stated in the Quartet report: the illicit arms build-up and militant activity in Gaza must be terminated. Such actions increase the risk of a new escalation of hostilities, keep thousands of people on both sides of the border under constant threat of attack, and undermine the reconstruction process. The militant threat, however, should not serve as an excuse for Israel to indiscriminately harm civilians in Gaza. In addition to the continuing severely restrictive closures, I am concerned by persistent incursions and the almost daily firing and shelling by Israeli forces into Gaza along the fence and at sea.

The vicious cycles of conflict in Gaza must end. 

To do so, control of Gaza must return to the Palestinian Government of National Unity committed to the PLO principles. The closures on Gaza must also be lifted in line with Security Council resolution 1860. Palestinians and Israelis both deserve the right to lead a normal life in freedom and security, with their human rights respected. Since Hamas’ takeover of Gaza in 2007 40 per cent of Palestinians living in the occupied territory are beyond the control of the legitimate Palestinian government. Israel’s closure policy and severe restrictions have brought social, cultural and economic interaction between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to a virtual standstill. The widening chasm that has emerged between both parts of the occupied Palestinian territory undermines the national state-building enterprise and threatens the very viability of establishing a unified Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution. Unity is, therefore, critical.

I encouraged Hamas to pursue reconciliation with Fatah in line with the PLO principles and to consider redefining its political stance.

Turning briefly to the Golan I stated my continuing concern by the volatile situation which undermines the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement and jeopardises the ceasefire between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic. It remains critical that the parties to the Disengagement Agreement maintain liaison with UNDOF in the first instance, exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any action that could escalate the situation across the ceasefire line and the already volatile regional environment.

In closing, I issued two warnings.Firstly, to those who believe that the people of Gaza can be punished by closures or by imposing restrictions on the entry of construction materials that are vital for the economy. They should know that the temperature in Gaza is rising. Secondly, to those who build tunnels, fire rockets, smuggle military materiel, profit from the black market or seek to create confrontation. Their actions are dangerous and irresponsible. They are stealing from their own people and risk the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

We must all avoid the risk of sleep-walking into another violent conflict at a time when the region as a whole needs moderate forces to unite and stand up to the radicalisation that we see across the Middle East. Gaza’s future is inextricably linked to the future of the Palestinian people and their goal of establishing an independent state. But the longer its population continues to suffer under the intolerable weight of Gaza’s current dynamics, the further Palestinians are from realizing that objective, and the closer we are unfortunately to the next major escalation.

No Legal Acrobatics can Change the Fact that Settlements and Outposts Remain Illegal Under International Law

29/08/2016 1 comment

On August 29th I delivered my monthly briefing to the UN Security Council on the Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question. This month the focus was on the upsurge of settlement activity.

With no prospect for resuming negotiations in sight, developments on the ground continue to undermine an already precarious situation. Illegal settlement construction advances, Gaza remains beyond the control of the legitimate Palestinian authority and the political leadership on both sides continues to shy away from the steps that are necessary for peace. This is the reality which continues to erode trust in the prospect of a two-state solution, the constituency for which is dwindling both in Israel and Palestine.

Although the past month has been relatively calm

in terms of the frequency and intensity of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory a number of security related incidents continue to cause concerns.

Firstly, the apparent extrajudicial execution by members of the Palestinian Security Forces in Nablus on 23 August of a man, while in custody. He was suspected of orchestrating the killing of two security personnel earlier in the week. I welcome the announcement by Prime Minister Hamdallah of an investigation and call for a thorough, independent and transparent process in line with international standards in order to bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime.

On 21 August, militants in Gaza fired two rockets, one of which landed in a residential area of Sderot, causing no injuries. Israel responded by directing some 60 missiles and shells at 30 suspected military installations in Gaza. Once again I reiterate that such rocket attacks and the response they elicit risk lives of both Palestinians and Israelis and do not serve the cause of peace.

On 26 August a Palestinian man, who was reportedly under psychiatric care, was killed by members of the Israeli Security Forces. A preliminary investigation has established that he was unarmed and did not pose a threat. I call upon Israel to ensure accountability and take all necessary measures protect against the unjustified use of force.

It is against such backdrop that preparations are advancing for the 8 October Palestinian local council elections. In a positive development, on 25 July, political parties signed an electoral code of conduct, to which all parties and candidates must adhere. These elections are expected to be the first simultaneous polls in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006.

Conducting the local elections in line with established international standards can contribute to advancing Palestinian reconciliation. The lack of unity however, or any attempt to influence the outcome of the elections, including through intimidation, threats, violence or coercion, risks widening divisions and undermining the Palestinian national cause. In this respect, the recent decision by Fatah to bring the party together, a decision welcomed by Jordan, Egypt and the region, is an important step towards laying the groundwork for national reconciliation and unity.

Turning briefly to Gaza, three days ago we marked the two-year anniversary of the ceasefire of the last Gaza conflict. While progress has been made on reconstructing the physical damage, sadly we are miles away from repairing the psychological damage of the conflict.

While Gaza remains locked away from the rest of the world, in the grip of militants, and dependent on aid and humanitarian assistance, the status quo will sadly prevail.

We need a radical overhaul of how we deal with the problems of Gaza.

Until the closures are lifted, the militant buildup has ceased, and Gaza is back under the control of the legitimate Palestinian authorities, international funding and an uninterrupted flow of aid are a lifeline to over one million Palestinians in the Strip, who are struggling to survive within a dire humanitarian situation. In this context, I commend the Government of Palestine for enabling a much-needed humanitarian payment to over 20,000 unpaid civilian employees in Gaza, made possible by the generous donation of the State of Qatar.

Separately however, I am very concerned about the recent Israeli indictments of two aid workers accused of diverting funds and/or material to Hamas. These are very serious and deeply troubling accusations that must be investigated thoroughly, quickly and proven in a court of law. I welcome the commitment of the United Nations Development Program and World Vision International to uphold the highest standards of accountability. It is important that the international community continues to enforce its policy of zero tolerance for any wrongdoing and assures partners that robust measures are in place to ensure that aid goes to whom it is intended to.

It has been nearly two months since the Middle East Quartet outlined spoke clearly of the threats to the two-state solution and offered practical recommendations to ensure an eventual return to meaningful negotiations to end the occupation that began in 1967.

Its recommendations continue to be ignored, including by a surge in Israeli settlement-related announcements and continuing demolitions.

Let me focus briefly on the expanding Israeli footprint in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem, which Russia, the EU, United States and the UN Secretary-General — all part of the Quartet, clearly condemned.

We heard that settlement construction is not an impediment to a two-state solution; that “a few houses” are not a problem for peace. Let me ask in return

how will advancing the construction of over 1,700 housing units bring the parties closer to negotiated peace, 

how will it uphold the two-state solution, how will it create hope for the Palestinian people, or how will it bring security to Israelis?

Since 1 July, Israel has advanced plans for over 1,000 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem – in Pisgat Ze’ev, Ramot, Har Homa, and Gilo – as well as 735 units in Ma’ale Adumim and other settlements in the West Bank.

It has published tenders, some new, for 323 units in East Jerusalem settlements and reissued tenders for 42 units in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, for which it also allocated over USD 13 million of new funding.

It is undertaking a new land survey to identify potential ‘state land’ in the sensitive E2 area. This step could enable the establishment of a new settlement on the outskirts of Bethlehem, further restricting that city’s development and contributing to the dismemberment of the West Bank.

It is also reportedly examining plans for new housing units for over 100 Israelis on a portion of a military compound in Hebron that it has allocated for this purpose.

Israel advanced the so-called retroactive ‘legalisation’ of the Horesh Yaron and Rechelim outposts and put forward a potentially precedent-setting proposal to relocate the illegal outpost of Amona – which is slated by Israel’s High Court of Justice for dismantling by the end of the year – onto nearby ‘absentee land’.

All of these plans would essentially create new illegal settlements and I call on Israel to cease and reverse these decisions.

No legal acrobatics can change the fact that all outposts – whether ‘legalised’ under Israeli law or not, whether located on state land, or absentee land, or private land – just like all settlements in Area C and East Jerusalem, remain illegal under international law

It is difficult to read in these actions a genuine intention to work towards a viable two-state solution. This appears to reinforce a policy, carried out over decades, that has enabled over half a million Israelis to settle in territory that was occupied militarily in 1967.

The Quartet highlighted that Palestinians living in Area C and East Jerusalem are also disproportionately denied Israeli building permits. The past two months have seen an increase in the enforcement of non-punitive demolition orders against Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem, with 43 structures demolished, affecting more than 340 people. According to our colleagues in OCHA, in Area C, in August alone, over 91 structures across 26 communities were demolished for the lack of Israeli building permits, displacing some 125 people and affecting the livelihoods of over 2,100.

The Bedouin in Area C are particularly vulnerable. Some communities, such as the herders in Susiya and those in the controversial E1 area around East Jerusalem, are particularly at risk, especially as settlement expansion plans move forward. Repeated rounds of demolitions of homes or livelihoods and restrictions on basic services are part of an environment that pressures these communities to move.

Susiya, for example, is built on private Palestinian land in the southern West Bank. It is sandwiched between a settlement and an outpost. For years, planning schemes submitted by the residents to the Israeli authorities have been repeatedly rejected, while the neighbouring settlement has been granted a generous planning scheme, and the nearby illegal outpost, is connected to water and electricity networks.

The demolition of this community would set a dangerous precedent for displacement and feed the perception that Israel aims at a de facto annexation of Area C.

I note a new plan for the occupied West Bank, announced recently, promoting differential treatment to areas of the occupied West Bank from which perpetrators or suspected perpetrators of attacks against Israelis originate. While

measures that generate economic opportunities for some Palestinians are helpful,

they cannot come at the cost of what may amount to collective punishment for others, or undermine the legitimate Palestinian institutions and aspirations for ending the occupation.

Turning briefly to the Golan, the situations remains volatile and continues to undermine the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement. Fighting between the Syrian armed forces and armed groups in the areas of separation and limitation continue with several incidents across the ceasefire line reported.

I take the opportunity to also draw attention to a nearly 100 million dollar shortfall in UNRWA’s core budget. This funding gap affects the Agency’s key services for vulnerable Palestine refugees throughout the region and compounds regional instability. It must be addressed with utmost urgency.

Let me say that more than 37 years ago, the Security Council determined that Israeli settlements in occupied territory have no legal validity and are an obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. That determination was true in 1979, and is equally true and even more urgent of a concern today.

For years we have been managing this conflict, while the occupation has continued, Palestinians have been dispossessed, and a one-state reality has been establishing itself on the ground. It is time for all of us — the leaders on both sides, with support from the region and the international community, to end the conflict on the basis of relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and in a manner that meets the legitimate national aspirations of both peoples.

Both sides should work to reverse the negative trajectory, to build trust and to restore hope that a negotiated two-state solution is not just a political slogan but a reality that can be achieved through negotiations in our lifetime.