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A conflagration of Middle East conflicts is raising tensions in Syria, Yemen, and on the Palestinian track

11/05/2018 Leave a comment

untitledOn May 11 I visited Moscow for discussions on the Middle East with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Here is what I said to the media at the beginning of our meeting:

“… We are very concerned that there is a conflagration of conflicts currently in the Middle East that are raising tensions on all levels, including the situation in Syria, the situation in Yemen, and most certainly on the Palestinian track.

On the Palestinian track, we feel that there [is a] combination of three very important factors coming together now. Firstly, is the lack of a political process that brings the Israelis and the Palestinians together on the basis of internationally recognized parameters for solving the conflict and for achieving the two-state solution. The Secretary-General has made it very clear that there is no Plan B except the two-state solution; for Israel and Palestine to live in peace and security together. Secondly, we have the problem with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza which is extremely dangerous. The economy has collapsed. We are seeing on a daily basis the suffering of people that needs to be addressed very quickly. Thirdly, there are the security incidents that can always bring us back into another confrontation on the ground.

We are working very hard to avoid all of these risks and to find a way to bring back the Middle East Quartet as the key forum in which we discuss both the political process and the perspectives for resolving the conflict. But also, to put the Israeli-Palestinian situation in a broader regional context that it is important today.

I’m particularly worried about today and the coming days with the US embassy move to Jerusalem on Monday and with the planned protests in Gaza and take this opportunity again to call on Israel to be very careful and calibrated in how it uses force in addressing the protestors in Gaza. But I also call on Hamas and the leaders of the protests in Gaza to prevent friction and to prevent situations in which provocations can happen.

Nobody in the Middle East now needs another war and we need to make everything that we can possible to prevent such a conflict and to find the political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian track just as every other conflict in the Middle East; be that Yemen or Syria or elsewhere, demands a political rather than a military solution. Thank you again and I look forward to our discussions with you later today.”

Link to video here

As the enemies of #peace grow more confident, we must support the forces of moderation against radicals and deliver progress on resolving the #Palestinian – #Israeli conflict

20/02/2018 Leave a comment

Today, Palestinian President Abbas spoke at the UN Secuirty Council. He joined the monthly debate on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian Question. In my briefing to the Council, I opened by reminding everyone that we meet this month as regional tensions are taking an increasingly perilous turn. Fighting in Syria is increasing, endangering de-escalation arrangements and regional stability, as well as undermining efforts for a political solution. Despite the positive news from Iraq and the defeat of Da’esh, much of the Middle East continues to be in the grips of an ongoing human tragedy of immense proportions.

Against this backdrop and after over a century of hostilities including 50 years of continued military occupation, Israelis and Palestinians are still no closer to peace; many have lost hope that they will see it in their lifetimes.

The enemies of peace are growing more confident by the day.

They see every failure of the forces of moderation as a win for the forces of radicalisation. They believe the political odds are turning in their favour. Day after day they are emboldened. Hindering peace are also those who push facts on the ground, who promote unilateral moves blocking the pathway back to the negotiating table. None of this will bring us closer to resolving the conflict. None of it will respond to the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to statehood or the Israeli longing for security. It will only drive us farther down the road of confrontation, suffering and a one-state reality of perpetual occupation.

Last month the international community discussed key priorities to advance the goal of peace at the extraordinary ministerial meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC). At the meeting, I was encouraged by widespread, unequivocal messages reaffirming support for the two-state solution, in line with relevant UN resolutions, and the need to resume meaningful negotiations over all final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem. Participants also made a critical commitment to undertake efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including support for projects focused on water, electricity and economic recovery.

My message to all was clear: first, we must clearly reaffirm that sustainable peace requires a two-state solution, one that can only be achieved through a negotiated process. Israelis and Palestinians have defined the final status issues and only they, together, can determine their resolution. Second, efforts must continue to seek implementation of concrete and transformative steps on the ground – including ending Israeli settlement expansion and advancing policy shifts particularly in Area C of the West Bank – consistent with a transition to greater Palestinian civil authority, as called for in the 2016 report of the Middle East Quartet. Third, the Palestinian Authority must continue to advance institution-building and service delivery to the Palestinian people and work towards bringing Gaza back under its control. And lastly, it is critical that any future peace proposal focus on the two-state solution and all final status issues as per prior agreements and relevant United Nations resolutions. A failure to do so could have dangerous repercussions.

Maintaining support for Palestine refugees is fundamental to the pursuit of peace and stability in the region. I reiterate my ongoing concern over UNRWA’s sizeable funding shortfall, despite the welcome flexibility of some Member States in accelerating the disbursement of their funding commitments. In addition, the emergency appeals launched on 30 January seek to raise US$ 800 million for the West Bank and Gaza, as well as for the Syria regional crisis, to meet the essential needs of some 1.5 million highly vulnerable people. I encourage Member States to consider urgently providing new funding for UNRWA’s critical requirements.

As the peace process falters and the gulf between the two sides widens, Palestinians and Israelis continue to suffer the violent consequences on the ground. Seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces in various incidents across the occupied Palestinian territory and one Israeli civilian was stabbed and killed by a Palestinian in the West Bank. Three of the Palestinians killed died during violent clashes with security forces, one a 16-year-old was shot near Ramallah. He was the fourth child killed under such circumstances since the beginning of the year. I once again emphasized that the use of force must be calibrated and that lethal force should only be used as a last resort, with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by the authorities. I urge Israeli security forces to exercise maximum restraint to avoid casualties under such circumstances.

I called upon all sides to reject violence, condemn terror, ensure accountability and work to reduce tensions.

In recent days we have also witnessed dangerous security incidents in and around Gaza. On 17 February four Israeli soldiers were wounded by an improvised explosive device placed at the Gaza fence. This was followed by Israeli airstrikes on some 18 Hamas targets, while Palestinian militants fired two rockets into Israel – one causing damage to a house in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Two Palestinian teens were killed by Israeli security forces while reportedly attempting to approach the fence. Prior to this latest flare-up during the course of the past month, three more rockets were fired towards Israel, with two Israeli retaliatory strikes, all without injuries.

I encouraged the international community to

join the UN in calling on militants in Gaza to refrain from such provocations

and end the building of tunnels and the firing of rockets towards Israel. Such actions, and the response they elicit, only risk the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, undermine peace efforts and increase the likelihood of another devastating conflict.

I also took the opportunity to note the need to resolve the matter of the missing Israeli soldiers and civilians that are being held in Gaza.

Two additional incidents, Mr. President, highlight the risk of escalation and the need for continued Israeli-Palestinian security coordination. These were the discovery of 12 roadside bombs in the West Bank on 26 January and the foiled attempt on 4 February, to smuggle a dual-use component used to make explosives into Gaza within a shipment of medical equipment.

I also noted that the trial of 17-year-old Palestinian girl Ahed Tamimi started on 13 February behind closed doors. She has been detained on remand for two months to date. As stated in my last briefing, the detention of a child must only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time.

Throughout the reporting period Israel’s illegal settlement-related activities continued unabated. In response to last month’s killing of a resident of the illegal Havat Gilad outpost, on February 4th, Israel approved the establishment of a new settlement to absorb its residents. I strongly denounced the expansion of the settlement enterprise as compensation for Israeli deaths.

Settlement construction is not a morally appropriate way to respond to murder.

On February 12th, Israel also advanced two settlement plans for some 85 housing units near Bethlehem. I reiterated the long-standing UN position that all settlement-related activities are illegal under international law and are a substantial obstacle to peace; and I call on Israel to seize and reverse such policies.

Demolition and seizure of Palestinian-owned structures also continued, with 31 structures affected, resulting in 33 Palestinians displaced. Particularly concerning was the demolition of two donor-funded classrooms serving Palestinian children in the Bedouin community of Abu Nuwar. This is the sixth demolition or confiscation in the school since February 2016. Overall, according to OCHA, 44 schools in the occupied West Bank are currently at risk of demolition. I urged Israel to cease this practice.

I briefed the Council last week on the situation in Gaza. Month after month, we have raised the alarm about the humanitarian, economic and ecological calamity underway. It bears repeating that the situation is unsustainable.

Continuing power cuts of up to 20 hours per day severely undermine the provision of basic services. Without additional immediate fuel deliveries, the situation could deteriorate with dramatic consequences.

I reiterated the Secretary-General’s

appreciation to the United Arab Emirates and to the State of Qatar

for their support to deal with this emergency. Their immediate response to our appeal has helped stave off a further deterioration.

I stated that I was encouraged by the trilateral meeting I had last week with Palestinian Prime Minister Hamdallah and Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Mordechai in which we focused on the humanitarian problems in Gaza. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism and agreed on the need for a joint review to improve its functionality, transparency and predictability.

As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza escalates, the implementation of the Egyptian-brokered intra-Palestinian agreement has stalled. Absent immediate steps to address the humanitarian crisis and to revive the economy, we will face a total institutional and economic collapse in Gaza. This is not an alarmist prediction Mr. President – it is a fact. I welcomed the proposal of the Palestinian Government to incorporate into its 2018 budget some 20,000 civil service employees in Gaza. A positive outcome, however, is contingent, inter alia, upon the collection of taxes, the payment of salaries, the return of the Government administration, and ultimately, security control of Gaza. I urged all sides to intensify their engagement and to move forward in this process.

For a decade two million people have lived under the full control of Hamas with crippling Israeli closures and movement and access restrictions. Throughout this period the international community has provided aid and humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering and to rebuild what was destroyed in three devastating conflicts.

It is time to break this cycle. It is time to return Gaza back to the control of the legitimate Palestinian Authority, for there can be no Palestinian state without Palestinian unity.

Those who stand in the way of reconciliation hurt the Palestinian national cause

and the price will be paid by generations of ordinary people.

The security situation on the Golan is also of growing concern. A worrying escalation occurred on February 10th, when Israeli Defence Forces destroyed what they identified as an Iranian Unmanned Aerial Vehicle which had reportedly entered its airspace from Syria. Shortly thereafter, Israeli aircraft targeted a Syrian airbase. During the attack, one Israeli jet was hit injuring two pilots, which further prompted Israel to attack what it described as “12 military objectives” inside Syria. I urge all sides to work towards easing tensions in this highly volatile area.

Turning briefly to Lebanon I stated that heightened rhetoric was exchanged between Israel and Lebanon over disputed maritime areas. The United Nations continues to call on the sides to act responsibly, avoid security risks and explore with the support of the United Nations ways to resolve the issue. Preparations continue for May parliamentary elections in Lebanon and for the upcoming Rome II and Cedre conferences to support the security sector and economy, respectively on 15 March and 5 April. While the situation was generally quiet in the UNIFIL area of operation, heightened rhetoric relating to the Israeli Defense Forces proposed constructions in Lebanese “reservation areas” south of the Blue Line continued. The planned construction commenced in non-reservation areas on 7 February with no incidents reported.

Returning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I reiterated in closing that we in the international community must continue advocating for substantial Israeli policy changes related to the situation in the West Bank, including a halt to settlement construction, demolition of structures and prevention of Palestinian development in Area C. On Gaza, we must collectively work to alleviate the humanitarian disaster and provide full support to Egyptian reconciliation efforts. Our support to UNRWA also remains vital.

I also expressed hope that we will be able to look beyond the closed, dark negotiating rooms that are currently empty of diplomats and politicians, to see that there are Israeli and Palestinian advocates for peace working tirelessly to promote change: civil society organizations; youth and women’s groups; religious and community leaders – they all have a critical role to play and must be supported and allowed to express their views freely. We rarely discuss their role, we don’t speak often enough of the challenges they face, but their efforts must be recognized and supported.

At the Security Council we have often spoken of the need for leadership on both sides to reach a deal, a compromise, through negotiations that would allow Israelis and Palestinians to separate and be masters of their own fate. But these negotiations would not be negotiations between equals. For one side is under military occupation. Its leadership has committed to a peaceful solution to the conflict through negotiation. I urge the international community not to give up on support for the moderate Palestinian leadership or on building up the institutions that will increase the chances of success. Our window of opportunity is closing and, if we do not seize it quickly, the Israeli – Palestinian conflict will be engulfed in the whirlwind of religious radicalization that remains present in the region.

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.

#Palestinian parties must seize opportunity created by #Egypt for reconciliation

17/09/2017 Leave a comment

I welcome the recent statement by Hamas announcing the dissolving of the Administrative Committee in Gaza and agreement to allow the Government of National Consensus to assume its responsibilities in Gaza.

I commend 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.

The United Nations stands ready to assist all efforts in this respect. It is critical that the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza, most notably the crippling electricity crisis, be addressed as a priority.

Events in #Jerusalem could have catastrophic consequences across the #MiddleEast #UN

25/07/2017 7 comments

FullSizeRenderI spoke to the media after the extraordinary UN Secuirty Council discussion on the situation in Jerusalem. Here is what I said:

“I want to start by thanking the Chinese Presidency of the Security Council for accepting the request by Egypt, Sweden and France to have a discussion on the situation in Jerusalem before the open debate tomorrow. Allow me to say a few words about what I presented today to the Security Council.

Let me begin by once again calling on all parties to

refrain from provocative actions, show restraint, and find a solution.

It is extremely important that a solution to the current crisis be found by Friday this week as the dangers on the ground will escalate if we go through another cycle of Friday prayers without a resolution.

I asked Security Council Member States to use their influence with all sides in order to encourage them to de-escalate, to ensure that while security is provided for worshippers and visitors to the holy sites in Jerusalem, the status quo that has been established since 1967 is preserved for all.

It is critically important that

the status quo be preserved in Jerusalem,

and I want to welcome once again the assurances that Prime Minister Netanyahu has provided that Israel has no interest in changing it.

I encourage Israel to continue its intense contacts with Jordan, in light with the Hashemite Kingdom’s special and historic role in Jerusalem, to find a solution to the crisis.

I asked the Member States of the Security Council to unequivocally

condemn the violence of the last few days.

We have seen Palestinians being killed in clashes with Israeli security forces. We have seen an Israeli family being slaughtered in a terrorist attack in a settlement in the West Bank. All incidents deserve the full condemnation of the international community and our thoughts and prayers must go out to their families of the victims.

Jerusalem is perhaps one of the most critical cities in the world. It is an emotionally, religiously and historically charged place for billions of people. East Jerusalem is a final status issue that needs to be decided and negotiated between the two sides.

As the occupying power, Israel has a responsibility to uphold its obligations under International Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law, and must show maximum restraint in order to avoid further loss of life and an escalation of the situation.

At the same time, the Palestinian leadership also has a responsibility to avoid provocative actions and statements that further aggravate an already tense environment. I am particularly concerned by some statements that have been made by some Palestinian factions that seek to fan the flames of violence and I call on all to condemn such statements and actions.

Ahead of tomorrow, I hope that all Member States, when they speak at the open debate will be careful

to avoid statements that further inflame the situation

and to call on all parties to de-escalate and find a solution that is based on the status quo and the need to ensure security for all worshippers and visitors to the holy sites in Jerusalem.

In closing let me say that nobody should be mistaken that these events can be localized. In fact, they may be taking place over a couple of hundreds square meters in Jerusalem, but they affect hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people around the world. They have the potential to have catastrophic consequences well beyond the walls of the old city, well beyond Israel and Palestine, well beyond the Middle East itself.

This crisis, in fact any such crisis, is a step backwards. It is a step away from what we need to focus on and that is how to bring the parties back to a political process in order to find a solution that meets the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians; that is based on UN Security Council Resolutions and relevant international law; that is achieved through negotiations and that has the ultimate result of two states, which is what the international consensus on how to resolve this conflict requires.

It is critically important to also understand that these events take place at a time of political vacuum, at a time when the political perspective is still missing. This is why it is important for all of us to focus on restoring a political perspective, on helping bring Palestinians and Israelis back into an environment that is conducive to negotiations on a final status arrangement, and to do that in a manner that avoids turning that national Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a religious one.

Tomorrow I will return to Jerusalem and continue our direct engagement with all stakeholders in order to facilitate a quick end to this crisis and a return to the situation which would allow the status quo to be observed, as well as for people to have safe and secure access to the holy sites in Jerusalem.

Nickolay Mladenov (Special Coordinator) on the situation in the West Bank – Security Council Media Stakeout (24 July 2017)

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 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