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Posts Tagged ‘UN’

I condemn today’s #terror attack in #Jerusalem. Deplorable that #Hamas glorify such acts

09/10/2016 Leave a comment

jerusalem-shootingI condemn this morning’s terror attack by a Palestinian perpetrator in occupied East Jerusalem which killed two Israelis and injured six others. Nothing can justify such attacks.

My thoughts are with the families and friends of all victims and I hope for a full and speedy recovery of the wounded.

It is deplorable and unacceptable that Hamas and others choose to glorify such acts which undermine the possibility of a peaceful future for both Palestinians and Israelis

#WestBank demolitions reflect #Israel’s systematic policy of denying #Palestinian development

27/07/2016 1 comment
A boy walks past the rubble of a Palestinian house after it was demolished by Israeli troops in the West Bank village of Qalandia near Ramallah July 26, 2016. © Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

A boy walks past the rubble of a Palestinian house after it was demolished by Israeli troops in the West Bank village of Qalandia near Ramallah July 26, 2016. © Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

Two days ago, I issued a statement strongly condemning the advancement of plans for settlement units in Gilo and efforts to re-establish an outpost near Hebron. Since then, demolitions have taken place in Qalandiya and occupied East Jerusalem that reflect Israel’s systematic policy of denying Palestinian development in the occupied West Bank. This challenge was highlighted by the recently published Middle East Quartet Report which concluded that “the continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development, including the recent high rate of demolitions, is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution“.

For months the UN has been warning that there has been a significant increase in the number of Palestinian structures demolished across the West Bank. This was particularly visible in the first four months of 2016, with some 500 demolitions of Palestinian structures by the Israeli authorities and nearly 800 Palestinians displaced, more than in all of 2015. In East Jerusalem, 64 Palestinian structures were demolished from January to June of 2016. Vulnerable Bedouin and farming communities are most heavily impacted by these demolitions.

The United States, the Russian Federation, the EU and the UN, as part of the Middle East Quartet, jointly called on Israel “to cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development“. I reiterate this call as such actions are dangerously imperiling the two-state solution.

New #Duma arson attack; #Israel must ensure vulnerable #WestBank #Palestinian communities are protected

20/07/2016 2 comments

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-ATTACKI am concerned by reports of yet another arson attack on the home of the Dawabsha family last night in Duma in the occupied West Bank. If confirmed, this despicable act would be the third incident in this particular village in the last year.

Since the 31 July 2015 terrorist arson attack in which Jewish extremists torched the Dawabsha home, killing three family members and leaving four year-old Ahmed orphaned, indictments have been made, but the perpetrators of this terrible crime have yet to face justice. I call upon the authorities to move swiftly in bringing the perpetrators of this terrible crime, as well as this latest incident, to justice.

I also urge Israel, as the occupying power, to ensure that vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are protected in line with its obligations under international law.

It is time to to reverse the growing perception that the two-state solution is on life-support, slowly dying a death ‘by a thousand cut’

23/07/2015 Leave a comment
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UN Secuirty Council considers situation in the Middle East in open debate. UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Today I spoke at the Secuirty Council open debate on the Middle East. 46 countries had signed up to speak on a number of issues that relate to the situation in a region currently torn by religious radicalism, age-old sectarian rivalries and geopolitical realignments, one conflict has endured for over 65 years. Some see it as the core problem in the region; others dismiss it as unrelated to the current turmoil. Either way, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is increasingly entangled in the tectonic shifts of the Middle East. Given the region’s massive transformation, it is imperative — perhaps more than ever before — that a permanent settlement be found, based on the concept of two states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestine, living side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition.
In my remarks I noted that despite continuing security coordination in the West Bank, today the two sides are further apart from that goal than ever. Support for the two-state solution among both Palestinians and Israelis is fading away. The current situation on the ground is not sustainable as the two-state solution continues to be under threat including from settlement construction, security incidents, occupation-related violence, and lack of Palestinian unity.

In the absence of a political process, the rise of violent extremism and terrorism in the region present a danger as much to the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians for statehood, as to the security of Israel.

In the current environment of mistrust we in the international community must work with Israelis and Palestinians to create the conditions on the ground, regionally and internationally, that will facilitate a return to meaningful negotiations on the basis of an agreed framework and within a reasonable timeframe.

On the ground, both parties must undertake steps that demonstrate their continued commitment to a two-state solution, including through the implementation of existing agreements and by avoiding unilateral actions.

Advancing the two-state solution requires a fundamental change in policy with regard to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. I welcome the recent decision by Israel to add 8,000 new work permits for Palestinians from the West Bank, bringing the number of permits issued for employment in Israel to a new high of some 60,000. This and other similar initiatives should be sustained and expanded, while much more needs to be done for improving the quality of life for Palestinians.

Unilateral actions in the West Bank, including settlement construction, so-called legalisation of outposts, demolitions and evictions must stop.

While settlement expansion had slowed of late, planning for related infrastructure has not ceased. I am concerned by recent reports about the imminent approval of new residential units in the occupied West Bank. Such a decision will inevitably damage the prospects for peace and increase the risk for political escalation. I urge the Israeli authorities to reconsider this action. Settlements are illegal under international law and undermine the very essence and the viability of a future Palestinian state.

Meanwhile the Palestinian people rightly expect their leaders to act to advance unity and empower their government to take control of the border crossings in Gaza, implement civil service integration, pay public sector salaries and ensure that the governance framework between the West Bank and Gaza is integrated under a single authority. These efforts will pave the way for much delayed elections to take place.

I called on all Palestinian groups to avoid in-fighting and find common ground, on the basis of non-violence and reconciliation, to achieve national unity which is critical for a two-state solution.

The Secretary-General stands ready to work with the Security Council and our partners in the Middle East Quartet on a reinvigorated effort to create the conditions for the return to meaningful negotiations. In this context, I noted the proposed establishment of an international support group that could contribute to such efforts. In the past month, the Quartet envoys, as part of an active outreach effort, engaged constructively with Egypt, with Jordan and with the League of Arab States. I took the opportunity to encourage the leadership of Israel to endorse the Arab Peace Initiative as an important contribution to a resolution to the conflict.

July 8th marked the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Gaza’s painstaking emergence from last summer’s conflict is undermining belief among the population that genuine progress can be achieved. Activities of Salafi jihadists and other extremist groups are a cause for concern not only in Gaza, but also in neighboring Sinai, where there are reports of their active support for militants on the Egyptian side of the border.

On 18 July, six cars were blown up in Gaza city. Palestinian Salafi militants launched a rocket at Israel on 16 July, which exploded in an open area near Ashkelon. In response, Israel conducted four airstrikes against militant infrastructure targets in Gaza. Militants also fired a rocket from the Sinai on 3 July, which landed in Israel across the Egyptian border, highlighting the potential for violence in the Sinai to expand beyond Egypt’s borders.

The Secretary-General calls on all actors in Gaza to provide information as to the possible whereabouts and conditions of two Israeli civilians who had entered Gaza sometime over the past year and remain unaccounted for, as well as to take prompt action to facilitate their safe return to their families.

These, and other incidents, underscore the fragile dynamics within Gaza that – without positive change – will continue to provide fertile ground for extremism to flourish.

Last month, the Palestinian Authority and Israel reached a welcome agreement on a new mechanism to allow Palestinians in Gaza access to construction material for the reconstruction of fully destroyed homes and for new construction. Close to 700 families have already been cleared and over 160 of these have purchased the required construction materials.

Given this positive development, I took this opportunity to once again, urge donors to fulfill their pledges, in particular those allocated to housing construction and to addressing Gaza’s urgent energy and water needs.

I also welcomed recent agreement to install an additional scanner for containers at the Kerem Shalom crossing. This should enable a substantial increase in exports from and imports into Gaza.

The lifting of the Gaza closures within the framework of Un Security Council has resolution 1860 (2009) remains an important objective of the United Nations. Absent this, the UN continues to work with the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to support vital efforts to rebuild the lives of people in Gaza.

Turning to the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, while the frequency of security incidents decreased compared to last month, the situation has remained tense.

Israeli security forces conducted some 186 search-and-arrest operations, resulting in the arrest of some 300 Palestinians. Meanwhile Palestinian security forces also arrested over 100 people in the West Bank. I continue to be concerned by the situation of Palestinian prisoners, including those on hunger strike, held in Israel. All held in administrative detention should be promptly charged and tried in a court of law, or released without delay.

In total, 50 Palestinians were injured, and four were shot and killed by Israeli security forces, including two at checkpoints near Nablus and Ramallah. Two members of the Israeli security forces were stabbed and injured, one seriously.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli civilians in the West Bank also continued, resulting in the death of one Israeli and injury to eight Israelis and nine Palestinians, including one child.

Just as such incidents contribute to the lack of hope and anger which feed a continuing cycle of violence and highlight the imperative to seek a resolution to this conflict, so too do the demolitions and displacement in the West Bank.

On 12 July, Israel announced that it would seek to execute demolition orders of structures in the Palestinian village of Susiya in Area C. This comes ahead of a court hearing, scheduled for 3 August, on a directly related planning-approval process. The Secretary-General joins the United States and the European Union in expressing his deep concern about the demolition and displacement plans for Susiya. Earlier today my Deputy Special Coordinator visited the community. We hope that the ongoing dialogue between Israeli authorities and the herding community will protect the rights of the persons affected.

Against this backdrop intra-Palestinian talks to form a national unity government have faltered. I noted the efforts of President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah to reshuffle the current government and called on them to proceed without delay to appointing the new ministers.

The reshuffling comes at a particularly sensitive time as the Palestinian Authority faces significant financial challenges, including a budget deficit of some $500 million for 2015. This gap cannot be closed through fiscal measures alone, and I urged donors to rapidly scale up their direct budget support. In this respect, it is also important to revive the functioning of the Israeli-Palestinian joint economic committee.

While first and foremost it is up to the Palestinian authorities to take the lead, the UN stands ready to support the President, the Government and all factions in their efforts to reunite the West Bank and Gaza, in line with the intra-Palestinian unity agreement of 23 April 2014.

Palestine is one and the UN will work determinedly to advance unity through its legitimate institutions.

At the end of my presentation I tured to the rest of the region and noted that the UN’s broad engagement continued during the reporting period. Following consultations with Syrian, regional and international parties, next week the Secretary-General and Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will be briefing the Security Council on their recommendations for moving the political track forward.

In Yemen, Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed extends his good offices with all parties to restart negotiations on a political transition.

In Libya, the UN remains engaged in facilitating talks aimed at ending the current political and security crisis through the formation of a Government of National Accord.

In Iraq, the UN is working to promote political dialogue in the hopes of encouraging national reconciliation.

In Lebanon, Mr. President, concerns grow that political differences are preventing the effective functioning of state institutions, despite Prime Minister Salam’s commendable efforts to run government. There has been no progress in efforts to end the Presidential vacuum. The Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag continues to urge Lebanon’s leaders to put the country’s stability and national interests ahead of partisan politics and elect a President without further delay.

Meanwhile, the situation along the Lebanese border with Syria has remained stable, with the Lebanese Armed Forces continuing their operations to prevent the infiltration of armed extremist groups from Syria. In the south, the situation along the blue line has remained generally calm, despite almost daily Israeli overflights over Lebanese territory. We encouraged both parties to continue to make effective use of UNIFIL’s liaison and coordination mechanisms.

I spoke of my deep concerned about UNRWA’s current unprecedented financial crisis. If the current gap of USD 100 million is not closed in the next weeks there is a serious risk that UNRWA schools, which educate 500,000 children throughout the Middle East, will not open. This will have grave implications for Palestine refugee children in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, and for the stability and security of a region already in turmoil.

I strongly urged donors to step up their support for UNRWA at this critical time.

Turning back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I reiterated our collective resolve to prevent a further deterioration of the situation; to uphold the two-state solution; and to create the conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas recently spoke and reaffirmed their desire for peace. This is a welcome sign. But words need to be translated into concrete and sustained actions on the ground.

But I was also abundantly clear: measures undertaken to improve the situation must not be considered an end unto themselves but part of a broader political framework with the goal of achieving a final status agreement.

Now is the time to act decisively, to act in order to reverse the growing perception that the two-state solution is on life-support, slowly dying a death “by a thousand cuts”.

A comprehensive agreement will require committed engagement with key Arab states, including through the Arab Peace Initiative.

The Secretary-General stands ready to support both sides in order to overcome their divisions and to rise to the challenge of forging a path forward towards a peaceful future.

In closing, I place on record my deep appreciation for the support that the Security Council and the Secretariat have given to the excellent UNSCO team on the ground.

I also welcomeed Mr. Robert Piper of Australia as the new Deputy Special Coordinator who will also serve as the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

#Children are not #soldiers @UNSCO_MEPP

11/06/2015 1 comment

Children sitting on top of the ruins of their bedroom in Gaza.

On 8 June, the UN Secretary General published a much anticipated report on Children and Armed Conflict in 2014. Last year saw unprecedented challenges for the protection of tens of millions of children growing up in countries affected by conflict. In Iraq and Syria, over one thousand girls and boys were abducted by ISIL. In one incident in Syria, ISIL abducted approximately 150 young boys on their way home from school exams in Aleppo. It also issued a document justifying the sexual slavery of Yezidi girls abducted in Iraq. In Nigeria, Boko Haram abducted hundreds of girls.

This period was particularly devastating for children in the State of Palestine. The report clearly shows that the Secretary-General is deeply alarmed by the dramatic increase in the number of children killed and injured in the occupied Palestinian territory, where last year 557 children lost their lives. This is the third highest number of children killed in the world after Afghanistan (710) and Iraq (679). No parent should have to bury his or her child, no family should be deprived of the laughter and joy of their children. Behind each of these shocking numbers lies a human tragedy and our prayers and thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their loved ones.

The occupation continues to affect the lives of children on all sides of the conflict. Mohammed, aged 6, and his brother Amir, aged 12, were killed by a drone missile outside their house in Rafah. Daniel, aged 4, was killed by indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. Both families, Palestinian and Israeli, grieve equally for their children.

One child killed is one child too many…

Sadly, in 2014 children have borne the brunt of the third major military offensive in Gaza in six years. The number of Palestinian child casualties in this latest conflict exceeds the combined number killed during the two previous escalations. In the 50 days between 8 July and 26 August, at least 540 Palestinian children were killed (70 per cent of them under 12), and at least 2,955 Palestinian children were injured; preliminary estimates indicate that up to 1,000 of them will be permanently disabled.

In the West Bank, 13 Palestinian boys, aged 11 to 17 years, lost their lives. On 15 May 2014, two Palestinian boys were shot and killed with live ammunition during clashes with Israeli soldiers near Beituniya Checkpoint. Reports indicate that they did not appear to pose a lethal threat. One month later three Israeli youths were abducted. Their bodies were later found near Halhul in northern Hebron. Most shockingly, almost exactly one year ago Muhammad Abu Khudair was burned alive in an apparent revenge attack for the kidnapping and killing of the Israeli youths. Three Israeli civilians were arrested and charged, including two under the age of 18 years. Of the 1,218 children injured in the West Bank, more than half were under age 12, and 91 per cent were injured during confrontations in Hebron and East Jerusalem.

Children are not soldiers

It is painful to even write these words and these numbers and to think of the devastation wrought upon thousands of families. Children are not soldiers and they should be protected from violence. It does not matter where they live, their lives are equally precious. Their schools should not be put at risk by hiding weapons in them, nor should they be bombed; they should not be recruited to fight, nor should they be abused, threatened or killed.

The report makes unmistakably clear how angry the United Nations Secretary-General is with what happened to the children of Gaza last year. The report is more than just a list, it should be read in its entirety. The UN continues to monitor and document the situation in Palestine and Israel and for many years we have been concerned about the impact of the conflict on children there. This concern is growing.

The staggering number of children killed in Gaza last year cannot remain without consequence. The Secretary-General has issued a very strong call on Israel to take concrete and immediate steps to protect and prevent the killing and maiming of children, including through the review of existing policies and practices and by ensuring accountability for perpetrators of alleged violations. He has also firmly warned that all parties that engage in military action which results in grave violations against children, regardless of intent, will be subject to continued United Nations scrutiny, including through the reporting and listing mechanism established by the Security Council. The Israeli and the Palestinian authorities have an obligation to ensure that allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are promptly, effectively, independently, and impartially investigated, and that those responsible are brought to justice.

By publishing the report, the UN aims to raise global awareness of the violations and to ensure the accountability of all parties whose actions are documented in the report – with the ultimate aim to stop and prevent human rights violations against children. The shocking facts presented in the report speak for themselves. They are an affront to our collective conscience. In the occupied Palestinian territory, people look to the international community to expend every effort to bring about a just peace on the basis of a two-state solution where Palestine and Israel live side by side in peace and security. It is our responsibility to make this happen so that the children of these lands have the future they are entitled to.

The Arabic version of the article was published in Arabic in Al-Quds Newspaper on June 11th 2015

UN to explore “realistic options” for a return to negotiations

20/05/2015 Leave a comment
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“Both parties must expend every effort to build upon existing agreements, including relevant Security Council resolutions, the Roadmap and the Arab Peace Initiative, to gain momentum towards a final status agreement”

On May 19th I presented my first report to the Security Council in my new capacity as the Secretary General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process and Personal Envoy to the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. The presentation was followed by closed consultations.

I started by thanking Palestinian President Abbas and his Government for their warm welcome and genuine interest in working with the United Nations in advancing the just cause of peace. I also expressed my gratitude to the Government of Israel for their warm reception and for engaging on a host of important issues related to the situation on the ground.

Since taking up my assignment, I have engaged with the Palestinian and Israeli leadership; with political, civil society and business stakeholders in the West Bank and Gaza; and with key partners in Egypt and Jordan in order to begin developing a better understanding of the reality on the ground and the prospects for the future.

The Middle East faces a vicious tide of terror and extremism that presents a dangerous challenge to the region, and to international peace and security.

However, the inability to respond, for over 60 years, both on the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state and to Israel’s quest for security, has fuelled a situation that is becoming more dangerous by the day.

Generations of Palestinians and Israelis have come to realise that sustainable and just peace cannot be reached through conflict, but must be the result of negotiations. Thousands of people have died so that today we may hold this truth – that peace cannot be achieved through violence, but at the negotiating table, to be self-evident.

This hard-earned belief in peace and negotiations must not be allowed to wither away. If it does, it can further destabilise the Middle East for decades. To save it, to give hope back to people, we must act to advance the prospect of a two-state solution: Israel and Palestine – living side-by-side in peace and security.

How to do that is not an academic question, but one that must be addressed by the parties on the ground, by the international community, and by the United Nations.

I do not underestimate the difficult decisions that both parties will have to take. Nor should we underestimate the domestic challenges that Israeli and Palestinian leaders alike will have to overcome. The region is facing complicated security threats. However, it is precisely because of the dangers that lurk in the Middle East today that both sides must show historic leadership and personal commitment to peace and negotiations.

I called on the new Government of Israel to take credible steps, including a freeze of settlement activity, in order to promote the resumption of meaningful negotiations.Continued security cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli authorities remains a cornerstone of a peaceful resolution.

Continued security cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli authorities remains a cornerstone of a peaceful resolution.

Both parties must expend every effort to build upon existing agreements, including relevant Security Council resolutions, the Roadmap and the Arab Peace Initiative, to gain momentum towards a final status agreement.

The Secretary-General stands ready to work with all in order to encourage a return to negotiations, on the basis of an agreed framework.

On 14 May, the Israeli Knesset confirmed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s new coalition government. Its guidelines state that it will “strive for peace with the Palestinians and all our neighbours, while safeguarding the security, historical and national interests of Israel.”

The Secretary-General and I will be engaging the new Government to explore realistic options for a return to meaningful negotiations towards a two-State solution within a reasonable timeframe. However, this goal is increasingly threatened by actions that exacerbate the divisions between the sides.

We are deeply concerned to see the advancement of settlement activities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank on three occasions this past month. On 14 May, tenders were issued for 85 housing units in Givat Ze’ev, south of Ramallah. On 6 May, the District Planning and Building Committee approved permits for 400 new residential units in the settlement of Ramat Shlomo, and, on 27 April, 77 tenders were issued for residential units in two other East Jerusalem settlements.

These announcements come at a sensitive time in which the international community is looking to Israel to demonstrate its readiness to engage with the Palestinians on building peace. There should be no illusions about the impact of these unilateral actions. They not only undermine the collective hopes of those longing for a just resolution of the conflict, but they again call into question the viability of achieving peace based on the vision of two States.

Settlement activity is illegal under international law and I urge the new Israeli Government to reverse these decisions and refrain from further such action.

In the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, tensions continued as Israeli security forces conducted some 265 search-and-arrest operations, resulting in the arrest of 294 Palestinians. In separate incidents in late April, three Palestinian men, including a 17-year-old boy, were shot and killed after reportedly stabbing and injuring Israeli security officers at checkpoints in Hebron and Ma’ale Adumin. On 25 April, a Palestinian man was suspected of intentionally ramming his car into a group of Israeli policemen in East Jerusalem, resulting in four injured. On 11 May, an Israeli was injured in a reported stabbing attack near a West Bank checkpoint. And on 14 May, three Israeli youths were struck by a car driven by a Palestinian man in Gush Etzion.

In the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, tensions continued as Israeli security forces conducted some 265 search-and-arrest operations, resulting in the arrest of 294 Palestinians. In separate incidents in late April, three Palestinian men, including a 17-year-old boy, were shot and killed after reportedly stabbing and injuring Israeli security officers at checkpoints in Hebron and Ma’ale Adumin. On 25 April, a Palestinian man was suspected of intentionally ramming his car into a group of Israeli policemen in East Jerusalem, resulting in four injured. On 11 May, an Israeli was injured in a reported stabbing attack near a West Bank checkpoint. And on 14 May, three Israeli youths were struck by a car driven by a Palestinian man in Gush Etzion.

Despite repeated objections, the Israeli government continues to demolish Palestinian homes and structures. During the reporting period, a total of 15 structures, which contained 33 residences, were demolished leading to the displacement of 25 Palestinians, including 14 children. On 4 May, the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected a request by Palestinians from the Area C village of Susiya to freeze demolitions in the village. And on 10 May an Israeli court ordered the demolition of eight buildings in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Semiramis. The United Nations, once again, urges Israel to cease such demolitions and displacements.

The United Nations also remains concerned about the recent moves to relocate Bedouin communities near Abu Nwar in the politically sensitive E1 section of the West Bank that may be linked to further settlement construction.

Turning to Gaza, I cannot but recall the shock of my first brief tour of the destruction of the Shujaiya neighbourhood.

No one can remain untouched by the scale of devastation, the slow pace of reconstruction, and the vast needs to rebuild lives and livelihoods in Gaza.

Gaza is desperate and angry. Angry at the blockade, at the closure of Rafah, at Hamas, including for imposing a ‘solidarity tax’, at the donors for not honouring their financial commitments for reconstruction, at everyone. There is a clear moral and humanitarian imperative not just for the United Nations and the international community, but primarily for the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to prevent the implosion of Gaza. I particularly call on the factions on the ground to ensure that Gaza remains peaceful.

Despite the fact that the agreed cease-fire, brokered by Egypt, continues to hold, some security incidents have persisted during the reporting period. Three rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza on 23 April, with one exploding in an open area in Israel while the other two dropped short and exploded inside Gaza; on 3 May, militants fired another rocket which impacted inside Gaza near the security fence; Palestinian militants also test fired 19 rockets at the sea. Thankfully, no injuries or damage were reported in any of these incidents, which we condemn. In response to the rocket firing, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) conducted an air strike in Gaza damaging a Hamas military site but also not resulting in casualties. IDF also reportedly shot and injured nine Palestinians in Gaza: three fishermen whose boats were fired upon by the Israeli navy and six Palestinians, shot while approaching the Gaza border fence. Three militants were also killed in separate incidents where smuggling tunnels collapsed.

Without genuine Palestinian reconciliation and unity, all efforts to improve the situation in Gaza will face major difficulties. On 19 April, a delegation of Palestinian ministers travelled to Gaza to begin a process to reintegrate public sector employees, tens of thousands of whom have not received salaries for over a year. Discussions, however, broke down the following day.

Despite this setback, I welcome the determination of Prime Minister Hamdallah and his efforts to find a solution to the problem of public sector employees in Gaza. His commitment that no one will be left behind is an important guarantee. I encourage all factions to support these efforts. The United Nations stands ready to work with all stakeholders and support the Government in mobilising the necessary resources for this process.

A comprehensive reconciliation must include the Government of National Consensus resuming control over the crossings to Israel and Egypt. This is key to allowing more movement of goods and people and to the eventual reopening the crossings. It should also pave the way for the long overdue Palestinian general elections. The responsibility for addressing these issues lies first and foremost with the Palestinian authorities. But it also partly rests with the United Nations and the international community, which must empower the Government to take up its leadership role in Gaza, including through the fulfilment of donor pledges made at the Cairo conference last October.

No approach which divides Gaza and the West Bank should be supported – Palestine is one and the United Nations will work determinedly to advance unity through its legitimate institutions. 

The United Nations ultimate objective in Gaza is to see the lifting of all closures, within the framework of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009). In the absence of such a fundamental change, the temporary Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism is the only currently available option to facilitate the entry of material and to enable implementation of large-scale projects that can bring reconstruction, jobs and stability.

I can report that, as of 19 May, close to 85,000 of the 100,000 households in need of construction materials to repair their homes have received materials. In addition, 85 out of 167 projects submitted and funded by the international community and the private sector have been approved, eight of which are currently underway.

These are positive developments, but far from sufficient to address Gaza’s reconstruction needs. The United Nations is working closely with the Israeli Ministry of Defence’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, with the Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs and donors to finalise arrangements to speed up construction. I take the opportunity to thank all counterparts for their constructive engagement on these matters.

Turning briefly to Lebanon, Special Coordinator Kaag and members of the International Support Group for Lebanon met today in Beirut with Prime Minister Tamam Salam to discuss the current situation in Lebanon.

As of 25 May, the country will have been without a President for one year.

This vacuum undermines Lebanon’s ability to address the challenges it faces and jeopardises the functioning of State institutions. Members of Parliament should fulfil their constitutional obligation to elect a President without further delay.

With almost 1.2 million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon forming the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world, we again call on the international community to urgently fulfil existing pledges and increase and expedite support to Lebanon as a matter of priority. It is important that the Government and United Nations counterparts work together to promote effective management of the refugee presence in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.

The Lebanese-Syrian border remains impacted by incidents and infiltration attempts of armed extremist groups, particularly as a result of the fighting in the Qalamoun region. The Lebanese Armed Forces have committed considerable efforts to secure the border with support from the international community. On 20 April, Lebanon received its first shipment of military equipment from France financed by the $3 billion grant from Saudi Arabia. This and other contributions by Member States are both necessary and welcome.

UNIFIL’s area of operations has remained generally calm, despite the volatile situation in the Golan Heights. In their ongoing engagement with UNIFIL, both parties maintained their commitment to the cessation of hostilities and the stability of the Blue Line. Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace continued on an almost daily basis.

On the Golan, clashes occurred between the Syrian armed forces and armed members of the opposition, as well as heavy fighting between different armed groups in the area of separation. Between 24 April and 5 May, fire from the Bravo side, as a result of such fighting, impacted across the ceasefire line. On 24 April, an IDF Missile Launching Unit fired four missiles eastwards, one of which crossed the ceasefire line. On 26 April, the IDF informed UNDOF that four persons carrying equipment had crossed the ceasefire line from the Bravo side and had been killed by the IDF as they approached the technical fence. These developments have the potential to heighten tensions and jeopardise the ceasefire between the two countries.

In conclusion, let me return to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the coming period will be critical to the future of the peace process. The United Nations has repeatedly warned that maintaining the status quo is not tenable. It will inexorably lead to the continued erosion of living conditions for Palestinians and Israelis alike, and will undermine the security and stability of all.

My introductory meetings clearly demonstrated that, despite the prolonged absence of a political horizon, despite the sometimes poisonous rhetoric of incitement and the destructive actions of those seeking to undermine a return to talks, there remains a steadfast desire and determination to achieve an enduring agreement.

Any resolution will need a comprehensive regional solution, conceivably with support from a reinvigorated Quartet that includes greater engagement with key Arab states. While the international community, however, has a critical responsibility to support a peace process, a lasting solution can only be achieved by the parties themselves.

The UN’s man in Baghdad

03/04/2015 Leave a comment

maldenov-largeOriginally published by the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.

FLETCHER FORUM: How did your experience as the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, and even further back, as a staff member with the Open Society Foundation and National Democratic Institute (NDI), shape your view of your time in Iraq

NIKOLAY MLADENOV: It all started in 2006, when I went to Iraq for the first time. I was working with NDI on what looked like a short-term project to the newly elected Council of Representatives set up their parliamentary committees. We really started from scratch. We started from zero.

I borrowed heavily on my own experience from back home. Between 2001 and 2005 I was a Member of Bulgaria’s Parliament, I had been a young MP who had gone through training too. It was fascinating to work with the Iraqis, they were all eager to learn. I ended up writing two booklets on committee works and the role of MPs. Both, I think, were used extensively later by NDI and reprinted.

The year 2006 was probably the worst time in Iraq. We had twenty to thirty rockets per day targeting the parts of Baghdad and the Green Zone every day. It was really unsafe. The difficult time however brought us all together and I started developing strong relationships with many Iraqis. The people I worked with were inspiring. They braved the security threats and day after day came to work to build their new country. Some, if not all, were not sure if they would get back to their families at the end of the day. It was a tough time.

After leaving my Iraq project I went home and delved back into Bulgarian politics. In early 2007 I was elected to the European Parliament, but Iraq stayed with me. I joined up with fellow MEPs and we set up the Iraq Group in the European Parliament.

I think what all of this has really taught me, and I’ve tried to use it now with the UN, is that you have to always be very practical and very specific when looking how to help a country in transition. Stay away from generalities, broad analysis and guidance but try to identify actionable items and specific policies. I guess when you speak from your own experience, having gone from dictatorship to democracy, that gives you more credibility to have that type of a discussion.

I’ve tried very much in the UN to be practical. Iraq faces massive problems, but because of the violence and the difficulties of transition, people don’t often enough look beyond their own plate. Many other countries have gone through great difficulties and been able to come through. Maybe somewhere out there, there’s a solution that they ought to consider. For me, one of the roles the UN can play is to bring that international experience, knowledge to people in Iraq. One of our roles should be exactly that — to help Iraq see that its not alone, that there is knowledge and experience out there in dealing with the tough problems of today and to help people use that to their own benefit.

FLETCHER FORUM: Where were you last summer on the day when you heard that fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIL) had taken Mosul?

MLADENOV: In the Prime Minister’s office telling him that ISIL would take over Mosul. On the 9th of June, in the morning.

We had been monitoring Mosul and Nineveh for a long time, and it was very clear that ISIL had been for months “harvesting” the city: kidnappings, assassinations of government officials and local council members. Nineveh is the only province in Iraq where practically every single elected official throughout the whole province had been kidnapped, killed, or chased away from their offices in some way.

The whole government infrastructure had been challenged at every single level by ISIL. At the end of May, early June, it was very clear that large numbers of fighters were coming across from the border of Syria and that they would make a push for Mosul. Our security analysis was that the city would not hold and would collapse under this pressure.

On the morning of the ninth of June, I went to see Prime Minister Maliki with a very big map saying, ‘look, this is our security analysis. The city will fall.” What we could not have foreseen was what would happen after that. What we believed would happen was a fight that might last for a few days and then perhaps the city would fall, like Falujjar earlier in the year. But we had no way of seeing that the Iraqi Army between Mosul and Baghdad, within 48 hours would melt away effectively without a fight.

My advice to the government was to strengthen the Iraqi army, but as an immediate priority to begin cooperating with the Kurdish Peshmerga. We could have helped find an arrangement to guarantee that the disputed territories would not be taken over by one side or the other. This cooperation was vital however if Mosul were to stand a chance. We had shared this analysis with the Kurds before, and they had also been in touch with the Prime Minister before the fall of Mosul to warn him too.

The Prime Minister saw things differently. I think it was about 3 A.M. on the 10th of June when I got a call saying, “it’s happening. The city has fallen, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing, and the Kurds are moving in to get involved.” By the next morning we could see this meltdown of the Iraqi Army all the way to Baghdad. After that things unfolded very quickly, we had to relocate most of the UN staff from Baghdad to other places because we didn’t know whether Baghdad would hold and I urgently briefed the Security Council on the situation on the ground.

FLETCHER FORUM: What was your initial reaction? What was Prime Minister Maliki’s reaction to the both the initial meeting and the 3 A.M. phone call?

MLADENOV: That 3 A.M. phone call came from the Iraqi security forces, but I think at that point they were scrambling to do whatever they could to hold on to Baghdad and to protect Samarra, which was the next city exposed to ISIL and the location of a big Shia shrine. If Samarra had fallen, or a big fight had occurred there, then it would have really been a sectarian conflict. Thankfully, Baghdad and the south of the country were preserved.

In that meltdown however ISIL gained not only territory, but access to vast amounts of weapons, old and cash. According to Government sources the Central Bank in Mosul had some $450 million in their coffers. They had control of almost the entire border between Iraq and Syria so that they could easily transfer people to Anbar, Nineveh. The myth that ISIL is invincible however was created not by their victories on the ground, but by the meltdown of the Iraqi Army. ISIL didn’t battle their way to the gates of Baghdad, they walked their way down to Baghdad.

FLETCHER FORUM: Not long after ISIL’s advance, negotiations over the formation of a new government in Iraq kicked into high gear. Here in the U.S. there were a lot of news reports about the haggling and whether or not Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would step down. Could you walk us through those weeks and tell us what the environment was like? What were people thinking? What were you thinking?

MLADENOV: If you go back to before the elections, there was speculation that the election would not take place. People were saying [Maliki] would postpone the election or find a way to not hold it. In fact he always adamantly denied such accusations and to his credit, he never tried to stop the election. When the election results came in, I think everyone was surprised for different reasons.

To me the election results had two pieces of good news in it. One, you had over sixty-two percent of Iraqis come out to vote, which is a pretty high turnout given the security environment. Secondly, no political party was even close to a majority. The message from the electorate was clear: ‘We are not going to give one person or one group the full mandate to run the country, we want you all to coalesce and save the country together.’

To me that was the reading of the election results. What followed was a typical debate about what happens next. Should they do what they did in 2009, when the spent almost a year negotiating a grand deal for the formation of a government? There were people saying that Iraq needed a grand deal. That they need to agree on who will be the Prime Minister, the President, the Speaker of Parliament, and once we have that done, they we can take it to a vote in Parliament and move forward.

Then there were others, and this was the UN line, that said ‘no, you have a Constitution and you have to base everything you do on it and its timeframe. If you do this grand deal thing you’re not really acting according to the Constitution, as it has clear timeline. You have to convene Parliament, elect a Speaker, elect a President and he should nominate a Prime Minister’.

I’ll admit that we pushed very hard with everybody trying to convince them that this is the way to go forward. And the logic behind it was that in an environment in which you have ISIL on the doorstep and the Army collapsing, people need to see the institutions of state working. Sticking to the constitutional timeline is the best option. If they had failed to do that, the message would have been one of complete chaos. People would have seen politicians squabbling over positions while the country is in a free fall. Abiding by the constitutional timelines was the legitimate response.

Thankfully, most agreed with this approach and the first session of the newly elected parliament was held on time with only a couple of days delay. Then the Speaker was elected, then the President was elected. Once that had been put in place the question came to who will the Prime Minister. Then there was another internal debate about who would constitute the largest group in Parliament, because the largest group gets to nominate the Prime Minister. This was an important step before the nomination of Mr. Abadi. Once he was nominated by the President, it was clear that the goal would be to have a government of national unity.

FLETCHER FORUM: Going back to this idea of national unity, when the Iraqi electorate is indicating that they don’t want any one segment of Iraq to take over, what is the role of leadership in this situation to create a more inclusive process?

MLADENOV: Leadership is extremely important. It’s not just political leadership. In all my statement I always referred to political, religious and civil leaders as they all had a role to play to bring the country together.

In Iraq, and Iraq is not unique in this sense, you have different authorities. You have the political authorities—the people that have their parties and lead their followers, define their platforms. You have the religious leaders, more specifically in Iraq and particularly within the Shia community, you have the Marja in Najaf that have a very strong moral guiding function within the Shia community. And then you have local tribes and leaders.

For agreement to be reached you need all of these leaders together on the same message. Before the elections it was quite common to see the Prime Minister talk about one thing, the President talk about something else, and the Speaker of Parliament talk about a third thing. And then the religious authorities would also get lost in this cacophony.

Now, I think one of the most encouraging developments is that you see all of these people coalesce around a similar message. Yes, they all still have their differences, but the message that they need to be united, to stand up to this terrorist threat, to rebuild their country, that they cannot have one community dominate everything and there needs to be a balance. This is the core of the political message that can hep save and rebuild the country.

In Iraq the leadership of Ayatollah Sistani is extremely important for the Shia community, I can’t overstate how important it is. Then with the tribal leaders you need to be careful because there are many different tribal elders and you need to work with a broader number of people. On the political side you have a very different picture.

If you look the Kurdish side of the equation, you know who the leaders of the parties are, you know the power that they wield within their community and understand how that works. Within the Shia community you can also see the political leadership. But the really tough challenge is the leadership within the Sunni community, because over the years it has broken into different groups and then with ISIL taking over their provinces, many of these Sunni political leaders in Baghdad really struggle because they are put between a rock and a hard place. Their constituency is gone because it’s under ISIL’s control, yet they have to fight for that constituency in Parliament. There is a leadership issue there that needs to be addressed somehow.

FLETCHER FORUM: In the lead up to ISIL’s advances in Iraq, there was a lot of dissatisfaction within the Iraqi Army. How do you think the difficulties of creating inclusive institutions to strengthening the Iraqi Army today?

MLADENOV: That’s one of the most fascinating topics and a very long discussion. If you go back to the very beginning in 2003, everyone focuses on Paul Bremer’s decision to dissolve the army and police. That was the wrong decision and we all pretty much accept that, but after that there was a period of time that the Sunni Iraqi community was refusing to be a part of the new democratic political establishment in Iraq. They were boycotting politics and staying away. That to some extent prevented Sunnis from joining the new Iraqi Army, the political process, or the institutions.

This helped create the environment in which the Shia from the south started dominating the rank and file of the army. They themselves had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein and they saw democracy as a tool to guarantee that they will never be in a position of weakness again. Some of the militias, Badr’s in particular, were integrated into the police or the army. The end result today is that Iraqi Sunnis have a leadership problem, while the state institutions dealing with security in particular, are dominated by the Shia community.  There needs to be a balance if Iraq is to live in peace.

Then you had the de-Baathification laws. The affected all members of Saddam’s Baath party, including military officers. Over time some have been brought back in, however the process reeked of favoritism and lacked transparency. Coming back to Mosul, you had a big disconnect between the servicemen in the army—mostly Shia from the South, and officers and generals who had either joined the army recently or beloved to Saddam’s regime and had ‘adapted’ to the new reality. Not a very bright picture, right?

Ideologically the Iraqi army never developed a strong national base of what they were fighting for or what they were defending. Loyalty to the community, to the tribe was stronger than loyalty to the state. Corruption was everywhere. Money was getting lost and weapons were not being delivered. Living conditions for the soldiers were appalling. All of this had a demoralizing effect on the rank and file. And then when you see the enemy across the river and coming for you, and you see your generals say, “I’m going home,” everybody just left. That is what happens when you don’t have a strong esprit de corps holding the armed forces together.

The big challenge now is not to reconstruct the Iraqi army in the old way, but to reconstruct it on a truly national basis. This will take time, it will be slow and difficult. To succeed you need to go back to politics and prove that the government is inclusive, that is doing the right things and is engaging everybody and communities are not feeling marginalized. That message from the top of the country will inevitably get down to the rank and file and people will feel safe to join that army. But it will take time.

FLETCHER FORUM: What is the most important lesson on state building from your time in Iraq that you would impart to the person who takes on that role next for the UN?

MLADENOV: Many, many lessons. Where do I start? Its not your country, you can help, but you can’t do it for them. If you try and take decisions instead of allowing local people to take decisions, even when you know they are wrong, you will mess things up. Advise, help, give options, argue, encourage… but don’t try to do it for them. It’s their country and their ways. All we can do is help, but they have to take responsibility. This is the really big lesson.

The second thing is to bring in as much international experience as you can. At the end of the day, you are dealing with people who have for generations lived in some sort of war and dictatorship: Saddam Hussein, 1979, war with Iran, Kuwait, the first Gulf War, sanctions, the second Gulf War, terrorism, sectarianism, etc. Generations have grown up in this environment. You really need to help open people’s minds and show them the experience of other places and what’s been done elsewhere.

When you think about any issue related to minorities in Iraq, leave aside ISIL, you can just look Europe and you’ve got thousands of examples from country to country. And if you look into the details, you will find something that might work. Or at least it will give them ideas to look into, how about this or how about that?