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Some parting thoughts as I leave the post of #UN Special Coordinator for the #MiddleEast Peace Process

21/12/2020 2 comments

Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs have lived with conflict for too long. The painful reality of their struggle has affected every single family for generations. Loss and displacement is part of the personal history of every single household. Palestinians have been upended from their homes, forced to seek refuge across the region. Jews have been upended from across the region, forced to seek refuge in Israel. This conflict is not just a conflict over land, for both peoples have the right to call Israel and Palestine their home. It is not only a conflict over history – personal and collective.

It is a conflict over the very right of two nations to co-exist.

In 1994, the leaders of Israel and the PLO agreed on something that has rarely been done in the troubled history of the Middle East – they agreed to end the conflict not through war, not by declaring one side a winner and the other side a loser, but through peaceful negotiations. Surely that was not an easy decision. It was a decision that faced opposition from all sides. Yet it was a decision that was so bold, so visionary, so fragile that the international community came together immediately to protect it, to nurture it and to help them advance it. 

Sadly, today that vision remains unachieved. It is a vision that has been marred by intifadas, continuing occupation and rapidly diminishing will to reach an agreement that is just and sustainable. Over the course of the past five years, I have met almost no Palestinian who doesn’t believe that negotiations are only a façade for the loss of more land. Neither have I met an Israeli who does not believe that every round of negotiations will lead to more violence and terror. 

My Security Council briefings serve as a testament to the situation on the ground.

As I depart from this office, I remain firmly convinced that the world cannot leave the situation unattended. The UN Security Council has over the years passed a set of resolutions speaking to key aspects of how the conflict can be resolved. Bilateral agreements have been signed and ratified. The Middle East Quartet has been created. In the last two years, the U.S. has put forward a vision, albeit different from the broad consensus in this Council. Despite the differences, no one in the international community has questioned the foundation that any resolution of the conflict must be based on two-States, with the appropriate security and economic arrangements, achieved through direct negotiations and facilitated by the international community.

For all our collective efforts, the only way forward out of the one-State reality that we increasingly face on the ground is through engagement between the parties and not through violence. 

Perhaps today is not the time for big international initiatives, but the time for steps – maybe small, sometimes maybe bold — that protect that goal of two-States, side by side in peace and security, and create the conditions for agreement. 

Perhaps today is not the time for grandstanding or symbolic victories.

Perhaps today is the time to admit that both Israelis and Palestinians must look inwards and see what they can do, both in coordination and independently of one another, to protect the goal of sustainable peace. In 2016, the UN, together with its partners in the Middle East Quartet, produced a joint report on what some of these steps may be. I encourage you to look at that report again as its recommendations remain valid.  

Perhaps today is the time to admit that there are real opportunities for agreement, ones that come from the fact that we face a global COVID-19 pandemic, that we all need to work together to protect our societies from radicalization, religious extremism and economic implosion and to build on the new opportunities created by the Abraham Accords in the region. 

It is not going to be easy, in fact it will be very, very hard, painstaking work to stitch back together what is necessary to allow the leaders on both sides to engage in a meaningful process.

Yet for all the goodwill in the world that the Palestinian and Israeli people can count on, rekindling the hope that the conflict can be resolved through peaceful negotiation cannot be imposed from the outside. It must come from within, from both peoples and from their freely elected leaders. 

In the absence of meaningful negotiations, I have worked on upholding the international consensus that the goal is of a two-State solution, I have warned of the dangers of the eroding status quo, supported intra-Palestinian reconciliation efforts, and, most of all, focused on preventive diplomacy. Together with Egypt, and with critical support from Qatar and others in the international community, the United Nations has played a pivotal role in preventing another devastating war in Gaza. 

I have spoken out against injustices. I have condemned terror.

I firmly believe that the goal of a just and lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples remains achievable through negotiations that can be mediated by the Middle East Quartet and critical Arab partners.

I would like to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, their Governments, their civil servants and all interlocutors in Israel and Palestine for their open engagement with the United Nations. Surely on many occasions we have not seen eye-to-eye, however, their openness and willingness to engage has helped put the UN, in a unique position to mediate and talk to all sides of the conflict.

I want to thank the Security Council for their relentless engagement and support to our work and to the Secretary-General and the services of the Secretariat for their steadfast guidance.

Finally, I want to thank my colleagues at UNSCO for their outstanding professionalism and friendship.

UNSCO is in an excellent position to deal with the challenges of the future and to use the opportunities presented to advance the goal of a just and lasting peace on the basis of two States, in line with UN resolutions. In January, my successor Tor Wennesland should take over this mission. He is one of the most capable diplomats I have ever worked with. I wish him every success in the years ahead and hope that you will extend to him your full support, as you have done to me.

‪The #COVID19 pandemic is likely to also have severe socio-economic consequences for the #Palestinian people. All must work together to avert economic collapse. The #UN supports PM @DrStayyeh’s efforts to put together an #emergency budget and address the crisis.‬

12/04/2020 Leave a comment

I am concerned about the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 health crisis on the Palestinian people, particularly vulnerable communities in Gaza.

In addition to the public health implications of the pandemic, the negative shock to the Israeli and Palestinian economies will have profound implications for public welfare, employment, social cohesion, financial and institutional stability.

If current trends continue, the damage to the Palestinian economy will be substantial.

Economic contraction and necessary public health restrictions are having an adverse effect on the economy and the viability of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Revenues from trade, tourism and transfers have declined to their lowest levels in the last two decades. It is estimated that the fiscal gap for 2020 will reach USD 1 billion by the end of the year.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) projects that a three-month shutdown and a six-month shutdown would lead to GDP contractions of 5.1 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively. A decline of 7 percent of GDP would represent a negative shock among the largest annual contractions recorded since reliable statistics began in 1994.

With very limited control over its economy, the Palestinian Government does not have access to the conventional monetary and fiscal tools necessary to remedy the crisis. These are in the hands of Israel. 

Preserving the functioning and stability of the PA is vital to the security and well-being of both Palestinians and Israelis alike.

The current situation is extremely dangerous and calls for bold action by all stakeholders.

I welcome Prime Minister Shtayyeh’s announcement of an emergency budget aimed at keeping public spending to a minimum. This budget should focus on health-related expenditures, income support to vulnerable Palestinians, support for affected firms, especially small and medium enterprises, and continuity of government, including salaries and security-related expenditures. All spending should be oriented to these priorities. Gaza’s specific needs must be adequately addressed too.

Israel has a critical responsibility. I welcome the emergency transfer of some ILS 120 million last month to the PA. This is an important first step. Urgent discussions however need to take place on how Israel can ensure regular transfers, even If clearance revenues continue to fall, in order to guarantee a smooth functioning of Palestinian institutions and service delivery to the Palestinian people. Both parties must work quickly to resolve barriers standing in the way of regular transfers, including withheld clearance revenues.

The Palestinian Government will also require generous external support and technical assistance that is targeted directly to the recovery process. This demands improved coordination among donors with a focus on prioritized, targeted and integrated programing that guarantees transparency and accountability of funding.

The Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) forum provides the platform for support to the PA as we move forward on the recovery process. I welcome the statement of the Chair of the AHLC on 3 April 2020, calling for strong international donor support.

The UN has been working closely with all stakeholders to ensure coordinated assistance to the health networks dealing with the spread of the virus in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. 

We stand ready to support the Palestinian Government’s socioeconomic response plan and urge all stakeholders to do the same.”

At a time like this, partisanship and narrow interests must yield to the greater cause of #peace in the #MiddleEast.

11/04/2020 Leave a comment

Today, together with my colleagues Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, Jan Kubis, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, we issued the following joint appeal:

On 23 March, the Secretary-General launched an appeal for an immediate Global Ceasefire, urging all warring parties to pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity, and silence their guns. Many parties have responded positively to the Secretary- General’s appeal, but more needs to be done to translate these words into actions.
Too many in the Middle East have endured conflict and deprivation for far too long. Their suffering is now compounded by the COVID19 crisis and its likely long-lasting social, economic and political impacts.

We call on all parties to engage, in good faith and without preconditions, on negotiating immediate halts to ongoing hostilities, sustaining existing ceasefires, putting in place more durable and comprehensive ceasefires, and achieving longer-term resolutions to the persistent conflicts across the region.

We also appeal to all to exercise maximum restraint, de-escalate tensions and work to resolve differences through dialogue, negotiation, mediation or other peaceful means. We further call on all to refrain from any activities that can lead to further deterioration of stability and security in any country or the region as a whole.

We urge parties to reach out across conflict lines and cooperate locally, regionally and globally to stop the rapid spread of the virus and, where possible, to share resources, and allow access to medical facilities where needed.

We call on all sides to facilitate humanitarian access and assistance to the internally displaced and refugees, communities under siege, and all who have been ravaged by war and deprivation, without prejudice or discrimination. This requires fast-tracking the passage of health and aid workers at borders and in-country and ensuring they are protected. We further call on all to facilitate safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees and IDPs to their homes by urgent, effective and meaningful action and measures.

We call for special attention to the plight of the detained, the abducted and the missing, and for humanitarian releases, access for humanitarian organizations, and urgent steps to ensure adequate medical care and protective measures in all places of detention.

We call on all partners at a time when all are facing immense national challenges, to work with the UN on urgent international response plans and recovery measures. No country, region or community can face the challenge of COVID-19 alone. Solidarity is required today and will be very much needed tomorrow.

Our teams will continue to focus on preventive diplomacy, on assisting all efforts to respond to the health and socio-economic consequences of the crisis, support broad cooperation in the interest of peace and the well-being of all, work relentlessly to facilitate humanitarian access to the most vulnerable, and engage resolutely for these objectives.

None of these efforts will succeed if the guns of war and conflict are not silenced. At a time like this, partisanship and narrow interests must yield to the greater cause and the good of the people. That is why we echo the Secretary-General in calling on all parties in the Middle East to work with the UN so we can “focus on the true fight of our lives.”