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

21/06/2017 1 comment

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

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

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

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

there has been substantial increase in settlement-related announcements

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

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

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

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

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

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

the security situation on the ground remained relatively calm. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to the resolution I noted that during the reporting period there have been no developments related to Member States’ distinguishing, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied in 1967. There have, however, been continuing efforts by the international community to advance peace. On the 29th of March in Jordan, at the Summit of the League of Arab States, Arab leaders committed to re-launching serious peace negotiations on the basis of the two-state solution, establishing a Palestinian state “on the lines of June 4, 1967 with its capital in East Jerusalem” and reaffirmed their commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

In this symbolic month it is time to turn the challenges of the past into opportunities for the future. As the Secretary-General recently stated: “The occupation has shaped the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis. It has fueled recurring cycles of violence and retribution. Its perpetuation is sending an unmistakable message to generations of Palestinians that their dream of statehood is destined to remain just that, a dream; and to Israelis that their desire for peace, security and regional recognition remains unattainable.”

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

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

 

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.