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Posts Tagged ‘West Bank’

There are no shortcuts to #peace

22/05/2019 Leave a comment

Today I briefed the UN Secuirty Council on the latest developments in the Middle East, starting with Gaza.

Just a few short weeks ago we teetered on the precipice of another devastating conflict, as we witnessed the most intense fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza since 2014.

The United Nations worked intensively with Egypt and all sides to calm the situation, but Israeli and Palestinian lives were – tragically – lost. My sincere condolences go out to the families and friends of all who have been killed, and I wish a speedy recovery to the injured.

While the situation has now stabilized, it remains very tense. One thing is clear, these dangerous cycles of escalation and de-escalation are not sustainable in the future.

On 3 May, thousands of Palestinians participated in the weekly demonstrations at the Gaza perimeter fence. Incendiary balloons were launched, stones and pipe bombs were thrown at Israeli soldiers, who responded with live fire, rubber bullets and tear gas, killing two Palestinians and injuring 49.

Later that day, a sniper reportedly from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired across the fence, injuring two Israeli soldiers. In response to the sniper attack, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched several tank shells and the Air Force targeted military sites in Gaza, killing two Palestinian militants and injuring two civilians. This was the beginning of the most serious escalation since 2014.

Over the course of the following 48 hours, 650 rockets were fired from Gaza. While some 240 projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, several houses, two kindergartens, a school and a hospital in Israel were directly hit. Four Israeli civilians were killed and over 200 were injured, according to the IDF.

During the same period, the IDF reported that it hit over 300 Palestinian militant targets in Gaza, including a senior Hamas official, who was targeted and killed by an airstrike. According to sources in Gaza 25 Palestinians were killed and over 150 were injured.

After intense efforts by the United Nations and Egypt, as of the early morning of 6 May a cessation of hostilities was established, ending the escalation.

I once again urged all sides to use this period to reduce tensions, solidify the fragile calm and commit to implementing the understandings that have been established in the past few months.

Sniper fire from Gaza has been a constant threat that has, on at least four occasions over the past year, pushed both sides closer to confrontation. This latest incident followed a pattern that has been well established – the closer we get to consolidating an understanding that would relieve the pressure on people in Gaza and reduce the risk of rocket fire towards Israel, an incident like the last one would appear and undermine our careful and painstaking efforts.

Despite this, UN and Egyptian teams will continue to work intensely with all sides in order to use the window of opportunity to provide assistance to the people of Gaza and further reduce the risk of conflict.

Sustained calm is also crucial to supporting Egyptian-led efforts to advance intra-Palestinian reconciliation that should enable the return of a unified, legitimate Palestinian Government to the Gaza Strip.

I welcomed Israel’s decision to lift the ban on accessing the fishing zone and expanding the zone to 15 nautical miles in some places, to reopen the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings as normal on 12 May and other steps that have been taken in the past few days. I also welcomed the renewed commitment by the Palestinian government in Ramallah to engage constructively on addressing the situation in Gaza.

I reiterated the call by the Secretary-General who condemned in the strongest terms the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, particularly the targeting of civilian population centres and also call on the Israel to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from using lethal force against protesters, except as a last resort.

Turning briefly to the humanitarian situation, I informed the Council that Deputy Special Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick has himself warned that health providers in Gaza are struggling to treat the high numbers of injuries sustained during the weekly demonstrations. Many of the wounded require complex surgeries, not currently available there. Yet access to treatment outside of Gaza continues to be challenging as the lack of consistency in the approval process is having very serious and negative implications on people.

The international community has continued its efforts to address the dreadful situation in Gaza. The Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) met in Brussels on 30 April and reiterated its support for implementation of a package of urgent humanitarian and economic interventions in Gaza by the United Nations. Between October 2018 and April 2019, some USD 112 million were mobilized enabling a significant increase in electricity supply through the Gaza Power Plant, the creation of thousands of temporary jobs in Gaza, and the delivery of essential medical supplies and other support for the struggling health sector.

Fuel deliveries for the Power Plant have been extended and we are moving forward on other more sustainable efforts for the energy sector and focusing on renewable energy. On 13 May, I visited the second largest hospital in Gaza where a landmark World Health Organization-developed solar power plant will cover a substantial part of the energy needs of that hospital.

I appreciated the financial support provided by Japan and many others for these critical projects and urge other donors to further increase their support for our joint efforts to improve the situation on the ground.

To date, the most significant contribution remains that of the State of Qatar. On behalf of the Secretary-General, I expressed our sincere appreciation to the assistance provided by Qatar, without which the situation in Gaza would have been untenable. On 6 May, His Highness the Emir announced an assistance package for the Palestinian people of some USD 480 million, USD 180 million of which is for Gaza, USD 250 million as loans for the Palestinian Government and USD 50 million as grants for projects in the West Bank. In relation to Gaza, some of this funding will allow the UN to provide fuel for electricity until the end of the year, expand temporary employment programmes and focus on permanent job creation.

While Gaza continues to command significant attention, the situation in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is of growing concern to all of us.

The prolonged absence of a political horizon to resolve the broader conflict has coincided with a steady deterioration of the living conditions of Palestinians. This, coupled with violence, settlement expansion, demolitions of Palestinian property, and the persistent threat of further economic decline, are creating an explosive mix that could have serious security implications.

During the reporting period 24 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces, including 9 children during demonstrations, clashes, security operations and other incidents in the West Bank.

According to OCHA, four Palestinians were injured or had their property damaged by settlers, while one Palestinian attack against Israeli civilians in the West Bank was recorded resulting in one injury and damage to a vehicle.

I unequivocally condemned all attacks on Palestinian and Israeli civilians and call on all sides to refrain from violence. All perpetrators must be held accountable for their crimes.

Allow me to reiterate that settlements are illegal under international law and remain a substantial obstacle to peace.

During the reporting period, Israeli authorities demolished or seized 40 structures, displacing 31 people, overwhelmingly on the grounds of a lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.

On 29 April, 31 structures were demolished in East Jerusalem, the highest single day total monitored by OCHA since 2009. On 3 May, a joint statement by the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNRWA called for “an immediate halt to the Israeli authorities’ destruction of Palestinian-owned property in East Jerusalem.”

On the following day four structures were demolished in Silwan, displacing eleven Palestinians. According to OCHA, five people were seriously injured when Israeli forces reportedly beat, used stun grenades and sponge-covered bullets to push residents away as they tried to retrieve belongings prior to the demolitions.

Also in a worrying move, Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) upheld a new Israeli military order, which accelerates the demolition process for new structures built without permits in Area C of the West Bank.

Regrettably, the reporting period saw no resolution to the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis. For the third consecutive month, the Palestinian Government has refused to receive Israel’s transfer of any tax revenues less than the full amount owed to it. I shared my concern that, despite the PA’s announced austerity measures and the support package committed by Qatar, the latter’s survival remains at risk.

In March, I briefed the Council that the crisis would have a substantial impact on the Palestinian economy with reduced purchasing power and weakened growth. The first signs of this negative trend are already beginning to show.

A long-term resolution of the financial crisis is urgently required. Its continuation threatens to further destabilize an already volatile situation. Both parties should implement their bilateral agreements and avoid taking unilateral actions that undermine the stability of the Palestinian Authority.

Against this backdrop, an UNSCO team recently visited al-Fawwar Palestinian refugee camp, where the residents endure harsh living conditions, and UNRWA’s ability to deliver essential services is hampered by its own financial crisis. High Commissioner Krähenbühl, who will also be briefing the Council today, will speak more on the severity of the current challenges facing Palestine refugees.

On a positive note, with the advent of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Muslims from the occupied West Bank were able to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque during this holy month. I welcomed the relative calm at the holy site and urge continued respect for the status quo and relevant agreements.

Turning very briefly to the region, the situation on the Golan is calm. However, the potential for heightened tension between the parties to the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement remains.

On 1 May, UNDOF observed some Israel soldiers, had been laying razor concertina wire in the area between the Israeli technical fence and an UNDOF position, had crossed the ceasefire line. During this activity, the Syrian Arab Armed Forces soldiers deployed close to that location to monitor their activities. UNDOF liaised with both sides to deescalate the situation.

In Lebanon, the Cabinet started reviewing the draft 2019 State budget on 30 April, as some protests over reported austerity measures continued. At stake in the ongoing budget discussions is meeting commitments from the 2018 CEDRE conference on economic development and reform, which include the need to reduce Lebanon’s deficit.

In closing, I returned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The recent escalation in Gaza has once again demonstrated the urgency of solidifying and expanding the existing understandings on the ground.

We must ask ourselves, how many more years will Palestinians in Gaza be forced to live on pittance from the international community, under the control of Hamas, and suffer from Israeli closures?

How many more years will Israelis be forced to run for shelters as rockets launched by Palestinian militants in Gaza rain down indiscriminately from above?

The United Nations and its partners have – yet again – tried to mitigate the impact of the crisis in Gaza, but these efforts will ultimately fail unless there is progress on resolving the Palestinian divide, on lifting the closures and on charting a course towards the two-State solution based on long-standing international parameters, including relevant UN resolutions and previous agreements.

There are no shortcuts to sustainable peace. 

I also took note of the invitation by the United States and the Kingdom of Bahrain to convene government, civil society, and business leaders to discuss the potential for economic investments and initiatives that would be made possible by a future Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement and a solution to the final status issues.

Humanitarian and economic support is very important for people, and it is also critical as for creating an environment conducive for viable negotiations. However, the solution to the conflict remains fundamentally political.

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

20/02/2018 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I encouraged the international community to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I reiterated the Secretary-General’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If talks between Fatah and Hamas fail, the risk of conflict in #Gaza increases

21/11/2017 Leave a comment

On Monday November 20th I briefed the UN Secuirty Council on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian question. The session came as critical intra-Palestinian talks were scheduled to open in Cairo on the next day (ie today).  The United Nations, the Middle East Quartet and the international community continue our support for Egyptian efforts to sustainably implement the recent intra-Palestinian agreement and return Gaza under the control of the legitimate Palestinian Authority.

By signing the Cairo agreement on 12 October, Palestinians embarked on a long road that could lead to reconciliation. First, however, they must solve the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and return the Strip under the full civilian and security control of the Palestinian Authority. If success is to be achieved the failed policies of the past must be avoided, security for Palestinians and Israelis must be preserved, and all sides must be willing to compromise in the interests of peace.

There are good news. On November 1st we witnessed

a landmark step as the Palestinian Authority regained control over Gaza crossings.

And for the first time in more than a decade, on 18 November, the Rafah crossing opened under PA control. The handover has eased access at the crossings for Palestinians with permits and ended illegal taxation imposed by Hamas at the crossings since June 2007.

This handover, if translated into the full civilian and security control by the Palestinian Authority of Gaza, could be a step towards the normalization of movement in and out of the Strip.

Another important step happened on November 2nd when the Palestinian committee tasked with rationalizing and integrating Gaza’s public sector, held its first meeting.

Meanwhile, the transfer of responsibility at Gaza-based public institutions is slowly proceeding. As well Ministers of Education, Health, Transport and Environment, among others, as well as technical teams from ministries in Ramallah, have travelled to Gaza to begin restoring Government control. Some 150 PA-employed teachers have returned to work for the first time since 2007. A ten-day registration period for all PA employees in Gaza began on 12 November, to determine staffing numbers, based on an evaluation of qualifications against needs. The process is proceeding in an organized manner.  Some ministries with low numbers of employees have already accomplished the task and the others are expected to finish within the set time-frame.

I encouraged all sides to use the forthcoming Cairo meeting to reinforce their commitment to a gradual process of implementing it, and to ensure that positive momentum is sustained through upholding commitments and ensuring follow-up.

Regrettably there are also some not-so-good news. Despite progress in implementing the Cairo agreement,

Gaza residents have not seen any improvements to their daily lives.

The lack of electricity has been devastating for basic services. Power outages of 18 to 20 hours a day continue; most of the population has access to piped water for only 3-5 hours every five days; untreated sewage continues to flow into the Mediterranean Sea at catastrophic levels; 45 per cent of essential drugs and medical supplies have now reached zero stock in Gaza.

Only the most critical health, water and sanitation facilities are functioning thanks to donor-funded emergency fuel distributed by the United Nations.

As the Palestinian Government seeks to return to Gaza, it should take immediate action to reverse measures that add to the burden of Palestinians living there.

The UN 2017 Gaza Humanitarian Appeal called for $25 million in new funding to meet the most critical priorities – $10.8 million remains unmet. I urge donors to support this appeal to save lives.

Last week Norway, as Co-Chair of the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), convened a donor meeting in Ramallah to discuss how to support returning Gaza under PA control.

The discussion focused on three themes. First, the need to immediately alleviate the humanitarian situation on the ground, namely, by increasing electricity supply to at least pre-crisis levels, and accelerating the delivery of projects that have direct impact on the lives of Gaza’s residents. The Quartet Envoys have already tasked the Office of the Quartet with producing a list of projects that can be expedited. I encouraged donors to do the same. These actions are necessary to sustain support for the Cairo-led process on the ground.

The donors also discussed the need to see a realistic plan by the Palestinian Authority on how it intends to take up its responsibilities in Gaza, which the international community can support financially and technically.

Our common goal remains the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza. Difficult issues, including security and putting all weapons under Government control, rule of law and the functioning of the judiciary, civil service reform and other complicated challenges, will have to be dealt with in step-by-step manner.

Turning to broader dynamics on the ground, I welcomed the restoration of full security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, publicly announced on 8 November. This is a positive as coordination is critical to the security of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

In a very worrying development, on 30 October the Israeli Defense Forces uncovered yet another tunnel that extended from Gaza into Israel. During the operation, at least 12 Palestinian militants were killed underground.

According to statements by a spokesperson for Islamic Jihad, the group’s aim in constructing the tunnel was to “kidnap Israeli soldiers” and it also stated that it will continue to pursue this goal.

I called on the international community to

join the UN in condemning the continued construction of tunnels

and such reckless statements. At a time when Palestinians in Gaza – who have lived with closures for a decade, who have survived three conflicts, and have had to struggle to merely exist – are seeing hope for the future, such actions and statements risk a dangerous escalation that could destroy the prospects for intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

In other developments, on 31 October, a 25-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead by Israeli Security Forces while in his car near a West Bank settlement. The Israeli authorities launched an investigation after an initial IDF probe indicated that the driver did not appear to have been attempting a vehicular attack when he was killed.

On 17 November, two Israelis were injured in a ramming attack in the West Bank; the Palestinian driver was shot and injured also by the security forces.

Violence and incitement remain one of the hallmarks of the conflict and need to be addressed in order to rebuild trust between both sides.

Turning to the question of settlements, Israeli planning authorities approved building permits for at least 418 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlements of Gilo and Ramat Shlomo.  They also issued a conditional approval of 178 housing units in the settlement of Nof Zion located in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber.

On November 10th, the Israeli Prime Minister pledged to advance $226 million for the construction of infrastructure in the occupied West Bank that improves the connectivity of settlements to Israel potentially facilitating their expansion.

The UN considers all settlement activities illegal under international law. They constitute a substantial obstacle to peace and should cease.

Legislative action that undermines the viability of the two-state solution also continues, as the Knesset considers a legislative amendment that would require a majority of 80 out of 120 members for any transfer of territory currently included in Israel-defined municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to a “foreign entity”.

Against this background, Israeli authorities demolished or seized 30 Palestinian structures, displacing 53 persons, including 31 children across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Three Bedouin herding communities in Area C, including Ein al Hilwe, Um al Jmal, and Jabal al Baba, are at risk of having a total of 520 structures demolished after receiving “removal of property” orders in recent weeks.

Of particular concern are donor-funded structures serving as schools threatened with demolition.

Turning very briefly to Lebanon, Prime Minister Hariri’s resignation, while on a trip to Saudi Arabia on 4 November, shocked Lebanon and the region. While new uncertainties have arisen, the people of Lebanon have united behind President Aoun’s call for Hariri to return. Following the Secretary-General’s statement of 5 November, international statements of support for Lebanon’s security, stability, sovereignty and independence has been issued at the highest levels. Prime Minister Hariri is now in Paris and expected to return to Lebanon this week.

Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, my colleague Philippe Lazzarini, is scheduled to brief the Council on 29 November.

The security situation on the Golan remains of concern. Fighting between the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and armed groups, as well as between different armed groups, in parts of the areas of separation and limitation on the Bravo side continued. In recent weeks, there were reported incidents of spillover fire from the Bravo to the Alpha side and retaliatory fire across the ceasefire line. These developments undermine the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement and have the potential to escalate tensions and jeopardize the long-standing ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

I closed with a few observations on Palestinian unity efforts and commend Egypt for its leadership throughout the process. Many previous attempts to bridge the Palestinian divide have failed. We cannot allow this current effort to become another missed opportunity.

From the outset, I have consistently engaged with Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, the region and all stakeholders. Everyone understands that failure today will destroy hope for the foreseeable future. That division damages the Palestinian cause for statehood.

Two million Palestinians in Gaza have high hopes that the Government’s return will improve their lives. After living in abject misery under Hamas control and locked in by the closures, their situation is close to exploding.

With all the difficulties inherent in the Egyptian-led process and concerns about the timing and modalities of the Palestinian Authority’s assumption of full civilian and security control of Gaza, the process must not be allowed to fail.

If the Cairo process fails, it will most likely result in another devastating conflict.

Whether that conflict would be triggered by a meltdown of law and order in Gaza, by the reckless action of extremists or by strategic choice the result will be the same – devastation and suffering for all. This cycle must be avoided at all costs.

All of us, especially Palestinian leaders, Israel and the international community, have an important responsibility to advance the peace efforts. In this context, I am concerned about the implications of the latest developments related to the PLO representative office in the US. Only through constructive dialogue can we hope to advance peace and I call on all parties to remain engaged in the peace efforts.

I believe and hope that a genuine change in Gaza, including full security control by the Palestinian Authority, would contribute to restoring confidence in the feasibility of a comprehensive peace agreement. This is a Palestinian-owned process. All Palestinian factions must seize this opportunity to open a new page for their people.

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.

 

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

16/01/2017 2 comments

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

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

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

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

‘Legalization Bill’ has serious legal consequences for #Israel, #WestBank and undermines peace

06/12/2016 2 comments
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Israeli settlers at Amona, near Ramallah in the West Bank. Photograph: Ronen Zvulen/Reuters via The Guardian

On August 29th I briefed the UN Security Council on the upsurge of settlement related activity in the West Bank, warning that ‘no legal acrobatics’ can change the fact that such construction is illegal under International law. Since then a draft bill, known the “Legalization bill” is moving forward in the legislative process. It has the objective of protecting illegal settlements and outposts built on private Palestinian property in the West Bank. Some have pronounced it to be a step towards the annexation of the West Bank.

If adopted, it will have far reaching legal consequences for Israel, across the occupied West Bank and will greatly diminish the prospect of Arab-Israeli peace. I encourage Israeli legislators to reconsider this move.

I reiterate that all settlement activities are illegal under international law and run counter to the Middle East Quartet position that settlements are one of the main obstacles to peace.

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

19/10/2016 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The vicious cycles of conflict in Gaza must end. 

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

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

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

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

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