I 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.
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.
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.
No Legal Acrobatics can Change the Fact that Settlements and Outposts Remain Illegal Under International Law
On August 29th I delivered my monthly briefing to the UN Security Council on the Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question. This month the focus was on the upsurge of settlement activity.
With no prospect for resuming negotiations in sight, developments on the ground continue to undermine an already precarious situation. Illegal settlement construction advances, Gaza remains beyond the control of the legitimate Palestinian authority and the political leadership on both sides continues to shy away from the steps that are necessary for peace. This is the reality which continues to erode trust in the prospect of a two-state solution, the constituency for which is dwindling both in Israel and Palestine.
Although the past month has been relatively calm
in terms of the frequency and intensity of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory a number of security related incidents continue to cause concerns.
Firstly, the apparent extrajudicial execution by members of the Palestinian Security Forces in Nablus on 23 August of a man, while in custody. He was suspected of orchestrating the killing of two security personnel earlier in the week. I welcome the announcement by Prime Minister Hamdallah of an investigation and call for a thorough, independent and transparent process in line with international standards in order to bring to justice the perpetrators of this crime.
On 21 August, militants in Gaza fired two rockets, one of which landed in a residential area of Sderot, causing no injuries. Israel responded by directing some 60 missiles and shells at 30 suspected military installations in Gaza. Once again I reiterate that such rocket attacks and the response they elicit risk lives of both Palestinians and Israelis and do not serve the cause of peace.
On 26 August a Palestinian man, who was reportedly under psychiatric care, was killed by members of the Israeli Security Forces. A preliminary investigation has established that he was unarmed and did not pose a threat. I call upon Israel to ensure accountability and take all necessary measures protect against the unjustified use of force.
It is against such backdrop that preparations are advancing for the 8 October Palestinian local council elections. In a positive development, on 25 July, political parties signed an electoral code of conduct, to which all parties and candidates must adhere. These elections are expected to be the first simultaneous polls in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006.
Conducting the local elections in line with established international standards can contribute to advancing Palestinian reconciliation. The lack of unity however, or any attempt to influence the outcome of the elections, including through intimidation, threats, violence or coercion, risks widening divisions and undermining the Palestinian national cause. In this respect, the recent decision by Fatah to bring the party together, a decision welcomed by Jordan, Egypt and the region, is an important step towards laying the groundwork for national reconciliation and unity.
Turning briefly to Gaza, three days ago we marked the two-year anniversary of the ceasefire of the last Gaza conflict. While progress has been made on reconstructing the physical damage, sadly we are miles away from repairing the psychological damage of the conflict.
While Gaza remains locked away from the rest of the world, in the grip of militants, and dependent on aid and humanitarian assistance, the status quo will sadly prevail.
We need a radical overhaul of how we deal with the problems of Gaza.
Until the closures are lifted, the militant buildup has ceased, and Gaza is back under the control of the legitimate Palestinian authorities, international funding and an uninterrupted flow of aid are a lifeline to over one million Palestinians in the Strip, who are struggling to survive within a dire humanitarian situation. In this context, I commend the Government of Palestine for enabling a much-needed humanitarian payment to over 20,000 unpaid civilian employees in Gaza, made possible by the generous donation of the State of Qatar.
Separately however, I am very concerned about the recent Israeli indictments of two aid workers accused of diverting funds and/or material to Hamas. These are very serious and deeply troubling accusations that must be investigated thoroughly, quickly and proven in a court of law. I welcome the commitment of the United Nations Development Program and World Vision International to uphold the highest standards of accountability. It is important that the international community continues to enforce its policy of zero tolerance for any wrongdoing and assures partners that robust measures are in place to ensure that aid goes to whom it is intended to.
It has been nearly two months since the Middle East Quartet outlined spoke clearly of the threats to the two-state solution and offered practical recommendations to ensure an eventual return to meaningful negotiations to end the occupation that began in 1967.
Its recommendations continue to be ignored, including by a surge in Israeli settlement-related announcements and continuing demolitions.
Let me focus briefly on the expanding Israeli footprint in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem, which Russia, the EU, United States and the UN Secretary-General — all part of the Quartet, clearly condemned.
We heard that settlement construction is not an impediment to a two-state solution; that “a few houses” are not a problem for peace. Let me ask in return
how will advancing the construction of over 1,700 housing units bring the parties closer to negotiated peace,
how will it uphold the two-state solution, how will it create hope for the Palestinian people, or how will it bring security to Israelis?
Since 1 July, Israel has advanced plans for over 1,000 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem – in Pisgat Ze’ev, Ramot, Har Homa, and Gilo – as well as 735 units in Ma’ale Adumim and other settlements in the West Bank.
It has published tenders, some new, for 323 units in East Jerusalem settlements and reissued tenders for 42 units in Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, for which it also allocated over USD 13 million of new funding.
It is undertaking a new land survey to identify potential ‘state land’ in the sensitive E2 area. This step could enable the establishment of a new settlement on the outskirts of Bethlehem, further restricting that city’s development and contributing to the dismemberment of the West Bank.
It is also reportedly examining plans for new housing units for over 100 Israelis on a portion of a military compound in Hebron that it has allocated for this purpose.
Israel advanced the so-called retroactive ‘legalisation’ of the Horesh Yaron and Rechelim outposts and put forward a potentially precedent-setting proposal to relocate the illegal outpost of Amona – which is slated by Israel’s High Court of Justice for dismantling by the end of the year – onto nearby ‘absentee land’.
All of these plans would essentially create new illegal settlements and I call on Israel to cease and reverse these decisions.
No legal acrobatics can change the fact that all outposts – whether ‘legalised’ under Israeli law or not, whether located on state land, or absentee land, or private land – just like all settlements in Area C and East Jerusalem, remain illegal under international law
It is difficult to read in these actions a genuine intention to work towards a viable two-state solution. This appears to reinforce a policy, carried out over decades, that has enabled over half a million Israelis to settle in territory that was occupied militarily in 1967.
The Quartet highlighted that Palestinians living in Area C and East Jerusalem are also disproportionately denied Israeli building permits. The past two months have seen an increase in the enforcement of non-punitive demolition orders against Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem, with 43 structures demolished, affecting more than 340 people. According to our colleagues in OCHA, in Area C, in August alone, over 91 structures across 26 communities were demolished for the lack of Israeli building permits, displacing some 125 people and affecting the livelihoods of over 2,100.
The Bedouin in Area C are particularly vulnerable. Some communities, such as the herders in Susiya and those in the controversial E1 area around East Jerusalem, are particularly at risk, especially as settlement expansion plans move forward. Repeated rounds of demolitions of homes or livelihoods and restrictions on basic services are part of an environment that pressures these communities to move.
Susiya, for example, is built on private Palestinian land in the southern West Bank. It is sandwiched between a settlement and an outpost. For years, planning schemes submitted by the residents to the Israeli authorities have been repeatedly rejected, while the neighbouring settlement has been granted a generous planning scheme, and the nearby illegal outpost, is connected to water and electricity networks.
The demolition of this community would set a dangerous precedent for displacement and feed the perception that Israel aims at a de facto annexation of Area C.
I note a new plan for the occupied West Bank, announced recently, promoting differential treatment to areas of the occupied West Bank from which perpetrators or suspected perpetrators of attacks against Israelis originate. While
measures that generate economic opportunities for some Palestinians are helpful,
they cannot come at the cost of what may amount to collective punishment for others, or undermine the legitimate Palestinian institutions and aspirations for ending the occupation.
Turning briefly to the Golan, the situations remains volatile and continues to undermine the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement. Fighting between the Syrian armed forces and armed groups in the areas of separation and limitation continue with several incidents across the ceasefire line reported.
I take the opportunity to also draw attention to a nearly 100 million dollar shortfall in UNRWA’s core budget. This funding gap affects the Agency’s key services for vulnerable Palestine refugees throughout the region and compounds regional instability. It must be addressed with utmost urgency.
Let me say that more than 37 years ago, the Security Council determined that Israeli settlements in occupied territory have no legal validity and are an obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. That determination was true in 1979, and is equally true and even more urgent of a concern today.
For years we have been managing this conflict, while the occupation has continued, Palestinians have been dispossessed, and a one-state reality has been establishing itself on the ground. It is time for all of us — the leaders on both sides, with support from the region and the international community, to end the conflict on the basis of relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and in a manner that meets the legitimate national aspirations of both peoples.
Both sides should work to reverse the negative trajectory, to build trust and to restore hope that a negotiated two-state solution is not just a political slogan but a reality that can be achieved through negotiations in our lifetime.
Concerned at daily advancement of illegal #Israel settlement enterprise in occupied #WestBank, East #Jerusalem
As I leave Cairo after constructive meetings with the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the new Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, I remain increasingly concerned by the near-daily advancement of the illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This week alone has seen Israel move forward on plans for 770 settlement units in Gilo, demolitions of 19 Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem, efforts to re-establish an outpost that had previously been dismantled in 2012, and the issuance or reissuance of 323 tenders which would bring new construction to sensitive East Jerusalem areas.
Israel’s systematic policy of expanding settlements, designating land for exclusive Israeli use and preventing Palestinian social and economic development is destroying prospects for a viable Palestinian state.
Two days ago, I issued a statement strongly condemning the advancement of plans for settlement units in Gilo and efforts to re-establish an outpost near Hebron. Since then, demolitions have taken place in Qalandiya and occupied East Jerusalem that reflect Israel’s systematic policy of denying Palestinian development in the occupied West Bank. This challenge was highlighted by the recently published Middle East Quartet Report which concluded that “the continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development, including the recent high rate of demolitions, is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution“.
For months the UN has been warning that there has been a significant increase in the number of Palestinian structures demolished across the West Bank. This was particularly visible in the first four months of 2016, with some 500 demolitions of Palestinian structures by the Israeli authorities and nearly 800 Palestinians displaced, more than in all of 2015. In East Jerusalem, 64 Palestinian structures were demolished from January to June of 2016. Vulnerable Bedouin and farming communities are most heavily impacted by these demolitions.
The United States, the Russian Federation, the EU and the UN, as part of the Middle East Quartet, jointly called on Israel “to cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development“. I reiterate this call as such actions are dangerously imperiling the two-state solution.
I strongly condemn the recent decision by Israeli authorities to advance plans to build some 770 housing units in the settlement of Gilo, built on the lands of occupied Palestinian towns and villages between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem. I am also concerned about repeated efforts by a number of families to rebuild the Israeli outpost of Mitzpeh Avichai near Hebron in the occupied West Bank.
Such moves raise legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions. They come against the backdrop of statements by some Israeli ministers that there should never be a Palestinian state or calls for the full annexation of the West Bank.
This decision to expand Gilo comes only three weeks after the United States, the Russian Federation, the EU and the UN, as part of the Middle East Quartet, jointly called on Israel to cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion.
I reiterate that settlements are illegal under international law and urge the Government of Israel to cease and reverse such decisions.
Continuing on the current trajectory entrenches a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict that is incompatible with realizing the national aspirations of both peoples.