Settlement Expansion, Jerusalem Embassy Decision Eroding Prospects for Peace in Middle East, Special Coordinator Tells Security Council
Developments on the ground could not be divorced from a backdrop of continued military occupation, regional turmoil and unilateral actions, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council today, expressing concern about actions that undermined peace.
Presenting the fifth report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), Nickolay Mladenov said the reporting period had been characterized by a “persistent problem of violence”, pointing to clashes after the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as growing tensions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and along the Gaza fence.
Moreover, Israel’s settlement expansion continued to further threaten the viability of the two‑State solution and eroded prospects for peace, he said, adding that that country’s decision to establish a new settlement for the second time since the adoption of resolution 2334 (2016) was particularly troubling.
At the same time, provocative and inflammatory rhetoric on both sides was fuelling an already tense environment, he said, highlighting social media posts by Fatah that glorified perpetrators of past violence against Israeli civilians, as well as statements made by Israeli officials that encouraged the annexation of the occupied West Bank and categorically rejected the two‑State solution.
Sounding the alarm on a $446 million funding gap, he urged Member States to provide additional funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provided basic services to Palestine refugees, including schooling for half a million children.
The representative of Kuwait said the main reason for the humanitarian tragedy faced by Palestinians was Israel’s failure to shoulder its responsibilities, and its disregard for Council resolutions. He condemned unilateral measures which sought to create a new status quo and warned that reduced funding for UNRWA would lead to an acute humanitarian crisis.
Indeed, the situation on the ground was discouraging, said the representative of Bolivia. Israeli settlement activity on the West Bank and in Jerusalem could constitute war crimes as well as a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The humanitarian situation in Gaza was alarming, he added, calling on Member States to continue their support to UNRWA.
Focusing on the road ahead, the representative of the United Kingdom said she supported peace efforts by the United States and looked forward to a plan being presented at the earliest opportunity. Echoing that sentiment, Equatorial Guinea’s delegate said that his Government hoped that the United States initiative would lead to a tangible peace plan that would be acceptable to all.
During the meeting, several Member States, including the United States, Kuwait and the United Kingdom, condemned the recent missile attack on cities in Saudi Arabia by Yemeni Houthis as a violation of international law.
Also speaking today were representatives of Côte d'Ivoire and China.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 11:02 a.m.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, speaking via videoconference from Jerusalem, presented the fifth report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), covering the period from 18 December 2017 to 25 March 2018. Focusing on regional and international efforts to advance the peace process, he reiterated that developments on the ground could not be divorced from the broader context of the situation: the continued military occupation of Palestinian territory, uncertainties about the future of the peace process and two‑State solution and unilateral actions that undermined peace efforts and continued turmoil in the wider region. He expressed concern about United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) $446 million funding shortfall. That gap needed to be bridged urgently to ensure that it could provide basic services to Palestine refugees, including schooling for half a million children across the Middle East. At the same time, he welcomed the approximately $100 million pledged at the recent extraordinary ministerial conference in Rome and encouraged Member States to urgently consider providing additional funding for the Agency’s critical work.
Recalling that Council resolution 2334 (2016) called on Israel to immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said that no such steps had been taken and stressed that such activities were a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace. Furthermore, the demolition of Palestinian‑owned structures by Israeli authorities continued across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, albeit at a relatively low rate. Particularly concerning was the demolition of two donor‑funded classrooms serving 26 children in the Palestinian Bedouin community of Abu Nuwar. Similarly, the Bedouin village of Umm al‑Hiran had come under renewed threat. In late 2017, in the Massafer Yatta area of Hebron, Israel Defense Forces had blocked several access routes and issued a military order that had limited access to services and livelihoods to some 1,400 residents in 12 communities.
Turning to the “persistent problem of violence”, he said the reporting period was characterized by continuing clashes following the United States’ announcement on 6 December recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as well as by growing tensions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and along the Gaza fence. Describing the concerning escalation of violence in and around the Gaza Strip, he said that improvised explosive devices placed by Palestinian militants near the fence had exploded on three occasions, wounding four Israeli soldiers in one incident on 17 February. On each occasion, Israeli forces responded with air strikes and shelling against Hamas targets. Meanwhile, 33 rockets had been fired from Gaza towards Israel, with 11 landing in the country. On 13 March, an improvised explosive device had detonated in Gaza, targeting the convoy of the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and the Head of Intelligence, while on 22 March Hamas security forces conducted an operation reportedly targeting the chief suspect in the bombing.
He noted that, despite the call in resolution 2234 (2016) for parties to refrain from acts of provocation and inflammatory rhetoric, such statements continued. Fatah’s official social media pages continued to feature posts glorifying perpetrators of past violence against Israeli civilians, while Palestinian officials continued to make statements denying the historical and religious connection of Jews to Jerusalem and its holy sites. At the same time, Israeli officials had made provocative statements encouraging annexation of all or parts of the occupied West Bank and categorically rejecting the two‑State solution, he said, before urging political leaders to refrain from provocative statements and actions that fuelled an already tense environment.
Regarding calls in resolution 2334 (2016) for steps to be taken to reverse negative trends on the ground, he noted that the period had witnessed both positive and negative actions in that regard. After years of negotiations, Israel had approved the operation of local Palestinian 3G service in the West Bank, allowing Palestinian telecom companies to offer higher speed data services and improve their competitiveness. There had also been two high‑level meetings to discuss a range of economic and infrastructure issues concerning the West Bank and Gaza. On the other hand, the electricity supply remained far below needed and water desalination plans had been reduced to around 20 per cent of working capacity. Thanks to United Nations distributed donor‑funded fuel for generators, basic services continued to function, albeit only until September 2018 at best. More than 40 per cent of essential medicines had no stock due to a lack of funding.
Concerning the resolution’s call for States to distinguish between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967, he said there had been two developments on that front. First, the Parliament of Denmark had passed a resolution relating to Council resolution 2334 (2016) that urged that future agreements between that country and Israel clearly stated their inapplicability to occupied territory and encouraged the Government to strengthen its guidance to private and public investors. Moreover, the European Commission had signed a financing agreement with Israel allowing the latter’s participation in the Joint Operational Programme “Mediterranean Sea Basin” under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument Cross‑Border Cooperation Programme for 2014‑2020. It included a territorial clause stating that the agreement should not apply to the geographic areas that came under the administration of the State of Israel after 5 June 1967. Regrettably, the reporting period had seen no progress towards advancing the goal of a lasting peace, as called for in the resolution.
In closing, Israel’s settlement expansion and related activities continued to further threaten the viability of the two‑State solution and eroded prospects for peace, he said. The latest decision to establish a new settlement for the second time since the adoption of resolution 2334 (2016) was particularly troubling. In addition, Palestinian development remained extremely restricted. Less than 1 per cent of Area C was available for Palestinian construction under approved plans.
Violence and incitement continued to fuel hatred, division, distrust and fear, he continued. Terror attacks on Israelis and the attempt on the life of Palestinian Prime Minister illustrated the growing risk of destabilization and the empowerment of radicals and extremists. The use of force by Israel must be calibrated and the country must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law. Lethal force should only be used as a last resort, he said, urging the security forces to exercise maximum restraint.
Looking ahead to Palestinian plans for a march on the Gaza fence on 30 March, he called on all sides to take steps to avoid a violent escalation. He then reiterated his call to Hamas to provide full information on the two Israeli soldiers and two civilians being held in Gaza, as required by international humanitarian law. Steps taken on the ground in Gaza were welcome, but far from transformative. Economic development was no substitute for sovereignty and statehood. Efforts aimed at achieving both must proceed in parallel.
Overall, he remained greatly concerned by the state of collective efforts to advance peace. Long‑held international consensus positions on final status issues, including on Jerusalem and refugees, must remain the guiding framework of a negotiated process towards the ultimate goal of a two-State solution. Any deviation from those principles would be dangerous, he warned.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said the Palestinian question had never stopped being the epicentre of instability in the Middle East ever since it was put on the agenda of the General Assembly in 1947. Currently, some trends on the ground threatened to put the possibility of a two‑State solution further out of reach. One could not deny Israel’s right to exist, nor could one deny the Palestinians’ right to exist. Violence must stop and parties to the conflict must refrain from unilateral actions that would make a return to negotiations difficult. Reunification of the Palestinian territories would facilitate mediation efforts. Now, more than ever, the Security Council and the entire international community must stand united in their desire for a peaceful solution, he said, adding that his Government hoped that the United States’ initiative would lead to a tangible peace plan that would be acceptable to all.
PEDRO LUIS INCHAUSTE JORDÁN (Bolivia) said the situation on the ground was discouraging, with Israel failing to comply with Council and Assembly resolutions. He requested that reports from the Secretary‑General on resolution 2334 (2016) include, among other things, updated maps of Israeli settlements. Israeli settlement activity on the West Bank and in Jerusalem could constitute war crimes as well as a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other norms of international law. Turning to Gaza, he said the humanitarian situation there was alarming, and called on Member States to continue their support to UNRWA. He called for intra‑Palestinian unity and condemned the 13 March attempt on the life of the Palestine Prime Minister.
KOFFI NARCISSE DATE (Côte d’Ivoire), expressing concern over a lack of progress in the Middle East peace process, called for a resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, in line with relevant Council resolutions. Côte d’Ivoire also encouraged the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to pursue dialogue. He thanked Member States for the solidarity they displayed at the 15 March extraordinary ministerial conference in Rome where some $100 million was pledged for UNRWA.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said the main reason for the humanitarian tragedy faced by Palestinians was Israel’s failure to shoulder its responsibilities, and its disregard for Council resolutions. That only fuelled tensions, he said, condemning unilateral measures which sought to change the situation on the ground and create a new status quo. Going forward, he asked that the Secretary‑General provide a written report on the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016), and warned that reduced funding for UNRWA would lead to an acute humanitarian crisis. He conveyed his country’s condemnation of a missile attack on Riyadh and other Saudi cities, describing it as a violation by Houthis of international law and Council resolutions as well as international efforts to end the conflict in Yemen. The international community must be united in condemning that attack, he said.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said it was vital to improve the situation in the Occupied Palestinian territories. Her country supported the United States’ peace efforts and looked forward to a plan being presented at the earliest opportunity. Regarding the attacks on cities in Saudi Arabia, she said they coincided with the third anniversary of the conflict in Yemen. They were dangerous and provocative and did nothing to help resolve the conflict in that country. They were also a violation of international law.
WALTER MILLER (United States) also condemned the Houthi missile attack, saying it was deeply destabilizing. The United States had warned of such an attack, he said, calling on all parties, including the Houthi, to return to political negotiations and move towards ending the war in Yemen.
WU HAITAO (China) said the question of Palestine was at the core of the Middle East issue. With the increasing construction of settlements, the situation was tense and the humanitarian situation in Gaza was particularly dire. He called on the international community to remain united to advance the issue, saying that the two‑State solution was the only way out. Increased efforts were needed to advance negotiations, and settlement building activities in the occupied territories must come to an end, he said, adding that restraint was needed for the resumption of dialogue. For its part, China supported the peace process and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State, based on 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital, and would continue to play a constructive role on the issue. He encouraged all parties to uphold fairness and justice and follow principles of peaceful coexistence. Concerning the humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories, he welcomed the extraordinary ministerial conference held in Rome.