Normalization of Ties between Israel, Gulf Arab States Presents Opportunity for Re-engagement in Talks, Special Coordinator Tells Security Council
Delegates Stress Primacy of Peace Process, as United States Urges Palestinian Leaders to Embrace Newly Signed Abraham Accords
The recent normalization of relations between Israel and two Arab countries presents an opportunity to re-engage Palestine and Israel in negotiations towards a two-State solution to their long-standing conflict, a senior United Nations mediator told the Security Council today.
“The Secretary-General hopes that these developments will encourage Palestinian and Israeli leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations towards a two-State solution and will create opportunities for regional cooperation,” said Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
Citing the agreements — collectively known as the Abraham Accords — between Israel on the one hand and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on the other, he noted that the new relations suspended Israel’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. He welcomed the recent call by the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, France and Germany for restored hope in the peace process and resumed negotiations, as well as recent moves by rival Palestinian factions towards strengthening unity with a view to holding long-awaited national presidential and legislative elections.
However, some negative trends persist on the ground, he warned, citing a sharp rise in demolitions of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. “We are again at a pivotal moment in the search for peace as a convergence of destabilizing factors threatens to pull Israelis and Palestinians further towards a one-State reality of perpetual occupation and conflict,” he said, expressing the commitment of the United Nations to the vision of two States — Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestine — based on the pre-1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members exchanged views on the Abraham Accords, brokered by the United States.
That country’s delegate declared: “Instead of just talking about peace month after month […] the United States led the way through action, and we achieved tangible results.” Recalling that President Donald J. Trump laid out a broader Middle East peace plan earlier in 2020, he said the Abraham Accords build further on that sensible vision. However, despite those positive developments, Palestinian terrorists have continued to fire a barrage of rockets at Israel, he said, calling upon Palestinian leaders to embrace the peace deal.
The United Kingdom’s delegate urged other countries across the Middle East to follow the example of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, noting that the developments represent “a profound shift” in the region. The international community should build on this momentum to take forward the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said, urging the Palestinian Authority to resume cooperation with Israel, while also calling upon both sides to resume dialogue.
Indonesia’s representative, however, pointed out that the root cause of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict is the illegal occupation, amplified by decades of creeping annexation and illegal settlement policy in flagrant violation of international law and resolution 2334 (2016). “Peace without addressing the root causes is not peace at all,” he emphasized.
Niger's representative stressed that the Abraham Accords must not overshadow the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Instead, the parties should be compelled to return to revitalized peace talks, in line with agreed international parameters and Council resolutions, he said.
South Africa’s representative underlined that any peace initiative must factor in the needs and aspirations of the Palestinian people and ensure that a Palestinian State is not reduced to an entity without the basic tenets of sovereignty, territorial contiguity and economic viability. “A realistic and credible peace plan will result in a genuine two-State solution, not one viable State and a Bantustan,” he stressed, pointing out that Palestinians remain under occupation, denied basic civil and human rights.
The Dominican Republic’s delegate acknowledged that the Abraham Accords contribute to regional stability, urging the Palestinian side to constructively take advantage of the developments. “Palestine might be in the darkest hour now, but dawn comes soon after,” he said, expressing full support for the two-State formula.
Belgium’s delegate welcomed Israel’s decision to suspend its annexation plan, but called for it to abandon the project indefinitely. It is time to reverse the trend on the ground, she added, emphasizing that Israel’s illegal settlement activities must cease, while expressing grave concern about the increase in demolitions of Palestinian property.
Also speaking were representatives of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, China, France, Estonia, Viet Nam, Tunisia, Russian Federation and Germany.
The meeting began at 3:06 p.m. and ended at 4:56 p.m.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, presented the latest report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), covering the period from 5 June to 20 September. He noted the recent normalization of relations between Israel and two Arab countries, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, highlighting the suspension of Israel’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. “The Secretary-General hopes that these developments will encourage Palestinian and Israeli leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations towards a two-State solution and will create opportunities for regional cooperation,” he said. Citing the recent call by the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, France and Germany for restored hope in the peace process and resumed negotiations based on international law and agreed parameters, he said he was also encouraged by recent moves towards strengthening Palestinian unity, as demonstrated by the outcome of the Fatah-Hamas meetings calling for long-awaited national presidential and legislative elections.
Turning to the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic, he called for focused attention on the Gaza Strip, given the extreme vulnerability of the enclave’s population. “Any increased responsibilities taken on by the United Nations should be limited, time-bound and not replace the responsibilities of the Palestinian Authority or the Government of Israel,” he said, urging the parties to find a path forward to address the urgent health crisis. He also expressed support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Inter-Agency Plan for COVID-19 and the United Nations Development Response Plan in support of the Palestinian Government.
He said that, although Israel’s settlement advancement was limited over the past two reporting periods, he remains concerned about plans for settlement construction in the E1 area and other sensitive locations of the occupied West Bank, which are pending approval by Israeli authorities. As clearly set out in resolution 2334 (2016), Israel’s establishment of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law, he emphasized, expressing deep concern over the spike in demolitions and seizures of Palestinian‑owned structures in the occupied West Bank. While Israel’s suspension of its annexation plans removed a critical threat with the potential to upend peace and regional stability, the threat posed by continued settlement expansion and demolitions remains, he cautioned.
Given the severe economic and health crisis, the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships must urgently re-engage and strengthen efforts to advance the goal of a negotiated two-State solution, he said, also urging Israel, as the occupying Power, to ensure the safety and security of the Palestinian population. He called upon Israeli security forces to exercise maximum restraint and to use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable to protect life. Palestinian militants in Gaza must halt the launching of indiscriminate rockets and incendiary devices towards Israeli population centres in violation of international law, he stressed. In addition, children and schools should never be the target of violence by any party, nor should children be exposed to violence.
It is critical that the Egypt-led intra-Palestinian reconciliation efforts continue, he said, underlining that Gaza must remain an integral part of a future Palestinian State, as part of a two-State solution. “We are again at a pivotal moment in the search for peace as a convergence of destabilizing factors threatens to pull Israelis and Palestinians further towards a one-State reality of perpetual occupation and conflict,” he warned. The United Nations remains committed to supporting the efforts of both sides to resolve the conflict, in pursuit of the vision of two States — Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestine — within secure and recognized borders, based on the pre‑1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both.
RODNEY HUNTER (United States) emphasized that the recent agreements brokered by Washington, D.C., to normalize relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — known collectively as the Abraham Accords — represent the most crucial steps toward peace in the Middle East in many years. In Israel’s entire history, there have been only two such agreements, and now two more have been achieved in just one month’s time, helping to build trust among strategic allies of the United States in the region, he noted. “Instead of just talking about peace month after month […] the United States led the way through action, and we achieved tangible results,” he added. Recalling that his country’s Government has also laid out a broader Middle East peace plan, he said the Abraham Accords build further on that sensible vision. However, despite those positive developments, Palestinian terrorists have continued to fire a barrage of rockets at Israel, he said. Deploring such violence, he called upon Palestinian leaders to embrace the peace deal as well as the Abraham Accords. He went on to note that on 30 September, the United States and the United Arab Emirates will co-host an informal briefing on how the agreements can serve as a springboard to break the long-standing Middle East stalemate.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said that, despite many agreements and some newly forged partnerships, it remains shameful that Palestinians continue to live under occupation and are denied their basic civil and human rights. “We should ask ourselves: do these agreements that some of us welcome change the day‑to‑day lives of those living under occupation?” No plan can succeed if all parties are not included in talks, as equal partners, from the start, he emphasized. Any peace initiative must factor in the needs and aspirations of the Palestinian people and ensure that a Palestinian State is not reduced to an entity without the basic tenets of sovereignty, territorial contiguity and economic viability. “A realistic and credible peace plan will result in a genuine two‑State solution, not one viable State and a Bantustan,” he stressed. Vowing to work with like-minded countries in support of a two-State solution, he expressed support for the recent call by President Abbas’ for the Secretary-General to begin preparations — together with the Council and the Middle East Quartet — for an international conference on a genuine peace process, including resolution of all final status issues.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said that demolitions and settlement activities contravene international humanitarian law and international human rights law, eroding the viability of a two-State solution He called upon Israel to fully respect Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), as well as other United Nations resolutions and relevant provisions of international law. International efforts to promote a peaceful settlement can only bear success by facilitating direct and meaningful negotiations between the parties, she said, calling upon the Middle East Quartet to renew their efforts to restore belief on both sides that a negotiated peace agreement remains possible. Noting that poverty rates in Gaza stand at 53 per cent, far exceeding 13.9 per cent in the West Bank, she urged Israel to end its blockade of the Strip.
GENG SHUANG (China) urged States with influence to uphold the cause of advancing the peace process. Welcoming positive progress on intra-Palestinian reconciliation, he stressed the importance of unity in advancing the a two-State formula. Israel’s plan to annex some parts of the occupied West Bank, if implemented, would violate United Nations resolutions and undermine the prospects for a two-State solution. Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s call on Israel to abandon its annexation plan, he also urged all parties to heed his call for an immediate global ceasefire. Turning to Israel’s illegal settlement activities and demolition of Palestinian property, he called for full implementation of resolution 2334 (2016). Calling also for the lifting of the Gaza blockade, he expressed China’s firm commitment to addressing Palestine’s humanitarian plights and supporting the Strip’s development.
NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France) noted that the parameters of a two-State solution are long-standing and well-known, and it is on that basis that the Council bears a responsibility to work towards resumed negotiations between the parties. The recently normalized relations between States in the region can contribute to that goal, he said, emphasizing nevertheless that the aspirations of all parties must be considered. While pledging that France will not compromise Israel’s security nor abandon the Palestinian people and their rights, he stressed: the suspension of Israel’s annexation project must become permanent; the policy of settlement must be halted; and resolution 2334 (2016) must be fully implemented. “Settlement must not make it possible for annexation to take place through other means,” he said, also calling for progress in resolving intra-Palestinian relations and for more support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The Council must unite behind all those elements as part of the long-standing basis for peace — “the one we have built together”.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) welcomed Israel’s signing of agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as the constructive role played by the United States and the fact that Israel committed to suspending its plans to unilaterally annex areas of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Those developments can contribute to building momentum towards finding a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said. A two-State solution and a lasting peace can be achieved only through direct negotiations, taking into account the legitimate aspirations of both parties as well as Israel’s security concerns, he added. Urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations, he called upon both sides to implement Council resolution 2334 (2016) — including by taking steps to prevent acts of violence and terror against civilians — and to refrain from unilateral steps that could undermine the prospects of a two-State solution or increase instability in the region.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) emphasized the need for talks to resume, urging the parties to sit down at the negotiation table without preconditions. Warning against unilateral measures, she urged respect for United Nations resolutions and international law. She went on to state that the normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab countries, namely the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, has given new momentum to the peace process based on a two-State solution. Israel’s decision to suspend its annexation plan is a step in that direction, but it should abandon the project indefinitely, she said. It is time to reverse the trend on the ground, she added, emphasizing that Israel’s illegal settlement activities must cease, while also expressing grave concern about the increase in demolitions of Palestinian property. Turning to Gaza, she expressed hope that intra-Palestinian reconciliation would pave the way for a fair presidential election. She stressed that civil society and human rights defenders must be allowed to work without impediment.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) described the recent ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel as “a step in the right direction”, also welcoming the latest efforts by rival Palestinian parties to prepare for upcoming elections, which would help meet the Palestinian people’s expectations. However, the situation is fragile since the deep-seated causes of the conflict have not been eradicated, he said, urging all parties to refrain from any unilateral action that may lead to more violence. Expressing full support for the Secretary-General and his Special Coordinator, he underlined the importance of continued United Nations engagement in the Middle East peace process, adding that it is high time all stakeholders redoubled their efforts to restart negotiations.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) declared: “Peace without addressing the root causes is not peace at all.” The root cause of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict is the illegal occupation, which has been amplified by decades of Israel’s creeping annexation and illegal settlement policy in flagrant violation of international law and resolution 2334 (2016), he said. Promising peace without addressing those issues is just an illusion, he said, stressing that any solution that disregards the main parties is unjust and one-sided. The Council should support the Secretary General’s call upon both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations. Describing the many struggles facing the Palestinian people living under occupation — now exacerbated by COVID-19 and its spill-over effects — he called upon all States to demonstrate their solidarity and humanity by supporting civilians. In that vein, he called upon Israel to end its blockade of Gaza and allow unhindered access for humanitarian assistance and goods.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) recalled that, during the General Assembly’s seventy‑fifth high-level debate, Heads of State reiterated the importance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and helping the Palestinian people realize their rights to self-determination and to an independent State. Rejecting Israel’s annexationist efforts and calling for their abandonment “once and for all”, he said efforts must continue — with the full participation of the Palestinian side as a prerequisite — to resume negotiations between the parties. The Council has a vital role to play in moving the peace process forward and in ending Israel’s impunity. Echoing expressions of support for the proposal to hold an international conference, he also voiced hope that Palestinian elections will soon be organized and that the blockade against Gaza — which constitutes a form of collective punishment — will be promptly lifted.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic), expressing concern over the increase in COVID-19 cases in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, called for a permanent ceasefire by both sides to alleviate human suffering caused by the pandemic. Welcoming the recent normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, he said it will deepen cooperation among nations and enhance stability in the region. Urging the Palestinian side to constructively take advantage of these developments, he said Palestine might be in the darkest hour now, but dawn comes soon after. Expressing full support for the two-State formula, he emphasized the that the basis for a solution has not changed. There must be a peace agreement between the two sides, he said, adding that they must negotiate a way out of the conflict.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) welcomed the normalization of relations between Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates and Israel as “positive steps” that are already having an impact, such as direct flights from Israel to the Emirates and early commercial agreements. Predicting more progress to come, including on trade, cultural and scientific links, he urged others across the region to follow the example of the two Arab countries. The developments represent “a profound shift” in the region, he said, calling upon the international community to build on this momentum to take forward the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Describing the suspension of annexation plans as an opportunity, he urged the Palestinian Authority to resume cooperation with Israel, also calling upon both sides to take constructive and open steps towards a return to dialogue.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) noted that, at every juncture of the international community’s work on the Middle East, his delegation has supported a comprehensive peace underpinned by a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the creation of an independent Palestinian State. Emphasizing that all final status issues must be resolved by the parties themselves through negotiations at the earliest possible date, he welcomed the recent proposal by President Abbas to set such a process in motion. “Isolated efforts will not lead to any breakthroughs,” he said, warning against actions that might collapse gains already made. The United Nations, the European Union and other partners, alongside key regional actors, must step up their support, he added. Calling upon the parties to refrain from unilateral actions or provocations — including annexation efforts, violence or terrorist attacks — he said active international steps are needed to reverse the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza and elsewhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Meanwhile, UNRWA needs more resources, as it not only supports humanitarian efforts, but also plays a crucial stabilizing role, he pointed out.
GÜNTER SAUTTER (Germany) expressed hope that the momentum generated by the recently signed normalization agreements will contribute to the quest for peace and stability in the Middle East. However, a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on international law, United Nations resolutions and internationally agreed parameters, he said, emphasizing that “normalization must not result in consolidating the status quo”. Reiterating his country’s support for a negotiated two-State solution leading to two sovereign, independent States, he pledged that Germany will continue its support and good offices as a path back to credible dialogue and a negotiated, peaceful settlement. He went on to note that settlement activities are illegal under international law and only serve to undermine peace efforts, stating: “We trust that Israeli annexation plans are truly and permanently suspended.” Meanwhile, he cautioned, any changes to the legal and traditional status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and the city of Hebron would further erode signed agreements and trust “at a time when the COVID-19 crisis warrants close cooperation”.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger), Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity, expressing support for all initiatives aimed at helping restore stability to the Middle East. While welcoming the recently signed Abraham Accords in that regard, he nevertheless emphasized that they must not overshadow a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians themselves. Instead, the parties should be compelled to return to revitalized peace talks, in line with agreed international parameters and Council resolutions, he said. Indeed, the path to peace has already been clearly defined: an end to the occupation and annexation of Palestinian land, and a two-State solution leading to Israeli and Palestinian States living side by side in peace and security. Expressing concern over the accelerating spread of COVID-19 among both Palestinians and Israelis, he called upon the international community to demonstrate greater generosity, while pointing out that it is Israel’s responsibility, as the occupying Power, to keep people safe in territories under its control.