Prioritizing Gaza Reconstruction Must Not Detract from Broader International Goal of Ending Israeli Occupation, Deputy Special Coordinator Tells Security Council
Speakers Urge Israel to Allow Unhindered Entry of Humanitarian Aid as Physical Damage from Violent Clashes in May Estimated at $290-$380 Million
While the global community should prioritize its support for Gaza’s reconstruction in the wake of the violence that erupted there in May, a senior United Nations official also urged the Security Council not to “lose sight of the broader goal” — namely, ending the Israeli occupation and realizing a two-State solution — as she briefed the organ during its quarterly open debate on the Middle East today.
Lynn Hastings, who serves as Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, outlined urgent assistance being provided by the United Nations and its partners on the heels of 11 days of clashes in Gaza two months ago. She said that, beyond the human tragedy for both Palestinians and Israelis, a recent Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment by the United Nations, European Union and the World Bank estimated the physical damage to Gaza to be between $290 million and $380 million, and additional economic losses to reach up to $200 million. The social sector was hit hardest, significantly weakening the safety net of the most vulnerable.
Thanking donors for providing nearly half of the $95 million requested in the United Nations Flash Appeal to date, she said fuel deliveries have resumed through the Kerem Shalom crossing and some restriction on the import and export of goods have been lifted. Calling on Israel to allow the unhindered entry of all humanitarian aid, she also called on Hamas and other armed groups to stop launching incendiary devices, rockets and mortars and end their militant build-up. While critical humanitarian interventions are needed in the short-term, “any sustainable future in Gaza requires political solutions”, she said, adding that Israel must end its demolition and seizure of Palestinian property in the occupied West Bank in line with its obligations under international law.
Also briefing the Council was Yudith Oppenheimer, Executive Director of the civil society organization Ir Amim, which she said works towards an equitable, shared and sustainable city of Jerusalem. Noting that the rights and liberties she enjoys as an Israeli citizen are not afforded to the city’s 350,000 Palestinian residents — who today make up nearly 40 per cent of its population — she said Israeli authorities have long employed a system of discriminatory policies to weaken the Palestinian hold on the city, from land confiscation and settlement building to the denial of citizenship and political rights.
Providing a snapshot of the current situation, she said the main trigger behind recent clashes was the ongoing pressures to undermine Palestinian rights to Jerusalem, exemplified by the continued erosion of the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the arbitrary closure of the Damascus Gate plaza during Ramadan and the pending evictions of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Such demolitions and eviction have risen in an unprecedented manner, serving as acute mechanisms of displacement. She also cited several eviction cases pending before Israel’s Supreme Court, stressing that it is essential to hold the Government accountable and to urge it to prevent such large-scale displacement in the future.
The Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine stressed that dispossession, displacement and the denial of rights are elements of Palestinians’ daily lives — not a chapter in their history or stories of past grievances. “We fear that the future being drawn on the ground aims at making this our perpetual reality,” he said, stressing that truly advancing the cause of peace requires ending the Israeli occupation. Underlining the growing trend of apartheid “on both sides of the green line”, he thanked all those around the globe who have been increasingly mobilizing in support of the Palestinian people and called for the current urgency and momentum to be maintained. “This Council must be the catalyst for determined international action to steer us away from the path we are on and drive us towards safety,” he added.
Israel’s representative, meanwhile, recalled the 2020 signing of agreements normalizing diplomatic relations between his country and several others in the region. Times are changing, he said, even without the Council’s involvement. Despite such positive steps, Hamas and Iran remained determined to fuel tensions and demonize Israel, and thousands of rockets continue to be launched. Bringing such issues to the Council only weakens the situation, while briefings by far-left non-governmental organizations — such as the one provided today — are both absurd and dangerous and could be understood as accepting the rhetoric of Hamas. He warned that the cost of adopting such extremist narratives would be enormous for the entire region, pointing out that Israel has much to offer its neighbours and that Iran is still working to become a nuclear-weapon State.
As Council members took the floor to share their observations and propose ways forward, many speakers urged the parties to exercise maximum restraint during the current, highly fragile period, and asked them to refrain from any provocative actions that could further heighten tensions. Some pointed to the reconstruction of Gaza as an urgent priority, spotlighting the crucial role to be played by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), while one speaker raised concerns about the Agency’s management and transparency. Meanwhile, several delegates advocated for redoubled diplomacy in support of direct talks between the parties, including by convening the members of the Middle East Quartet — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation — at the highest level.
China’s representative noted that, despite the ceasefire, demolitions, evictions and civilian displacement continue to unfold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Stressing that Israel must comply with all Council resolutions, discontinue its settlement expansions and respect the historic status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem, he joined other speakers in calling for scaled-up international support for Gaza — as well as efforts to lift the long-standing blockade imposed against it. China has provided $1 million to UNRWA’s food aid programme and will donate 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, he said, urging others to also step up their support.
The representative of the Russian Federation said strengthening the ceasefire and providing urgent humanitarian assistance to those in need in Gaza should be among the international community’s top priorities. Amid the recent destruction and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, comprehensive aid must be delivered to the Palestinian people through United Nations agencies — especially UNRWA — without preconditions or politicization. Warning that the international community “should not rest easy” amid the current ceasefire, he called for the holding of a Middle East Quartet ministerial-level meeting, as well as expanded consultations with participation by regional States, warning against losing sight of the need to press forward with direct negotiations.
The representative of Tunisia was among several speakers who urged the Council — and the broader international community — to compel Israel to cease its violations, expansionist settlement activities and all other actions that could jeopardize the achievement of a just, lasting peace. Asking how long the occupation will be allowed to continue, he recalled that the Council made its position on the matter clear 54 years ago and must finally ensure compliance with international resolutions. He also cautioned that any attempt to impose a fait accompli in terms of a lasting solution would threaten international peace and security.
The representative of the United States, meanwhile, underlined both her country’s commitment to a two-State solution and its rejection of efforts to single out Israel. As the recent spate of violence recedes, “we must make good on our commitments to provide humanitarian assistance and support recovery efforts in Gaza”. She recalled that the United States recently signed an agreement with UNRWA providing an additional $136 million in humanitarian aid, but that it did so only after requiring new benchmarks on the Agency’s transparency. UNRWA needs both managerial and operational improvements, she said, stressing that there is no room for anti-Semitism in any United Nations agency.
Also participating were the representatives of India, Mexico, Norway, Viet Nam, Niger, Kenya, Estonia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ireland, United Kingdom and France. In addition, several delegations which are not members of the Security Council submitted written statements.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 12:21 p.m.
LYNN HASTINGS, Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, said the United Nations and its partners are once again providing urgent assistance to those living in the Gaza Strip, in the wake of the recent round of hostilities in May. “Beyond the human tragedy for both Palestinians and Israelis, and the physical damage of 11 days of fighting, the economic impact of the escalation in May has further exacerbated the existing humanitarian crisis and severely weakened Gaza’s economy,” she said.
She recalled that on 6 July the United Nations, the World Bank and the European Union released their Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment, which found that damage in Gaza is estimated at between $290 million and $380 million. Meanwhile, economic losses more broadly may reach up to $200 million. The social sector was hit hardest, significantly weakening the safety net of the most vulnerable. Efforts are now under way to align donor support with work that addresses both the aftermath of the May escalation and the significant fiscal crisis facing the Palestinian Authority. So far, some $45 million of a requested $95 million for urgent relief has been raised through the United Nations consolidated humanitarian Flash Appeal, issued in May.
Thanking donors for their generous support, she reported that fuel deliveries for the Gaza power plant resumed in late June through the Kerem Shalom crossing, with support from Qatar. Electricity is now reaching residents for roughly 14 hours per day. Israeli authorities have also expanded the Gaza fishing zone from 6 to 12 nautical miles, and additional restrictions on the import and export of certain goods were lifted. However, on 25 July the fishing zone was restricted again to six nautical miles, following the launch of incendiary balloons from Gaza. Calling upon Israel to allow the unhindered entry of all humanitarian assistance — including materials to implement the 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan and the Flash Appeal — she said the trilateral Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism established in 2014 between the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations remains best placed to enable that flow of supplies.
“For any durable stability, movement and access in and out of Gaza must be improved,” she continued. Taking into consideration its legitimate security concerns, Israel should ease restrictions on the movement of goods and people to and from Gaza, in line with Council resolution 1860 (2009), with the goal of ultimately lifting them. Meanwhile, Hamas and other armed groups must stop the launching of incendiary devices, rockets and mortars and end their militant build up. Noting that urgent humanitarian interventions can provide crucial relief in the short term, she emphasized that “any sustainable future in Gaza requires political solutions” and reiterated the need for the return of a legitimate Palestinian Government to Gaza.
Similarly, she said, the Palestinian Authority’s fiscal situation continues to be a source of concern, with a budget gap that is expected to be well over $1 billion for the current budget year coupled with serious liquidity risks. The Israeli Security Cabinet recently approved the freezing of some 600 million Israeli shekels from the revenues Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority — which will be deducted in monthly instalments — in line with the amount paid by the Authority to security for prisoners, detainees and the families of those killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis. To address those challenges, she said, the Palestinian Authority must implement much-needed reforms to strengthen the rule of law and accountability.
Outlining several instances of violence during the period under review, she said that — while the cessation of hostilities reached between Israel and Hamas in May largely held in Gaza — militants launched 13 incendiary balloons towards Israel, causing fires. In retaliation, the Israel Defence Forces fired 18 missiles against what it said were Hamas targets in Gaza, resulting in damage. In the occupied West Bank, clashes, attacks, search and arrest operations and other incidents resulted in the death of four Palestinians and injured 638 others. Meanwhile, settlers and other Israeli civilians in the occupied West Bank perpetrated 36 attacks against Palestinians, and Palestinians perpetrated 47 attacks against Israeli settlers and other civilians.
She went on to describe recent protests, calling on the Palestinian Authority to investigate allegations of disproportionate use of force by Palestinian security forces. Palestinians must be able to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly. Also noting that the Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and other structures continued throughout the reporting period, resulting in the displacement of dozens of people, she urged Israel to cease its demolition and seizure of Palestinian property throughout the occupied West Bank in line with its obligations under international law.
Touching on developments across the wider region, she noted that the ceasefire between Israel and Syria in the occupied Golan has generally held and reiterated her calls for an impartial and transparent investigation of the August 2020 Beirut port explosion, as its one-year anniversary approaches. She also voiced concern about the financial situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), whose programme budget faces a projected $100 million shortfall and an imminent cash flow crisis.
In that context, she called on donors to sustain their past funding levels and advance disbursements of funds as much as possible, in order to avoid a disruption of essential services and humanitarian aid. “Urgent efforts to improve the situation in Gaza must move forward swiftly, but let us not lose sight of the broader goal — resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ending the occupation and realizing a two-State solution,” she concluded.
YUDITH OPPENHEIMER, Executive Director of Ir Amim, speaking via video, recalled her Orthodox Jewish upbringing and life in the city, with a deep understanding of the profound role religion and tradition plays. Highlighting the work of Ir Amim, an Israeli organization that envisions an equitable and sustainable Jerusalem with an agreed political future, she said the name means “City of Peoples”, reflecting a vision of a shared city. Yet, the rights and liberties she enjoys as an Israeli citizen are not afforded to the city’s 350,000 Palestinian residents, who today make up nearly 40 per cent of its population, she said. Since the 1967 occupation and unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem, in contravention to international law, Israeli authorities have employed a system of discriminatory policies to weaken the Palestinian hold on the city, from land confiscation and settlement building to the denial of citizenship and political rights. These measures violate the individual and collective rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem, contravene Security Council resolutions and destabilize conditions for an agreed two-State resolution.
Providing a snapshot of the current situation, she said the main trigger behind recent clashes was the ongoing pressures to undermine Palestinian rights to Jerusalem, exemplified by the continued erosion of the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the arbitrary closure of the Damascus Gate plaza during Ramadan and the pending evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah. Evictions of Palestinian families and home demolitions have significantly grown in an unprecedented manner, serving as acute mechanisms of displacement from Jerusalem. Four Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem — Sheikh Jarrah, Batan al-Hawa, Al Bustan and Al Walajeh — face mass expulsion, affecting 3,000 people.
Citing recent developments addressing evictions and demolitions, she said several eviction cases are pending at the Supreme Court, with a major hearing scheduled for 2 August. The Attorney General has been asked by the Supreme Court to submit a legal opinion by 29 August in one of the cases in Batan al-Hawa, which will likely impact the additional cases involving 80 more families. Through the Attorney General’s opinion, the Israeli Government is now being compelled to take an explicit position on these eviction proceedings. It is essential to hold the Government of Israel accountable and to urge it to prevent the large-scale displacement of these communities. Immediate threats of mass demolition loom over 140 homes in Al Bustan, Silwan and Al Walajeh, placing some 1,800 more Palestinians at risk of displacement. Upcoming court decisions in August concerning these communities could immediately accelerate demolitions, she cautioned, adding that Israeli planning authorities have continually blocked residents’ efforts to authorize their homes and promote plans to enable the development of their communities.
In this vein, she highlighted recent remarks of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who said, “What we need to do now is to make sure that no steps are taken that will prevent the possibility of peace in the future; we need to improve the lives of Palestinians. Whatever is humanitarian, I will be for it.” To fulfil this statement, the Government of Israel must, therefore, be urged to cease all demolitions and evictions of Palestinian families; advance proper urban planning and equitable housing policies in East Jerusalem; ensure the provision of fair and adequate services to all of the city’s residents; safeguard both peoples’ rights to their homes and the city and recognize their historic, religious and political attachments to Jerusalem; and engage with the Palestinian national leadership and together, with the support of the international community, foster conditions for a sustainable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in line with Security Council resolution 2334 (2016). In the absence of a political agreement in the foreseeable future, the two peoples in Jerusalem will continue to share a complex urban reality. Dialogue and cooperation must be cultivated, and measures that exacerbate tension should be avoided, she said, adding that these elements must form the basis for negotiations towards a viable solution.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, said dispossession, displacement and the denial of rights are elements of Palestinians’ daily lives — not a chapter in their history or stories of past grievances. “We fear that the future being drawn on the ground aims at making this our perpetual reality,” he said, noting that no task is more difficult than being a parent deprived of the means to protect her children. Urging the Council to talk about Palestine’s future through the lens of what can be done to help its children today, he declared: “The battle for peace will be won or lost on the ground by ending the galloping annexation and occupation and upholding Palestinian rights.” While the Council has often called upon the parties to demonstrate their commitment to peace in word and practice, truly advancing peace requires ending the Israeli occupation. “Occupation and peace cannot coexist,” he stressed.
Underlining a growing trend “that is becoming more obvious every day”, he drew the Council’s attention to a situation of apartheid “on both sides of the green line”. Recent months have unequivocally refuted the claims that the situation on the ground was under control, even as annexation continues, or that peace is possible as the Palestinian people continue to be side-lined. “We need to maintain a sense of urgency and generate momentum to move forward,” he stressed, citing several important reasons to be hopeful. Those include the resilience of the Palestinian people, a new United States Administration which adheres to the international consensus, and a global community that increasingly shares the aim of two democratic States living in peace. While the Council itself has regrettably demonstrated its limitations in times of aggression and war, it also knows that the road to peace is inscribed in its own resolutions. Expressing support for the Russian Federation’s initiative to reconvene the Middle East Quartet at the ministerial level, he added: “This Council must be the catalyst for determined international action to steer us away from the path we are on and drive us towards safety.”
GILAD MENASHE ERDAN (Israel), recalling that the Abraham Accords were signed almost one year ago, said that the times are changing, even without the Security Council’s involvement. While his Government and moderate regional States are involved in dialogue, Hamas and Iran are determined to fuel tensions and demonize Israel. Hamas has launched thousands of rockets against Israel in reaction to a Palestinian decision to cancel elections. Wondering if the narrative of terrorist organizations could be accepted, he said bringing such issues to the Council only weakens the situation. Bringing a political far-left non-governmental organization to brief the Council is absurd and dangerous, he said, adding that the group ignores inconvenient facts, including that Jerusalem’s Arab population has increased by 400 per cent and that most of that population wants Israeli citizenship. The Security Council’s briefing could be understood as an acceptance of the narrative of Hamas. Wondering if this is really what the Council wants, he said the Palestinian Authority remains stuck in the past, also wanting to keep the Security Council mired there as well. The Human Rights Council investigation is a waste of resources and a travesty of justice. Instead, the Palestinian people in the streets are calling for the removal of the Palestinian Authority, he said. Demonizing Israel instead of helping Palestinians is reflected in the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to accept 1 million COVID-19 doses.
He said the cost of adopting the narrative of the extremists in the Middle East is enormous, for many parties in the region, including in relation to ongoing water crises in Lebanon and Iran. Israel is a leader in water management and is willing to help other nations, as it did with Jordan, but some countries are not interested in building a better future. Iran continues to work towards becoming a nuclear-weapon State, is developing ballistic missiles and supports terrorist groups in the region, including in Yemen. Citing such recent examples as Iran’s signature on a drone attack against Jordan and a kidnapping attempt in the United States, he said Tehran also supports Hizbullah, including in obtaining precision-guided missiles. The Security Council must take the opportunity when considering the renewal of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to restrain Hizbullah’s actions. Indeed, when the Security Council fails to take strong action against countries like Iran and Syria, it is no wonder that companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever impose anti-Semitic boycotts on the world’s only Jewish State. Such efforts “melt to nothing, like ice cream in the summer sun”, he said. Rather than singling out Israel, the Council can do many things to make peace in the region, including insisting that the Palestinian Authority end its financing of terror and work towards peace, he said, reiterating that Israel remains committed to building a better future for the entire Middle East.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) underlined her country’s commitment to a two-State solution, as well as its rejection of efforts to single out Israel in United Nations forums. Urging both parties to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions — including home demolitions, evictions, incitement to violence and the compensation of individuals imprisoned for acts of violence — she said that, as the recent spate of violence recedes, “we must make good on our commitments to provide humanitarian assistance and support recovery efforts in Gaza”. While the United States recently signed an agreement with UNRWA and pledged an additional $136 million in humanitarian assistance — bringing its total for 2021 to $318 million — it did so only after adding a new series of benchmarks on transparency and accountability, as UNRWA is in need of both managerial and operational improvements and there is no room for anti-Semitism in any United Nations agency. Against that backdrop, she called upon other Member States, especially those in the Gulf region, to step up their support, and voiced concern over recent reports of the use of force by the Palestinian Authority to curb freedom of expression among activists.
NAGARAJ NAIDU KAKANUR (India) said the 21 May ceasefire was brought in by the concerted diplomatic efforts of the international community. Calling upon all parties to show restraint and refrain from unilateral actions that could exacerbate tensions, he agreed with other speakers that the regular and predictable entry of goods through verified channels into Gaza remains vital for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Israel’s easing of restrictions on the entry of essential supplies into Gaza, and other de-escalation measures, are steps in the right direction. Expressing India’s full support for recovery and reconstruction in Gaza, he said it is crucial that the international donor community supports such efforts through the Palestinian Authority and encouraged all Palestinian parties to work with the Authority to that end. He also echoed expressions of concern over negative trends in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which threaten to derail the cumulative gains to date, and urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “go beyond the restoration of calm” and launch a serious dialogue to address the issues that undercut the viability of a two-State solution.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico) said the Government of Israel’s ongoing demolition and evictions — most recently in Khirbet Humsa and Ras Al-Tin, which displaced 108 people, including 62 children — contravene Council resolutions. Urging Israel’s compliance with international law and Council resolutions, he said efforts must also work towards resolving fiscal challenges. He encouraged the Palestinian Authority to respect the freedom of expression, investigate the recent death of the activist Nizar Banat and hold inclusive elections, which are the cornerstone of building institutions in every State. He urged Israel to lift the Gaza blockade and facilitate the import of goods and called on Hamas to work with United Nations agencies on reconstruction efforts. Condemning rocket attacks against Israel, he called on all parties to stop provocations and the use of indiscriminate force. Efforts led by Egypt and Turkey are encouraging in advancing peace negotiations, he said, adding that efforts must also focus on the root causes of conflict with a view to establishing a two-State solution.
MONA JUUL (Norway), reiterating Norway’s strong support for the Special Coordinator’s efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire, said stability and sustainable solutions are most needed as the situation in Palestine remains “unresolved and tense”. Following a meeting earlier in the month convened by Norway, as Chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, the donor group for Palestine, there has been direct contact between the Israeli Government and President Abbas for the first time in several years. The Gaza Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment’s findings of the physical damage and economic losses caused by the hostilities in May provide a useful basis for organizing donor support to humanitarian and reconstruction efforts, she said, calling on the international community to help work with the parties to strengthen the Palestinian economy and improve socioeconomic conditions. A strong Palestinian Authority is crucial in that regard. She also urged the parties to solve all outstanding technical issues and donors to assist with issues related to the Paris Protocol. Concerned about continued settlement expansion, she noted reports of a significant increase this year in house demolitions and evictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and expressed particular concern about repeated demolitions in the Palestinian community of Humsa al-Baqai’a.
DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam), said that he remained very concerned about the continued violence in the Occupied Palestine Territory, particularly in the West Bank, two months after the ceasefire was announced. He urged the Israeli authorities to refrain from the use of excessive force, especially of live ammunition against civilians and said “the rhetoric and provocative actions that contributed to the dangerous dynamics on the ground must stop”. Pointing to the root causes of the conflict, he said the incident in the illegal outpost of Evyatar last week was a typical example of how settlement activities can spark violence and called upon Israel to end such activities immediately and respect the historical significance and status quo of the holy cities of Jerusalem. The lack of progress in the peace process has undermined remaining hopes for peace, he said, welcoming recent positive signals towards dialogue and urging the parties’ leaders to revitalize the peace process. Particularly concerned about the plight of children during decades of conflict, he called on the relevant authorities and the international community to redouble their efforts to stop the violence and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance, which is more critical than ever for Palestinian civilians, particularly in Gaza.
ABDOU ABARRY (Niger) said that in light of the ceasefire initiated to calm tensions, both sides must work towards strengthening efforts to foster a climate for peace so negotiations can continue. However, a spectre of violence and instability persists, including the launch of incendiary devices against Israel and demolitions in East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley. Displaced families were left homeless, without any legal remedy to address the sinister situation, he said, recalling that the destruction and seizure of private property are forbidden under international law, contravene Security Council resolutions and increase risks of confrontation. Colonization and injustice cause discontent and revolt among Palestinians living in occupied territories. Highlighting grave concerns, he said at least 6,000 children have been displaced in the last 12 years, many of whom suffer from trauma. Calling on the international community to put pressure on parties to resolve their differences, he drew attention to grave concerns about the Gaza blockade’s repercussions on the delivery of aid and economic recovery. The occupying Power must protect citizens’ rights, he said, emphasizing that no solution can be reached without considering the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
GENG SHUANG (China) said that despite the ceasefire, continued demolitions, evictions and displacement are unfolding, and Israeli police recently clashed with worshippers in East Jerusalem. Israel must comply with Council resolutions, stop demolishing homes, discontinue settlement expansions and respect the historic status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem. The international community must scale up assistance to build up Gaza, including efforts that focus on lifting the blockade. For its part, China has transferred a donation of $1 million to UNRWA for its food aid programme and will donate 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. The Palestinian question is the root cause of instability in the Middle East, he said, expressing support for establishing the State of Palestine in line with a two-State solution. Summarizing China’s ideas to ensure this, he said the Palestinian Authority should gain economic control over the territories. Palestinian and Israeli parties must make every effort to advance peace talks, he said, inviting them to meet in China.
MICHAEL KIBOINO (Kenya) noted efforts in advancing the peace process despite the fragile ceasefire and urged all parties to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and acts of provocation and incitement. Urging the new Israeli Government to resolve the possible forced evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan in East Jerusalem, he said that Israeli settlements remain a major impediment to a two-State solution. As Gaza is rebuilt, steps must be taken to prevent the misuse and diversion of aid by Hamas and other armed groups, he said, noting that the June 2021 joint Gaza Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment by the World Bank, European Union and United Nations recognized that appropriate safeguards are immediately needed to prevent any diversions. Towards that end, unhindered humanitarian access to the affected areas should be factored into all existing agreements and mechanisms. Concerned about the low COVID-19 vaccination rate in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, particularly amid the increase in Delta variant cases being reported, he encouraged efforts to ensure equal access to vaccines and medical care.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said priorities right now should be to strengthen the ceasefire and provide urgent humanitarian assistance to all those in need. Joining other speakers in calling upon both Israelis and Palestinians to demonstrate restraint and avoid any unilateral actions, especially by halting home demolitions and evictions, he also spotlighted the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and called for comprehensive assistance to the Palestinian people through United Nations agencies — especially UNRWA — without preconditions or politicization. Warning that the international community “should not rest easy” amid the current ceasefire, he said it must not lose sight of, or postpone to a more favourable moment, the need to relaunch direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on all final status issues. To that end, he advocated for a consolidation of international efforts with the Middle East Quartet playing a key role. He also welcomed Egypt’s role in mediating the current intra-Palestinian issues and called on his Quartet colleagues to hold a ministerial-level meeting, as well as consultations in an expanded format, with participation by regional States.
ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia) said the parties in Israel and Gaza must continue to respect the ceasefire and avoid further violence. Expressing full support for international and regional efforts towards securing long-term peace, he said all parties should take steps in order to improve the humanitarian and socioeconomic situation in Gaza, while taking into consideration Israel’s security concerns. Efforts must also continue to create conditions for the resumption of direct negotiations on a two-State solution. Further coordinated efforts to combat COVID-19, as well as to enhance economic cooperation, would benefit the citizens on both sides. Calling on all parties to calm the volatile situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he said the status quo of the holy sites must be respected. Israel’s settlement expansion, evictions and demolitions of Palestinian property in the West Bank, run contrary to international law and are escalating an already tense environment. Deeply concerned by the death of activist Nizar Banat during his arrest and subsequent clashes between protesters and security forces in Ramallah, he called for a full and independent investigation. The exercise of freedom of expression must be ensured for all. Regarding the postponement of the Palestinian elections, he encouraged stakeholders to support efforts in establishing a new date, and ensure that the elections are free, fair and inclusive.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) said Israeli settlers continue to violate measures on Al-Aqsa Mosque while the demolition of homes persists. The international community and the Security Council must compel Israel to cease its violations, expansionist settlement activities and any actions that jeopardizes the achievement of a just, lasting peace in the Middle East. In this regard, he called for an end to impunity. The Council must play its role to end the stalemate in the peace process, he said, calling on the Middle East Quartet to help to prepare the conditions for peace in a manner that will end the occupation and establish a Palestinian State. Asking how long this unjust occupation will continue, he recalled that the Council made its position clear 54 years ago. The Council must now ensure compliance with international resolutions by, among other things, working towards reopening negotiations. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he said the level of assistance must also be raised, in light of growing needs, especially during the pandemic, and that UNRWA and its important work must be supported. However, any attempt to impose a fait accompli in terms of a lasting solution would threaten international peace and security, he said.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said that in recent months, as tensions within the State of Palestine have been stoked from outside, undermining the country and the aspirations of its people, the international community’s goal should be to forge a secure, durable peace and consolidate efforts to preserve a two-State solution. She called for activating the Middle East Quartet to restart peace talks and negotiations as an urgent priority. She reiterated that settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are illegal. Concerned about Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes and property in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, she condemned the most recent demolitions in Humsa al-Baqai’a, stressing: “There is absolutely no justification for these actions.” Concerned about the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza, she said rebuilding of the Strip must begin in earnest. As millions of Palestinian people urgently need humanitarian assistance, she called on the international community to provide additional funding to support UNRWA’s programme budget and on Israel to fully lift its 15-year illegal blockade of Gaza and facilitate greater supply of humanitarian assistance to the area.
BRIAN FLYNN (Ireland), echoing calls for all unilateral actions which threaten the ceasefire and undermine prospects for a two-State solution to be avoided, stressed that the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be addressed. Emphasizing that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the conflict and must be an intrinsic part of efforts to secure peace, he condemned the recent demolitions and seizures in Area C of the occupied West Bank. The increased rate of demolitions, including of donor-funded structures, across the West Bank is also concerning. Citing the long-term risk such demolitions and evictions pose to children, he called on Israel to end unnecessary demolitions of Palestinian homes and ensure humanitarian access is granted. Israel should also halt all settlement activity in occupied territory, including in East Jerusalem, which are illegal under international law. To support the immediate priority — a recovery from the latest cycle of conflict in Gaza — he said an integrated, robust support package from the international community is essential. However, only a political solution will address the broader challenges throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and efforts towards that end should be redoubled.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) echoed other speakers in calling for the parties to avoid exacerbating tensions in order to prevent a further escalation. She condemned unequivocally Hamas’s inflammatory action and indiscriminate attacks against Israel, including the use of incendiary devices, and called upon Hamas and other terrorist groups to permanently end their rocket fire against Israel. Reiterating that Israel’s settlement activity presents a barrier to peace and that demolitions are illegal, she remained concerned about the high number of Palestinian households in East Jerusalem with pending eviction and demolition cases, including in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. “The United Kingdom remains strongly opposed to Israel’s proposed demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, and we call again on Israel to reconsider its plans,” she said. Concerned by the high number of Palestinians killed in confrontation with the Israeli Security Forces in the West Bank, she said Israeli investigations into accusations of excessive use of force should be comprehensive and hold those responsible to account. She urged steps to end ongoing tensions on the Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Turning to Gaza, she urged the parties to address immediate humanitarian needs and work towards a longer-term solution. She welcomed positive signals from both parties towards re-establishment of the Joint Economic Committee, which she said is essential in supporting recovery of the Palestinian economy and ensuring the sustainability of the Palestinian Authority.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), Council President for July, spoke in his national capacity, stressing that it is more necessary than ever for the Council to mobilize in support of a two-State solution. “The time has come to turn a new page in the Israel-Palestine dossier,” he said, calling for small, reciprocal steps aimed at building trust between the parties. Noting that those are the goals being pursued by France along with its German, Jordanian and Egyptian partners, he urged both Israelis and Palestinians to avoid stoking new tensions and sounded alarm over the fresh demolition of Palestinian structures — including some built with funding from France and other international donors. The status of holy sites must be respected, and a durable ceasefire that allows for the reconstruction of Gaza — along with the free movement of humanitarian personnel and goods — is critical. He went on to call for an improvement in Palestinian Government, noting with regret the recent decision by President Mahmoud Abbas to postpone elections, and calling for a new electoral calendar without delay.