Settlement Expansion Fuelling Violence in Occupied Palestinian Territory, Middle East Peace Process Special Coordinator Warns Security Council
Speakers in the Security Council today denounced Israel’s continued settlement activities, evictions and demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures, as the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process expressed regret that there had been “little progress” made by the sides in upholding obligations under the landmark resolution 2334 (2016).
“Israel’s settlement expansion continues to fuel violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, further entrenching the occupation and undermining the right of Palestinians to self-determination and independent statehood,” said Special Coordinator Tor Wennesland, as he presented the twenty-first report on resolution 2334 (2016), covering 10 December 2021 to 18 March 2022.
Making that point, he noted that on 5 January, Israel published tenders for some 300 settlement housing units in the Talpiyot East neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, with the Jerusalem District Planning Committee later advancing plans to build 800 and 400 housing units respectively in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo.
Daily violence also continued, he said. Twenty-four Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces during demonstrations, clashes, security operations, attacks and alleged attacks against Israelis. In addition, Israeli settlers perpetrated 144 attacks against Palestinians. In total, Palestinians carried out 277 attacks against Israeli civilians.
At the same time, he welcomed steps taken to “reverse negative trends”, citing Qatar’s 27 December agreement with the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Electricity Distribution Corporation to advance construction of a natural gas pipeline from Israel to Gaza.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates called for a permanent halt to demolitions and evictions, particularly in East Jerusalem, as well as for strict adherence to the status quo of holy places, the proportionate use of force by Israeli forces and the end of settlement building, an activity that France’s delegate termed “the expansion of colonies”.
Continued violation of the core provisions of resolution 2234 (2016) “makes a bad situation worse”, said Albania’s delegate. “What we heard is worrying and goes against what this Council is seeking to achieve.” He called for “concrete, continued and sustained” steps that diffuse tensions.
Pointing to diplomatic forays, the representative of the United States said officials from her country are visiting the region to explore ways to improve the quality of life for Palestinians, while Gabon’s delegate similarly welcomed the King of Morocco’s role as Chairman of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Al-Quds Committee for preserving the special status of the holy city. Norway’s representative welcomed the decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to terminate eviction orders against four Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah, emphasizing that longer-term solutions are needed and that all evictions in East Jerusalem must be halted indefinitely.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates, Council President for March, spoke in her national capacity to welcome Jordan’s diplomatic efforts to reach a common understanding that secures calm, and likewise commend Egypt for resuming reconstruction in the Gaza Strip.
The Russian Federation’s delegate said plans to further expand settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank could be viewed as a de facto annexation of large parts of the Palestinian territory. The primary goal should be to achieve a lasting, stable situation within internationally recognized parameters, he said.
Also speaking today were representatives of Ireland, Brazil, India, Mexico, Kenya, Ghana, United Kingdom and China.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 11:48 a.m.
TOR WENNESLAND, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, presenting the twenty-first report on resolution 2334 (2016), covering 10 December 2021 to 18 March 2022, said the resolution calls for the complete cessation of settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. However, “no such steps were taken”, he said. Detailing events, he noted that on 5 January, Israel published tenders for some 300 settlement housing units in the Talpiyot East neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, while on 10 and 24 January, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee advanced plans to build 800 and 400 housing units respectively in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. It then advanced plans for another 1,200 units in southern Jerusalem, a significant number of which are to be built in East Jerusalem. On 1 February, Israel’s Attorney-General published a legal opinion allowing authorities to declare land in the outpost of Evyatar as “State land” and authorizing accelerated planning procedures for the establishment of a settlement there.
He went on to note that demolitions of Palestinian structures continued along the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Citing the absence of Israeli-issued building permits, “which are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain”, 216 structures were demolished or seized by Israel or demolished by their owners to avoid costly Israeli demolition fees. These actions displaced 299 people. While Israel froze demolitions in East Jerusalem during Ramadan, tensions were high in Sheikh Jarrah, when Israel evicted a Palestinian family and demolished their home. Israel said it took this action in order to build a school for Palestinian children.
Noting that resolution 2334 (2016) also calls for immediate steps to prevent violence against civilians, including all acts of terror, he said “unfortunately, daily violence continued”. Overall, 24 Palestinians, including four children, were killed by Israeli security forces during demonstrations, clashes, security operations, attacks and alleged attacks against Israelis, and other incidents. In addition, Israeli settlers or other civilians perpetrated 144 attacks against Palestinians. In total, Palestinians perpetrated 277 attacks against Israeli civilians resulting in injuries and/or damage to Israeli property.
Describing numerous security incidents, including the death of an 80-year-old Palestinian-American man in the context of an Israeli security force operation near Ramallah and the shooting of a 13-year-old boy amid conflicting reports about whether he was throwing stones or a Molotov cocktail, he went on to stress that settler-related violence remains significant across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Beita village, near Nablus, was a flashpoint for clashes amid Palestinian demonstrations against the nearby Evyatar settlement outpost.
Recalling that resolution 2334 (2016) also calls on parties to refrain from acts of provocation, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric, he said that in a highly provocative move in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, a far-right member of Israel’s Knesset set up a makeshift office in the neighbourhood. Several Knesset members visited the neighbourhood, expressing support for him, while others encouraged his inflammatory actions. In separate statements, the same Member of the Knesset also expressed hope that Palestinian hunger strikers would die and that any Palestinian who throws a stone “get a bullet in the head”. Following the killing of three Palestinians by Israeli security forces in Nablus, Fatah social media pages encouraged Palestinians to increase “confrontation” with Israel. Hamas also called for increased clashes with Israeli forces throughout the occupied West Bank, he said.
In terms of “affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse negative trends on the ground that are imperilling the two-State solution”, he recounted progress on civil and economic steps, with instances of high-level official engagement. On 27 December, for example, Qatar announced an agreement with the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Electricity Distribution Corporation to advance construction of a natural gas pipeline from Israel to Gaza. In Gaza, Israel authorized issuing permits to some 12,000 Palestinian merchants and traders. In January, the daily movement of workers, traders and businesspeople through the Erez crossing was the highest since 2007.
Rounding out his observations, he said Israel’s settlement expansion continues to fuel violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, further entrenching the occupation and undermining the right of Palestinians to self-determination and independent statehood. “Some 670,000 Israeli citizens currently reside in over 130 illegal settlements and over 100 outposts in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” he stressed. “Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have no legal validity.” The demolition and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures, and potential eviction of several Palestinian families from homes they have lived in for decades in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods of occupied East Jerusalem, is particularly concerning. He called on Israeli security forces to exercise maximum restraint.
“We have regrettably seen little progress in the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) since its adoption in December 2016,” he said. On the contrary, the absence of a meaningful peace process to end Israel’s occupation and resolve the conflict is fuelling a dangerous deterioration that is destabilizing the situation across the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He urged parties to keep in sight international law and bilateral agreements. Their vision should be of an end to occupation and for two States — Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous, viable and sovereign Palestinian State — living side-by-side in peace and security, within secure and recognized borders, on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of both States.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) called for more participation with countries of the region through the Abraham Accords, welcoming that diplomatic opening which will build cultural ties, pave a path towards greater security and stability and build hope for people across the region. “However, let me be clear — normalization is not a substitute for serious engagement between Israelis and Palestinians,” she stressed, noting that United States officials are visiting the region to explore ways to improve the quality of life for Palestinians. Urging all parties to commit to constructive acts that help Israelis and Palestinians coexist and prosper, she expressed deep concern over tensions and violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. She deplored continuing attacks by Israeli settlers on ordinary Palestinians, urging the authorities to condemn them and hold perpetrators to justice. As Ramadan, Passover and Easter approach, “we must aspire to peace,” and all sides must refrain from unilateral actions that could heighten tensions. The humanitarian situation in Gaza also remains serious, and, amid the current dangerous environment of scarcity, international donors should step up their efforts to meet the needs of Gaza’s inhabitants, she said.
MONA JUUL (Norway) said that with Ramadan, Pesach and Easter coinciding in April, it is imperative to avoid a new escalation of violence. Stressing that Israelis and Palestinians deserve to live in security, she said the integrity of holy sites and the historic status quo in Jerusalem must be upheld and fully respected. Also calling for respect of the rights of Palestinians, including their right to peacefully protest, she voiced particular concern about child victims of violence and threats, as well as the arrests of Palestinian children. Among the significant drivers of conflict are Israeli settlement activities, house demolitions and evictions. Welcoming the decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to terminate eviction orders against four Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah, she emphasized that longer-term solutions are needed and all evictions in East Jerusalem must be halted indefinitely. In that regard, she urged Israel to refrain from carrying out a plan to demolish several Palestinian villages in Masafer Yatta in favour of establishing a firing zone for military training, as well as for the lifting of additional restrictions in Gaza, which are contributing positively to calm on the ground.
MARTIN GALLAGHER (Ireland) reiterated his delegation’s concern over continued reports of excessive force by Israeli security forces leading to the killing and injuring of Palestinians, while also urging the Palestinian Authority to protect and uphold the human rights of Palestinians under its control and enhance efforts to prevent terrorism. Calling on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and avoid escalation ahead of the upcoming religious holidays, he called on Israel to halt all settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem and in Area C of the West Bank, in line with international law. Ireland also remains concerned about Palestinian families who remain threatened with eviction from their homes despite recent positive developments and about the continued impact of the conflict on children. In that vein, he called for an end to the administrative detention of children and any form of ill treatment in detention, while also renewing his calls on the global community to step up its support of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) expressed regret over the continuation of daily violence, unilateral actions and heated rhetoric that undermine the prospects of viable and lasting peace in the Middle East. Mounting tensions, especially in the West Bank and Jerusalem days before the start of Ramadan, are very concerning. Echoing the calls of the Special Coordinator on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from actions and provocations that fuel such tensions — particularly near sacred sites during religious holidays — he also called on all parties to urgently focus on de-escalation. Civilians, including children, must never be targeted. Underlining the need for intra-Palestinian reconciliation, he said the current economic and fiscal crisis worsens the prospects of political unity and stability, adding that free, fair and transparent general elections should be held as soon as possible to renew the democratic legitimacy of Palestinian institutions. Meanwhile, humanitarian aid must keep flowing in a predictable, responsible and regular way to cover the basic needs of refugees who continue to rely heavily on UNRWA’s work.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) endorsed the call for restraint, noting that the appeasement measures taken by Israel must be significantly expanded to stem a new cycle of violence. This requires a permanent halt to demolitions and evictions, particularly in East Jerusalem, as well as strict adherence to the status quo of holy places, the proportionate use of force by Israeli forces and the end of colonial expansion. Expressing concern over the resumption of expansion projects since October, he reiterated that France will never compromise on Israel’s security, strongly condemned any rocket fire against civilians and called for the immediate implementation of resolution 2334 (2016), underscoring the urgent need to reverse negative trends and create the conditions needed to resume negotiations. He also called for greater cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In parallel, he called for restoring a political horizon and counted on the United Nations to this end. The two-State solution is the only path that will allow a just and lasting peace in the region, by responding to the legitimate aspirations of both peoples. He said France will not recognize any change to the 1967 lines, other than those agreed between the parties, urging States to make a distinction in their trade between the territory of Israel and the occupied territories, in accordance with resolution 2334 (2016). Israel’s designation of six Palestinian non-governmental organizations as terrorist groups is also of serious concern, he said, noting that France will continue to support them.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation), voicing concern over the continued stagnation of the Middle East Peace Process as well as the recent escalation of tensions, said the situation is being further exacerbated by Israel’s unilateral actions. Plans to further expand settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are particularly concerning and could be viewed as a de facto annexation of large parts of the Palestinian territory. The primary goal should be to achieve a lasting, stable situation within internationally recognized parameters, he said, stressing that the problem lies not in the basis for a two-State solution, but rather in factors that are preventing the resumption of negotiations. The holding of Palestinian elections is one crucial step, as is the continued delivery of humanitarian assistance to all those in need. In that context, he expressed support for UNRWA’s critical work and echoed calls on donors to step up their support. The Russian Federation will continue to pursue peace within the context of the Middle East Quartet, he added, advocating for that group to meet soon in an expanded format that includes States from across the region.
T. S. TIRUMURTI (India) said that he is deeply concerned about the upward trajectory of the violent attacks and killing of civilians. The recent judgement of the Supreme Court of Israel provides a temporary reprieve to the Palestinian families of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. However, the issue of potential legal eviction of these families remains. Tensions have remained high in Sheikh Jarrah despite the Court’s ruling against an immediate eviction, he said, underscoring that “statements by community leaders and public figures should aim to reduce tensions and not incite them”. India has consistently called for direct peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine based on the internationally agreed framework. It has supported Palestinian nation-building and capacity-building efforts under the India-Palestine developmental partnership for over three decades now. His country also continues to assist the Palestinian refugee community through UNRWA. India is committed to the establishment of a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine living within secure and recognized borders, side by side at peace with Israel. There is no other alternative to a negotiated two-State solution, he said.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico), noting that the number of Israeli settlers has grown 12 per cent since resolution 2334 (2016) was passed, said incidents of violence by settlers have also continued. The settlements undermine the prospect of a two-State solution and affect the human rights of the Palestinian population, he said, adding that seizing territory by force violates international law. Urging an end to all activities related to colonization, he said that while the truce on demolitions agreed during Ramadan offers temporary relief, it is no substitute for a definitive halt to settlement activities. Against that backdrop, he condemned all acts of violence against civilians and called on the parties to avoid provocations and incitement, as well as the use of inflammatory rhetoric. He also expressed concern over the fragility of the ceasefire and Gaza’s slow economic recovery, noting that the impact of economic initiatives offered by Israel will remain limited until the blockade is definitively lifted. In addition, he noted the importance of holding Palestinian elections as soon as possible.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya) noted that, despite the best intentions of the international community, little has improved in terms of political traction on the ground in line with resolution 2334 (2016). Calling for accountability and strengthened efforts to combat acts of terror perpetrated by Hamas and other military groups, he reiterated that no cause could justify the deliberate targeting of innocent civilians. Pointing to trends over the current reporting period including violent incidents involving children and youth fatalities, an increased number of settler activities, clashes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the highest rate of demolitions since 2016, he said that addressing cycles of conflict will take much more than chronicling incidents and events. In that regard, he noted that substantive advice on clear timelines and objectives and frameworks for resolving pending issues from the good offices of the Secretary-General would add value to the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016). Acknowledging the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to halt evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, he described the action as a welcome move ahead of Ramadan, calling on all concerned parties to support grassroots efforts in mitigating against cycles of conflict.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) welcomed the initiative for the recent high-level diplomatic contacts and dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, including the outcomes that have led to a decision by Israel to reduce settler violence in the West Bank and avoid further unhelpful steps in Jerusalem. Despite the limited but hopeful developments, however, there are continuing areas of concern, such as the dire humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he said, stressing that humanitarian access is needed to allow inhabitants to have access to basic supplies. His Government believes that the path for lasting peace and stability in the Middle East runs through the two-State solution. It recognizes the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people as well as the aspiration of the countries in the region to live in peace and harmony, he said, calling on all parties to desist from unilateral actions that undermine mutual trust and goodwill. He encouraged the continuing engagement of the Quartet and the wider international community in helping the parties to implement their obligations for the settlement of the Middle East problem.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) said her delegation shares the concerns about tensions in the West Bank and welcomed the pause on demolitions in East Jerusalem during Ramadan. Citing the death of nine Palestinians in March by Israel Defense Forces live fire, she said that where there are accusations of excessive use of force, swift and transparent investigations are needed. “It is vital that all actions are proportionate,” she said. She welcomed the dismantlement of West Bank outposts, stressing that settler violence against the Israel Defense Forces is inexcusable. “Outposts are illegal under international law, under Israeli law, and are an obstacle to peace,” she explained. She urged the Palestinian Authority to pass the legislation needed to protect women’s rights, reiterating the United Kingdom’s strong support for UNRWA, in order to help refugee children, including girls, fulfil their potential. She encouraged both parties to make progress on priority fiscal issues and to reconvene the long-stalled Joint Economic Committee and reiterated support for the historic status quo of the Old City of Jerusalem, citing the right to peaceful worship for the three Abrahamic faiths.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said the disproportionate use of force against civilians and expansion of settlements only fuels the cycle of instability. He welcomed the decision by Israel’s Supreme Court to suspend the evictions of four Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, in East Jerusalem, and pointing to the financial crisis facing the Palestinian Authority, expressed concern about the risks posed to civilians, unless it is provided major financial support. Stressing that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires the rapid resumption of negotiations, grounded in international law and based on the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, as well as Israel’s security concerns, he reiterated Gabon’s vision for a two-State solution. As this vision cannot be achieved without a political commitment from both parties and mobilization by the international community, he welcomed the King of Morocco’s role as Chairman of the Al-Quds Committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in preserving the special status of the holy city as a symbol of humanity’s common heritage.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said resolution 2334 (2016) represents a milestone in the Council’s attempts to help end the conflict. “What we heard is worrying,” he said, “and goes against what this Council is seeking to achieve”. Continued violation of core provisions of the resolution “makes a bad situation worse” and threatens peace prospects for the region. While the full implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) is important, it may not be sufficient to achieve peace. He welcomed any step that promotes compliance with the text and opposed all unilateral actions that prevent its implementation, including evictions and demolitions. Violent acts by either side must be investigated. He condemned rocket launches and balloons from Gaza, stressing that Israel’s use of force must be proportionate. “What we need instead are concrete, continued and sustained steps that diffuse tensions,” he said. Underscoring the vital role of civil society in fostering a culture of dialogue and mutual recognition, he said the uncertainty about the designation of six Palestinian non-governmental organizations “casts doubts” about the work of other such groups and makes donors reluctant to fund their activities. “This is part of a disturbing trend of shrinking space of civil society, especially in Gaza but also in the West Bank,” he said, calling for a negotiated and just solution, whereby Israelis and Palestinians enjoy equal rights in full respect of each other’s concerns and aspirations.
ZHANG JUN (China) expressed concern over the recent deterioration of the security situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, underlining the “unshakable moral responsibility” to protect children in all conflicts around the world. In light of the upcoming holidays, he urged all parties to refrain from unilateral actions and to make every effort to prevent tensions from escalating out of control as they did in 2021. He also voiced deep concern over the expanding Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, calling on that country to stop its demolitions and evictions. Meanwhile, the international community should support Palestine in resolving its economic crisis and fighting COVID‑19, pursue long-term stability on the basis of a two-State solution, help the parties resume dialogue on an equal footing and heighten its sense of urgency to reach a just and lasting settlement. He added that, while the conflict in Europe is currently dominating headlines, the situation in the Middle East remains equally important and must be treated as such.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates), Council President for March, spoke in her national capacity, saying today’s discussion comes as the region approaches the month of Ramadan and other upcoming holy days. “These occasions represent an opportunity to promote the values of peaceful coexistence between different religions,” she said, echoing calls for calm. Welcoming Jordan’s diplomatic efforts in that regard, she stressed the need to respect Palestinians’ freedom to practice their religious rites. Regarding the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016), she voiced concern over the upsurge in settlement activities and continued settler violence, as well as the persistent forced displacement of Palestinians and the demolition and confiscation of their homes and properties. Noting that only 49 per cent of Palestinians in the occupied territory have been vaccinated against COVID-19, she also highlighted the need to empower Palestinian women and youth and ultimately establish an independent Palestinian State in line with international agreements.