Special Coordinator, Briefing Security Council, Appeals for Urgent Action as Israel-Palestinian Conflict Nears Boiling Point Once Again
Warning that current trends could worsen the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process, briefing the Security Council today, called on all parties to rein in violence and incitement and, together with the international community, take urgent steps towards achieving the two-State solution.
Tor Wennesland warned that the conflict is once again reaching a boiling point, with — most recently — violent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in Hebron and bomb attacks in Jerusalem which killed two Israelis and injured more than a dozen other civilians. In Gaza, meanwhile, a fragile calm was interrupted by the launching of four rockets towards Israel by Palestinian militants and subsequent Israeli air strikes against what it said were Hamas targets.
“Political leadership is required to reset a trajectory towards a two-State solution,” he said, warning that a failure to address both current trends and the underlying causes of the conflict will only worsen the situation and destabilize the region. Noting his engagements with Palestinian and Israeli officials as well as international and regional actors, he said the United Nations has worked closely to mediate and support ceasefires and is also leading the humanitarian response, providing fuel to Gaza’s power plant as well as cash assistance to more than 100,000 families.
In the ensuing debate, Council members voiced concern about the increasing violence and condemned attacks against civilians. Speakers also echoed the Special Coordinator’s call for both sides to refrain from unilateral actions and work towards the goal of a two-State solution.
The United Arab Emirates’ representative urged the Council to send a clear message of its commitment to agreed-upon international terms of reference to end the conflict, including the need for the parties to return to serious negotiations. The two-State solution, along with adherence to the Arab Peace Initiative, remains a key demand of all Arab States, he said.
The United States’ representative said that unfortunately, most United Nations actions are not designed to advance the two-State solution, but rather seek to denigrate Israel. The lopsided focus on Israel is manifested in biased resolutions, an open-ended commission of inquiry and a draft resolution that would have the General Assembly request for an advisory opinion at the International Court of Justice. Going forward, the United Nations should take concrete steps that preserve the viability of a two-State solution “instead of grandstanding and pursuing unproductive measures,” she said.
France’s representative, stressing the need to give hope to Israelis and Palestinians, called on the Council to act in favour of an immediate resumption of peace talks. He joined others in calling on the next Government in Israel not to create new settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory nor to proceed with the legalization of unapproved settlements, which are illegal and jeopardize the two-State solution, he said.
The Russian Federation’s representative said that Israel’s arbitrary actions have spilled beyond the borders of Gaza and the West Bank, including strikes conducted in Syria and Lebanon. That method of defending national security creates threats for other States and aims to transform the Middle East into an arena for long-distance confrontation with Iran, he warned, spotlighting also a funding shortfall faced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Mexico, India, China, Kenya, Gabon, Norway, Albania, Brazil, Ireland and Ghana.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m.
TOR WENNESLAND, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is again reaching a boiling point. Recent months have seen high levels of violence in the occupied West Bank and in Israel, he said, including violent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in Hebron and, in the past week, bombings in Jerusalem which killed two Israelis and injured more than a dozen other civilians. In Gaza, meanwhile, the launching of four rockets towards Israel by Palestinian militants, and subsequent air strikes by Israel Defense Forces against what it said were Hamas targets, interrupted a fragile calm.
He said that in this context, he remains focused on both immediate threats to stability and to longer-term objectives. In recent weeks, he and his team have visited areas in the occupied West Bank, where violence has been severe. He added that he is also speaking with Palestinian and Israeli officials, as well as international and regional actors. In Gaza, the United Nations has worked closely alongside regional and international partners to mediate and support ceasefires in May 2021 and in August earlier this year. The Organization is also leading the humanitarian response, providing fuel to Gaza’s power plant as well as cash assistance to more than 100,000 families.
While Israel has approved the highest number of work permits for Palestinians from Gaza since 2007, restrictions and delays continue to impact humanitarian and development efforts, he said. Preventive and de-escalation measures, as well as diplomatic engagement, have helped maintain calm and create some space for progress, but without tangible movement on the political track, the benefits are likely to be short-lived. It may seem that events on the ground are stuck in a never-ending cycle, but nothing in this conflict is static, he said, emphasizing that permanently managing it is not a viable option.
While violence mounts, settlement expansion and restrictions continue, he said, adding that in a few years, exponential population growth in the West Bank and Gaza will make it hard to manage the economic, political and security situation. The Palestinian Authority already faces significant institutional and financial challenges, while Palestinians have not voted in general elections since 2006, meaning that more than half — those aged 18 to 35 — have never cast a ballot. “This is taking place against the backdrop of changing dynamics in the region, shifting international priorities and, more recently, the fallout of the conflict in Ukraine, which have significantly reduced the attention paid to this conflict,” he said.
“Political leadership is required to reset a trajectory towards a two-State solution,” he said, warning that a failure to address both current trends and the underlying causes of the conflict will only worsen the situation and destabilize the region. Urgent steps must be taken towards a two-State solution, which still garners considerable support among Palestinians and Israelis, he said. “Through incremental but tangible steps, we can build a bridge between where we are now and the conditions necessary for a peaceful resolution of the conflict based on United Nations resolutions, international law and previous agreements,” he added.
Going forward, the international community must continue to engage with the parties to reduce tensions and counter negative trends, particularly those impacting final status issues, he said. Violence and incitement must be reined in and perpetrators held to account. That also means stopping unilateral steps that undermine peace, including settlement expansion and demolitions, and upholding the status quo at the holy sites, in accordance with the special and historic role of Jordan, he added.
In addition, the international community must continue to improve access, movement and trade to create room for the Palestinian economy to grow, he continued. Steps should be taken to increase access for Palestinians to land and resources in Area C of the West Bank, while in Gaza, a more comprehensive approach to easing restrictions on the movement of people and goods is needed. Moreover, all parties and the international community must strengthen Palestinian institutions, improve governance and shore up the fiscal health of the Palestinian Authority, whose political legitimacy and accountability must be strengthened through democratic reforms and elections across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he said.
Such priorities are intended to have immediate, concrete benefits for Palestinians and Israelis, but they are anchored to a broader political framework that advances the two-State solution, he pointed out. Fundamental issues must be addressed by the parties, alongside a redoubled commitment from the international community. In that regard, the United Nations plays a critical role in anchoring and affirming the international consensus on how the conflict will ultimately be resolved, he said.
“Ultimately, only Palestinians and Israelis can together determine their future. But the United Nations and the international community — including through regional and international frameworks — must support the parties in moving towards a political horizon aligned with the core principles outlined above,” he underscored, encouraging all in the international community to recommit to those ambitious but achievable goals.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), condemning the 23 November terrorist attack in Jerusalem and deploring violence committed by settlers on 19 November, said that anyone, Israeli or Palestinian, who commits a violent act must face justice. She noted that 2022 is the deadliest year in the West Bank since 2004, with 150 Palestinians and 28 Israelis killed so far. Both sides must refrain from unilateral actions and work in good faith towards the goal of a two-State solution. The international community cannot impose peace, but it can contribute towards conditions for meaningful negotiation. Unfortunately, most United Nations actions are not designed to advance the two-State solution, but rather they are intended to denigrate Israel, she said. The lopsided focus on Israel is manifested in actions by the United Nations system, from biased resolutions to its open-ended commission of inquiry and the recent request for an advisory opinion at the International Court of Justice. She called on the Organization to take concrete steps that preserve the viability of a two-State solution “instead of grandstanding and pursuing unproductive measures”.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) noted that 142 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces since 1 January, the most in a single year since United Nations records began in 2005. In the same period, 30 Israelis have also lost their lives, she said, underscoring the need to resolve the conflict “for the sake of all Israelis and Palestinians alike”. While the United Kingdom supports Israel’s right to self-defence, the Israeli security forces should show maximum restraint in the use of force and investigate all Palestinian deaths. She urged both parties to engage in meaningful dialogue, refrain from escalatory actions and work to restore trust and a pathway towards peace. Expressing concern over recent settler violence perpetrated against Palestinians in Hebron, she stressed that such violence must end and called on Israel to hold those responsible to account. She also condemned Israel’s demolition of a primary school in Masafer Yatta and called on its Government to uphold children’s basic right to access safe education. She went on to urge Israel and the Palestinian Authority to accelerate efforts to improve economic and humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMÍREZ (Mexico) condemned the attacks perpetrated on November 23 in Jerusalem and deplored threats against Israel’s territory and population, including rockets launched from Gaza. Israeli security forces must observe the principles of necessity, proportionality and distinction, in accordance with international humanitarian law, he said, emphasizing that the recurrent use of lethal munitions against civilians goes against those principles. He also condemned attacks perpetrated by Israeli settlers, such as those in Hebron on 19 November. He urged Israel’s incoming Government to deepen civil, fiscal and security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, which for its part should convene presidential and legislative elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. Only a negotiated solution can end recurring cycles of violence that affect the stability of the entire region, he said.
RUCHIRA KAMBOJ (India) emphasized that only a two-State solution can deliver lasting peace. In this regard, she reiterated the need for a resumption of peace negotiations and called on the parties to protect civilians, especially women and children. She further urged the parties to cease violence, avoid unilateral actions and bridge the trust deficit between them. India remains committed to supporting all efforts to resume direct negotiations leading to a two-State solution. She went on to note that, on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the Prime Minister of India reaffirmed the country‘s long-standing relationship with the Palestinian people based on deep historical and people-to-people ties.
ZHANG JUN (China) condemned all indiscriminate attacks against civilians, opposed excessive use of force and called for investigations and accountability. Israel and Palestine are inseparable neighbours, and if one’s security is based on the other’s insecurity, the cycle of violence will not be broken. He called on the occupying Power to fulfil its obligations and protect the peoples’ security in the Occupied Territories. He called on Israel to ease movement restrictions, lift the siege of Gaza and create conditions for Palestinian development, as well as on the international community to provide assistance. Continued settlement expansion violates the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and makes the goal of an independent and sovereign State even more elusive. The Palestinians should receive long-overdue justice, he said, urging both to adhere to a two-State solution. “No one has the right to veto issues that affect that future destiny of the Palestinian people,” he stated.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) condemned the two attacks in Jerusalem on 23 November and called on all parties to exercise restraint, noting that “the risk of escalation is real”. He also condemned the deaths of a number of Palestinian civilians this year, including the journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh and a number of children, reiterating that the protection of children during military operations is an obligation under international humanitarian law. As well, France condemns settlement policies by Israel, including demolitions and evictions of Palestinian families, which continue despite repeated appeals by Council members. In this regard, he condemned the demolition last week of a school in Masafer Yatta, stressing that Palestinian children have the right to access education. He called on the next Government in Israel not to resume extension projects or create new settlements, particularly in East Jerusalem and surrounding areas, nor to proceed with the legalization of unapproved settlements. Such settlements are illegal and jeopardize the two-State solution, for which both parties affirmed their support at the General Assembly in September. Emphasizing the need for a new political perspective to be created to provide hope for Israelis and Palestinians, he called on the Council to act in favour of the immediate resumption of peace talks.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) stated that, against the backdrop of Israel’s disproportionate use of force in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, actions continue creating irreversible facts on the ground, including the building of settlements, demolition of homes, arbitrary arrests and violations of the status quo of Jerusalem’s holy sites. Further, Israel’s arbitrary actions have spilled beyond the borders of Gaza and the West Bank, including strikes conducted in Syria and Lebanon. The Russian Federation is against this method of defending national security, which creates threats for other States and aims to transform the Middle East into an arena for long-distance confrontation with Iran. He went on to point out that the Palestinian issue has become a “bargaining chip” in a long series of election campaigns in Israel, while the United States has pushed this issue to the back burner of the international agenda. On the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, he spotlighted the paralyzing shortfall of funding faced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Due to unilateral anti-Russian sanctions, Moscow is unable to make financial contributions thereto, he added, noting that his country will nevertheless continue to support the Agency and calling on the international community to do likewise.
MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya), describing the trajectory of events as worrying, condemned the 23 November terrorist attacks in Jerusalem, emphasizing that no cause can justify the deliberate targeting of civilians. The evolving situation and the underlying issues must be urgently addressed, he said, calling for the Secretary-General’s reports to better reflect on the implications of such incidents and for the Council to actualize the goal of two democratic States living side-by-side in peace within pre-1967 borders. The two-State solution requires a willingness to compromise, a step-by-step approach and a commitment to confidence-building measures, he said.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) called on the parties to exercise restraint and refrain from inflammatory rhetoric. He also urged an end to settlement activities, evictions and the demolition of Palestinian homes. Expressing concern about the risk of disruption to the services of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he called for the lifting of the Gaza blockade. He recalled Jordan’s crucial role as custodian of the holy Muslim sites of Jerusalem and reiterated support to the King of Morocco, as President of the Al-Quds Committee and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in preserving their special status. Respect for the status quo of those sites is key for the peaceful coexistence of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, he said.
MONA JUUL (Norway), noting that 2022 has been the deadliest year since 2005 for Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, expressed concern about increasing settler violence. Daily life is unbearable for many Palestinians, who no longer dare to access their land, she said, adding that recent terror attacks in Jerusalem are indefensible. Calling on both Israeli and Palestinian political leaders to take the necessary steps to protect civilians, she pointed out that movement restrictions are having severe consequences for residents in Masafer Yatta and highlighted the demolition of a school last week by Israeli authorities. Welcoming Palestinian factions’ commitment to reconciliation, expressed in the Algiers Agreement last month, she said that Palestinian reconciliation and unification are essential to advance the two-State solution, urging the incoming Israeli Government to engage with the Palestinian leadership.
ARIAN SPASSE (Albania) condemned recent terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians in Jerusalem as yet another troubling reminder that terrorists are ready to use any opportunity to sow terror and that their despicable acts should be met with strong resolve. Albania stands with Israel and its legitimate right to self-defence for its own people and country, he asserted, condemning rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel at the beginning of November and voicing deep concern about the escalation of violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Increased demolitions and evictions, as well as the advancement of settlements do not contribute to peaceful resolution of the conflict, he stressed, also opposing incitement to violence, inflammatory rhetoric against Israelis, and antisemitism. Calling on both parties to withdraw from counterproductive unilateral actions, he reiterated his country’s support for the two-State solution.
PAULA AGUIAR BARBOZA (Brazil) said mounting violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be exacerbated by provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric. All parties should maintain the ceasefire and exercise maximum restraint, protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, and abide by all legal and moral obligations to spare children from the consequences of hostilities. Acts of terrorism are never justifiable and must immediately halt, she stressed. The safety and security of religious sites is an essential component of freedom of religion or belief, and should be preserved and respected. The fragility of the situation underscores the urgency of changing dynamics on the ground, while addressing underlying security and political issues that are fuelling current instability. A two-State solution, within the framework of international law and resolutions of the Council, is still the only way to meet the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians, ensuring the security of all. All actions that reduce the possibilities of achieving this objective must be rethought, she urged.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates), stressing the urgent need to de-escalate and prevent tensions from rising to an irreversible point, said diplomacy and dialogue remain the only way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Parties must refrain from rhetoric or provocations that may fuel tensions and abide by international law and international humanitarian law. Also, repeated incursions into holy sites and Palestinian areas by settlers and accompanying acts of violence must stop, he said. The two-State solution is indispensable to end cycles of violence and create a future based on security and prosperity for both peoples, he added, urging both sides to intensify constructive communication and cooperation. Moreover, to create an environment conducive to peace, the construction and expansion of settlements must end. The Security Council must send a clear message of its commitment to agreed on international terms of reference to end the conflict, which include the need for parties to return to serious negotiations towards a two-State solution. That solution remains one of the demands of all Arab States, as reaffirmed at the Algeria Summit held earlier this month, along with adherence to the Arab Peace Initiative, he emphasized. Noting that unemployment is approaching 40 per cent in the Palestinian territory, he stressed the importance of providing economic and educational opportunities for Palestinian youth, to enable them to build and develop their societies.
FERGAL MYTHEN (Ireland) stated that he was deeply disturbed by continued reports of the use of excessive force by Israeli security forces. He strongly condemned attacks on civilians with explosive devices in Jerusalem last week, and the recent stabbing deaths of three Israeli citizens. Terrorism and violence are never justified and only serve to increase tensions when urgent de-escalation should be the priority, he said. It is clear that the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is unsustainable and likely to deteriorate further if a genuine political horizon is not established. The pervasive culture of impunity in response to excessive use of force by Israeli security forces, as well as incidents of settler violence, are deeply concerning, he said. Further, he welcomed the approval by the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly of a draft resolution, which includes a request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana), Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity, expressing deep concern about the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank and other towns in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, caused by communal violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions of mostly Palestinian youths, demolitions and building of new settlements by Israeli settlers. Ghana is equally concerned about the sharp increase in violent attacks on unarmed civilians, which has resulted in fatalities and kidnapping of innocent Israelis in Jerusalem. The current situation in the region negatively affects the lives of millions of people in the Middle East region, he stressed. Further, he voiced concern about the dire humanitarian situation faced by Palestinian refugees across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It is regrettable that children, women, and the elderly continue to suffer the most devastating impact of protracted conflicts, he said, condemning the recent increase in violent clashes across the Middle East, which has brought untold suffering and fatalities to children in the region. Emphasizing the need to ease humanitarian access to allow inhabitants in the Occupied Palestinian Territory access to basic supplies and a dignified life, he commended the effort of all humanitarian agencies on the ground.