Leaders on All Sides of Palestinian Question Must Help Alleviate Tensions, Maintain Status Quo at Jerusalem’s Holy Sites, Senior Peace Official Tells Security Council
Leaders on all sides of the Palestinian question must help lower the flames of tension and maintain the status quo of Jerusalem’s holy sites, the Organization’s senior peace official appealed during his address to the Security Council today.
Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, addressed the 15-member body in the aftermath of Israel’s new Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir’s 3 January visit to the holy sites in Jerusalem, along with a heavy security detail. The visit is seen as particularly inflammatory given the Minister’s past advocacy for changes to the status quo, he pointed out.
Also noting that this was the first visit to the site by an Israeli minister since 2017, he added that the visit was sharply condemned by the Palestinian Authority and others as a provocation while Israel’s Prime Minister as well as senior Government officials emphasized commitment to upholding the status quo.
Warning that any incident or tension at the holy sites can spill over and cause violence throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in Israel, and elsewhere in the region, he reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for all parties to refrain from escalations and uphold the status quo, in line with the special role of Jordan.
In the ensuing debate, the representative of Israel said the Council’s meeting on this topic creates a sense of urgency over the non-event posed by the peaceful 13-minute visit of a Jewish minister to the holiest Jewish site. For years, the Palestinians have orchestrated a poisonous campaign to obliterate any trace or connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount, which is the exact point towards which every Jew is commanded to pray three times a day, he said.
Further, he added, from 1948 after Jordan occupied East Jerusalem during Israel’s war of independence, the Jordanians decimated Jewish life in Jerusalem and forbid Jews from accessing their holy site. Minister Ben-Gvir's recent visit to the Temple Mount was not an intrusion into Al-Aqsa and was in line with the status quo and whoever claims otherwise is only inflaming the situation, he said. “The status quo maintains that Jews may visit the site and it is the right of every Jew to do so,” he said.
However, the observer for the State of Palestine countered that Israel’s actions have nothing to do with religious freedom, and everything to do with the unlawful attempt to alter the character, status and identity of the city. Minister Ben-Gvir came to the mosque to pursue his extremist agenda and end the historic status quo, he said, highlighting the meaning of the temporal and spatial division of Al-Haram for Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims around the world.
Further, he pointed out, Al-Haram Al-Sharif is in occupied East Jerusalem, an integral part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which Israel has no claim and no right to sovereignty over. Jerusalem is a city of pluralism and diversity, and its historic status quo is not just a legacy of the past, but also a safe passage to a peaceful future, he said. In his role as Chairman of the Arab Group for January, he called on Israel to respect the historic status quo of the Mosque and uphold that of Haram al-Sharif, including the full area of 144,000 square metres, which is for the exclusive worship of Muslims.
Violating the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque is provocative and deplorable, Jordan’s representative said, reaffirming the Hashemite custodianship of the holy sites and highlighting the leadership of King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein in protecting them. He also stressed the importance of restoring the pre-2000 situation, which guarantees that the Mosque and Haram al-Sharif is an exclusive place of worship for Muslims, with Jerusalem Awqaf and the Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs Administration being the sole authorities empowered to manage them. Minister Ben-Gvir’s storming took place without the agreement of the Awqaf Administration, which violates the historic status quo, he said.
Council members urged all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, with the representative of the United States underscoring his Government’s support for the preservation of the historic status quo. Noting that Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s governmental platform calls for its preservation, he encouraged the Government of Israel to uphold that commitment. He also expressed concern over the rising number of deaths in recent months and urged both sides to restore calm and preserve the possibility of a two-State solution.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates condemned the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard by an Israeli minister under the protection of Israeli forces as well as the vandalization of the Christian cemetery on Mount Zion. Those responsible for trampling the graves and desecrating the sanctity of this landmark must be held accountable, he said, highlighting Jordan’s custodial role over the holy sites, and the mandate of the Administration of Jerusalem’s Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs to manage all the affairs of Haram al-Sharif, including its entry procedures.
Switzerland’s delegate welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 3 January affirmation of Israel’s commitment to preserving the status. Drawing attention to the record number of Palestinian civilian deaths last year and the deadly attacks in Israel, she said the visit of the new Israeli Minister of National Security to the Esplanade of the Mosques is cause for concern. The parties must address the root causes of the conflict and restore a political horizon for a negotiated two-state solution, she said.
Also speaking today were the representatives of China, Albania, Russian Federation, Gabon, Malta, Brazil, Ghana, Mozambique, Ecuador, United Kingdom, France and Japan.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 4:50 p.m.
KHALED KHIARI, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, noting that the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process, Tor Wennesland, will provide a full briefing on 18 January, expressed concern about events this past week in Jerusalem and the ongoing violence in the occupied West Bank. On 3 January, he said, Israel’s new Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir conducted a visit, accompanied by heavy security detail, to the holy sites in Jerusalem. The first visit to the site by an Israeli minister since 2017, it is seen as particularly inflammatory given his past advocacy for changes to the status quo, he pointed out. The visit was sharply condemned by the Palestinian Authority, many others across the region and the international community as a provocation that risked sparking further bloodshed, he said.
Noting that the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and other senior Israeli officials have since emphasized the Government’s commitment to upholding the status quo, he drew attention to the fragility of the situation at the holy sites. Any incident or tension there can spill over and cause violence throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in Israel, and elsewhere in the region, he cautioned. Reiterating the Secretary-General’s call for all parties to refrain from steps that could escalate tensions in and around those sites, and for all to uphold the status quo, in line with the special role of Jordan, he said the United Nations has remained in close contact with relevant parties. All efforts to lower tensions should be encouraged, while provocations, inflammatory steps and threats of violence must be rejected. “Leaders on all sides have a responsibility to lower the flame and create the conditions for calm,” he stressed.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) condemned the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard by an Israeli minister under the protection of Israeli forces and the vandalization of the Christian cemetery on Mount Zion, underscoring that those responsible for trampling the graves and desecrating the sanctity of this important historical and religious landmark must be held accountable. These heinous acts are part of a trend of attacks on religious sanctities, which, if left unchecked, will encourage more violations, he warned, stressing the need to provide full protection to Al-Aqsa Mosque and halt all violations taking place there. He emphasized the need to respect Jordan’s custodial role over the holy sites, and to not compromise the authority of the Administration of Jerusalem’s Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs and its mandate to manage all the affairs of Haram al-Sharif, including its entry procedures. The Security Council must adopt a unified position against any actions that could inflame tensions or escalate the situation in the region, he stressed, and the parties must refrain from all measures that contribute to fuelling hatred and exclusion. Regional and international efforts to advance the Middle East peace process must be revived, in order to achieve the two-State solution and establish an independent Palestinian State on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel in peace and security.
ZHANG JUN (China), calling on parties concerned to remain calm and restrained, said Israel should stop all incitements and provocations and refrain from any unilateral actions that could cause the situation to deteriorate. Moreover, the parties concerned should earnestly maintain the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem and respect Jordan’s custodianship of them. What underlines the repeating cycles of tension between Palestine and Israel is the delayed implementation of the two-State solution, he pointed out, adding that piecemeal control measures can hardly play an effective role, much less replace a comprehensive and just solution. The international community should increase its sense of urgency and push Palestine and Israel to restart peace talks as soon as possible on the basis of the two-State solution and resolve the Jerusalem issue and other final-status issues. Countries with significant influence in this regard should assume their responsibility and effectively play a constructive role, he added. Voicing support for the establishment of a sovereign and independent State of Palestine, he said China will continue to work with the international community for durable peace and common security in the Middle East.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States) said that President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored that the United States supports preservation of the historic status quo with respect to the holy sites in Jerusalem. He urged all sides to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and other holy sites, both in word and in practice. In this spirit, he opposed unliteral actions that depart from the historic status quo, noting that Israel President Benjamin Netanyahu’s governmental platform calls for its preservation, and encouraged the Government of Israel to follow with that commitment. Expressing concern over the rising number of deaths and inquiries in recent months, he urged both sides to restore calm and prevent further loss of life, while preserving the possibility of a two-State solution.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania) said his delegation noted the tremendous loss of life in the region over the past year and how much the situation needs remedy. He stressed the need to avoid unilateral action in the Middle East and to move towards a political horizon that achieves peace, adding that without such a programme, the process becomes blinded and the situation deadly. The prospects for peace are now more distant. It is important to preserve the status quo of the holy sites, he said, and joined the Secretary-General in asking all parties to refrain from action that could raise tensions around them. He stressed the need to preserve the status quo and respect rules and binding agreements. A clear political horizon must be restored as soon as possible with genuine efforts by both sides to move towards a two-State solution.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the recent events in Jerusalem that have provoked this meeting once again demonstrate the unacceptability of violating the historic status of Jerusalem, which is the cradle of the three monotheistic religions. In this connection, he strongly urged both sides to show restraint and refrain from provocative or unilateral steps threatening to destabilize the situation and lead to fully-fledged military clashes. He warned against creating irreversible realities on the ground, including the destruction of Palestinian homes and confiscation of their property. The explosive developments in Jerusalem once again show the urgency of preventing confrontation and combining regional and international efforts to create conditions to relaunch direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis in the framework of the agreed two-State solution. Commending the mediation efforts of the Middle East Quartet, he voiced disappointment that Washington, D.C., refuses to cooperate in resuming the peace process and, instead, attempts to monopolize it.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) said intrusions on the Al-Aqsa Mosque stoke tension and reduce the prospects for peace between Palestinians and Israelis and are unacceptable. He condemned the recent desecration of tombs in the historic Christian cemetery in Jerusalem, noting that it forms part of the dangerous dynamic of violations of the religious sites of the various communities. The international community must ensure that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis does not sow the seeds of antagonism between the three monotheistic religions. He called for restraint and respect for international law by all parties to avoid further escalation of violence and stoking consequences which could be even more destabilizing for the region and beyond. Noting that 2022 was particularly deadly in the occupied territories, he said the international community must prevent that tragic scenario from recurring in 2023. Underscoring the need for dialogue, he called on all parties to resume negotiations in good faith to rebuild trust. In this regard, the role of the countries of the region and of those who have influence on the parties is crucial to help resume peace talks and to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of a two-State solution, he said.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta) expressed concern about the political climate in the region and urged political and religious leaders to use their influence in a positive and constructive manner, while refraining from provocative unilateral actions. She underscored that the integrity of the holy sites and the legal and historic status quo must be upheld and respected. Turning to the statement of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Administration about its commitment to maintain the status quo of the holy sites, she expressed concern about the attempts to take over the property of Christian churches. Emphasizing the need to address the root causes of the conflict, she called for further expanding dialogue and pursuing a path of peace and long-term solutions.
JOÃO GENÉSIO DE ALMEIDA FILHO (Brazil) said his delegation is very concerned after the Israeli National Security Minister’s visit to the holy site. This action is very alarming and risks escalating violence in an area already filled with tensions. He stressed the importance of following the established arrangements regarding the administration of holy Muslim places in Jerusalem. At the same time, he recognized that Israel is deeply committed to act constructively. He opposed all actions that violated the situation and said it is the shared duty of the Council and the entire international community to maintain mutual understanding. He urged both parties to exercise maximum restraint and not engage in actions that could deter mutual dialogue. He reaffirmed his delegation’s long-standing commitment to a two-State solution.
HAROLD ADLAI AGYEMAN (Ghana) voiced concern over renewed tensions in the Middle East caused by the unscheduled visit by the National Security Minister of Israel to the holy site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Temple Mount on 3 January. However, the renewed tension in the Middle East is more than the manifestations of the recent incidents. It reflects decades of actions that have created mistrust on both sides, he cautioned, urging the parties to carefully constrain the flourishes of unilateral actions. Calling on Israel and Palestine to engage constructively to address the security concerns of Israel and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, he expressed support for the two-State solution, on the basis of the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State.
PASCALE CHRISTINE BAERISWYL (Switzerland), stressing her country’s commitment to the two-State solution, underscored the need to preserve the historical status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, including respecting Jordan’s role as custodian over the holy sites. Welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu’s affirmation of this commitment on 3 January, she noted that given the record number of Palestinian civilian deaths in 2022 and the deadly attacks in Israel, the visit of the new Israeli Minister of National Security to the Esplanade of the Mosques is cause for concern. Calling on the leaders of all parties to avoid inflammatory or provocative language, she highlighted the risk of escalation and the negative consequences this would have for peace and security in the region and beyond. The parties must address the root causes of the conflict and restore a political horizon for a negotiated two-State solution, she said.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique), expressing concern about recent incidents in the region, called on all actors to act in a responsible and restrained manner. Voicing regret about the loss of lives, the destruction of property and the heavy humanitarian toll resulting from the hostilities, he further called on all concerned parties to the conflict to adhere strictly to the principles of international humanitarian law. He condemned gestures that embolden extreme attitudes that can further erode hope for a two-State solution. Voicing support for the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people and the right of existence of the State of Israel, he called upon all parties to refrain from any actions or decisions that can potentially undermine international law. The primacy of a legitimate political process to address the core issues driving this protracted conflict is still the only way forward, he said, calling on the Council to further enhance its efforts towards lasting peace in the region. He appealed to all stakeholders, religious leaders and regional and international actors to do their utmost in order to avert further escalation of the conflict and save lives.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador), recalling that the topic was on the agenda of the Council when his country served as an elected member in 1950, 1961 and 1992, expressed regret that it continues to be discussed in 2023 and the new year begins in an atmosphere of tension and distrust. He, thus, made an appeal to put a stop to the spiral of violence and reiterated that both parties have a right to live in peace and dignity, underscoring the importance of recalling history to avoid repeating actions that caused violence in the region. “Peace must start in people’s minds, then it should move into words and, lastly, take the form of actions,” he emphasized. Reiterating an appeal for the parties to refrain from unilateral measures, he called for respecting the status quo of the holy sites and the role of Jordan as its custodian.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), highlighting the significance of the holy sites, including Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, for the three Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, said that the visit made by the Israeli Minister for National Security has the potential to increase tensions. She expressed strong support for the historic status quo governing Jerusalem’s holy sites, which protects those sites and those who worship there, and preserves peace. Noting Jordan’s important role as custodian of the holy sites, she underlined the importance of cooperation with the Jordanian authorities in this regard. All parties must avoid actions which inflame tensions, undermine the cause of peace, or unilaterally seek to alter the status quo. “Our position on the status of Jerusalem is clear and long-standing: it should be determined in a negotiated settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, ensuring that Jerusalem is the shared capital of the Israeli and Palestinian States, with access and religious rights of all peoples fully respected,” she emphasized. Reaffirming her support for a two-State solution, based on 1967 lines and Jerusalem as the shared capital, she expressed concern regarding levels of violence in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory and encouraged all parties to avoid actions that undermine the prospects of peace.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said his delegation was deeply concerned after the visit to the holy site by Israel’s National Security Minister. All parties must do their utmost to avoid the escalation of tensions on the ground. He said France plays a role in protecting several religious communities in the area. He recognized the historic nature of the holy sites and the Israeli Prime Minister’s support of these sites. These initiatives do not serve the cause of peace. The policy of settlements jeopardizes the achievement of a two-State solution. His delegation supports the preservation of Israel’s security. Both parties deserve to live in peace and live securely.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan), President of the Council for January, speaking in his national capacity, expressed grave concern over the Israeli minister’s visit to a holy site in Jerusalem. Given the already tense situation, it is crucial that all parties concerned exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any inflammatory actions or rhetoric that could further escalate tensions, including any attempts to alter the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem, he stressed. Also expressing concern that the new Israeli Government has announced policy guidelines “to advance and develop settlements in all parts of the land of Israel”, which is understood to include occupied territories, he said the expansion of settlements is a clear violation of international law. Urging Israel to immediately cease such unilateral actions, he said a peaceful resolution can only be achieved through dialogue.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, asked what red line Israel needs to cross for the Council to finally say enough is enough and to act accordingly. “It has displayed utter disregard for the sanctity of Palestinian life, the sanctity of international law and the sanctity of Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” he said, adding that Minister Ben-Gvir came to the Mosque to pursue the same extremist agenda and end the historic status quo, regardless of consequences. The Israeli Government endorsed his actions even after worldwide outrage and condemnation. People who pursue the temporal and spatial division of Al-Haram, or plan to take it over, do not comprehend its meaning for Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims around the world. It is the responsibility of the Council and all States to uphold international law and the historic status quo. Another critical factor is that Al-Haram Al-Sharif is in occupied East Jerusalem, an integral part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory — a fact that has been repeatedly affirmed by the Council and the General Assembly, among other authoritative determinations. Israel has no claim or right to sovereignty over the Territory, including East Jerusalem, nor a rightful claim over Al-Haram Al-Sharif. “Israel’s actions have nothing to do with religious freedom, and everything to do with the unlawful attempt to alter the character, status and identity of the city,” he said. “There is no peace without Jerusalem. Israel wants to take it off the table by entrenching its unlawful annexation of the city.”
Noting that today the Council was unanimously opposed to illegal actions, provocations and unilateral measures aimed at jeopardizing the historic status quo, he said its next actions are critical. “You understand that Israel will keep pushing, it might adapt its rhythm, but it will not change course. Not until it has to,” he stressed, adding: “How many Governments today brag about the relations they had with apartheid South Africa? None. Not even Israel, its closest ally at the time. Who among you can justify standing for supremacists instead of standing up to them?” Jerusalem is a city of pluralism and diversity and its historic status quo — which has underpinned all efforts to promote peaceful, religious coexistence in the city for centuries — is not a legacy of the past, but a safe passage to a peaceful, just and stable future.
Speaking in his role as Chairman of the Arab Group for January, he condemned Israel’s actions and violations at Haram al-Sharif and the Al-Aqsa Mosque that were recently manifested by the storming of the area by the Israeli National Security Minister. This is a flagrant aggression against Palestinians and Arabs and the 2 billion Muslims around the world, as well as a flagrant violation of international law, he said, calling for international action to halt these violations. Israel, the occupying Power, must respect the historic status quo of the Mosque and uphold that of Haram al-Sharif, including the full area of 144,000 square metres, which is for the exclusive worship of Muslims. He said the Group appreciated the positions of countries that condemned the Israeli Minister’s storming of the Mosque and rejected any alteration of the status quo. Efforts must continue to protect the occupied city of Jerusalem. He called on the Council to uphold its responsibility and implement its resolutions and on both the Council and international partners to act swiftly and urgently to pressure Israel to stop its aggression against the Palestinian people and achieve a just, comprehensive peace. The Arab Group reaffirms its full support for the Palestinian people and in defending their legitimate rights, he said.
GILAD MENASHE ERDAN (Israel), noting the peaceful 13-minute visit of a Jewish minister to the holiest Jewish site, said the Council’s meeting sadly creates a sense of urgency over a non-event. Pointing out that the Western Wall — the most focal point of Jewish prayer — is the only surviving structure from the second Jewish temple compound, he said that for years, the Palestinians have orchestrated a poisonous campaign to obliterate any trace or connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount. At the United Nations, they advance libelous resolutions just like the one adopted in the General Assembly last week, deliberately erasing the Jewish name of the compound by referring to it only by its Muslim name, Haram al-Sharif, he said. That insidious plot comes directly from the top of Palestinian leadership, he added, noting that the personal threats of the Palestinian representative, which should not be acceptable in the Council, demonstrate the Palestinian violence. Describing the significance of Temple Mount to the Jewish people and their history, he said it is the exact point to which every Jew is commanded to pray towards three times a day and is the holiest site to his people.
From 1948 after Jordan occupied East Jerusalem during Israel’s war of independence, he said the Jordanians decimated Jewish life in Jerusalem and, despite their commitment, forbid Jews from accessing their holy site. They also destroyed synagogues and desecrated Jewish cemeteries, he added. Recalling concessions made by Israel in 1967 and how the status quo was born, he said only Muslims can pray at the site, while Jews and Christians may only visit. Minister Ben-Gvir/s recent visit to the Temple Mount was not an intrusion into al-Aqsa and was in line with the status quo, and whoever claims otherwise is only inflaming the situation, he underscored. “Who is truly changing the status quo,” he asked, pointing out that the Palestinians, rather than protecting the sanctity of the site, have turned the Temple Mount into a battleground where mosques are used as arsenals with rocks and explosives to attack Jewish visitors and security forces. Asking why the Council did not hold urgent meetings for security situations with truly severe acts of escalation, he said use of the Council’s time about nothing empowers terrorists to continue in their murderous ways. “The status quo maintains that Jews may visit the site and it is the right of every Jew to do so,” he said.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH HMOUD (Jordan) condemned the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque, stressing that violating the sanctity of the Mosque is provocative and deplorable. Rejecting measures to alter the historic and legal status quo, he stressed the importance of restoring the pre-2000 situation, which guarantees that Al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram Al-Sharif in its area of 144,000 square metres is an exclusive place of worship for Muslims, with Jerusalem Awqaf and the Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs Administration being the sole authorities empowered to manage Al-Haram Al-Sharif and regulate entry thereto. He further stressed that Israel — as the occupying Power — should comply with its obligation concerning the occupied city of Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, reaffirming the Hashemite custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites and the efforts under the leadership of King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein in protecting them. He noted that the storming by Minister Ben-Gvir took place without the agreement of the Awqaf Administration, which stands in violation of the historic status quo acknowledged by Israel. He warned against the repercussions emanating from unilateral Israeli measures, aiming to impose new realities on the ground, and stressed the importance of relaunching negotiations between the parties, underscoring that the Palestinian question will continue to be the first central Arab question and the two-State solution is the only path for a comprehensive and just peace.
Responding to the remark of the Israeli Permanent Representative about Jordan’s “occupation” of the West Bank, he stressed that his country has never occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He recalled the unification of the east and west banks of the Jordan River in 1950, that gave effect to the exercise of the Palestinian right to self-determination — with one half of the Jordanian Government coming from the East Bank and the other half from the West Bank — until an independent Palestinian State could be established. Calling the remark “a falsity” repeated by some members of the international community without any context, he recalled that the 1944 Convention obliges Israel to allow the Awqaf Administration to regulate access of Al-Haram Al-Sharif.