Detailing Extremist Violence on Both Sides of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Senior Official Tells Security Council Political Horizon Must Be Re-Established
A political horizon for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be established amidst escalating violence and extremism on both sides, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today, as members condemned ongoing unilateral actions that render the prospect of a sustainable solution ever more remote.
Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reporting near-daily violence, told the Council that another fatal shooting killed an Israeli in the West Bank just hours before his briefing. “This violence is fuelled and exacerbated by a growing sense of despair about the future,” he observed, stating that the lack of progress towards a political horizon has left a dangerous, volatile vacuum filled by extremists on both sides.
“We are a long distance apart from the sentiments prevailing when the Oslo Accords were signed 30 years ago,” he remarked, detailing deaths, injuries and demolitions that occurred between 25 July and 15 August, including the 17 August demolition of a Palestinian elementary school in Ein Samiya days before the start of the school year — the third such demolition in the past year.
He went on to point out that Palestinian and Israeli fatalities in 2023 have already surpassed 2022’s annual figures, and that settlement expansion “continues unabated”. Further, the Palestinian Authority’s fragile fiscal situation and the funding shortages faced by key UN agencies threaten to worsen the plight of the most-vulnerable Palestinians. “While we must urgently focus on addressing the most-critical issues and on de-escalating the situation on the ground, we cannot ignore the need to restore a political horizon,” he underscored.
In the ensuing discussion, many Council members echoed the Special Coordinator’s observations regarding the lack of a political horizon. Expressing concern over the escalating cycle of violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, they both spotlighted the suffering of civilians and condemned unilateral actions that continue to frustrate a sustainable solution.
The representative of the Russian Federation, in this regard, joined others in observing that the ongoing lack of settlement continues to provoke a “regular, bloody eruption of violence” in the zone of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The long-term stagnation of the Middle East peace process is compounded by Israel’s illegal, unilateral actions that create irreversible facts on the ground.
On that, France’s representative underscored that her country will never recognize the illegal annexation of territory nor the legalization of “wildcat” settlements. She also stressed that the 17 August demolition of a school in Ein Samiya — a facility funded by European donors, including France — is unacceptable, and that Palestinian children have the right to an education.
Gabon’s representative, similarly, underlined the need to maintain schools’ status as “safe spaces”. He also expressed concern over growing violence targeting the Christian community in Israel, urging the international community to ensure that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis “does not itself plant the seeds of tension between the three monotheistic religions”.
Building on that, the representative of the United Arab Emirates called on the international community to “put its full force” behind the two-State solution. She also reaffirmed Palestinian children’s right to an education and called for the demolition of schools to cease. “The role of education must be recognized in building prosperous societies — particularly in conflict situations,” she emphasized.
Japan’s representative, voicing a sentiment expressed by many today, observed: “Ultimately, there is no alternative to a two-State solution where Israel and Palestine can coexist peacefully, side-by-side, in line with internationally agreed parameters.”
THE SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST, INCLUDING THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION
TOR WENNESLAND, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reported that Palestinians and Israelis are killed and injured in near-daily violence — including just hours before his briefing when another fatal shooting killed an Israeli in the West Bank. “This violence is fuelled and exacerbated by a growing sense of despair about the future,” he observed. The lack of progress towards a political horizon that addresses the core issues driving the conflict has left a dangerous, volatile vacuum, filled by extremists on both sides. “We are a long distance apart from the sentiments prevailing when the Oslo Accords were signed 30 years ago,” he noted, detailing the deaths and injuries of Palestinians and Israelis that occurred between 25 July and 15 August. He also detailed settlement-related developments over that period, including the 17 August demolition of a Palestinian elementary school in Ein Samiya days before the start of the school year — the third such demolition in the past year.
He called on Israeli authorities to end demolitions of Palestinian-owned property and the displacement and eviction of Palestinians, and to approve additional plans that would enable them to build legally and address their development needs. The Palestinian Authority’s fiscal state remains dire — with a projected deficit of more than $370 million for 2023 — and austerity measures have resulted in significant reductions to civil-servant salaries and social assistance. Meanwhile, funding shortages continue to curtail the ability of United Nations agencies to provide crucial services to Palestinians. To get through the end of 2023, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) urgently needs $35 million to maintain food assistance for 1.2 million Palestinians in Gaza, and the World Food Programme (WFP) requires $41 million to restore its operations across the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Turning to the region, he reported that, while the ceasefire between Israel and Syria has been “generally maintained” in the Golan, the situation remains volatile due to continued violations of the disengagement-of-forces agreement. In addition, as tensions along the Blue Line continue, he urged political leaders in Lebanon and Israel to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric. Concluding, he pointed out that Palestinian and Israeli fatalities in 2023 have already surpassed 2022’s annual figures and that settlement expansion “continues unabated”. Further, the fragility of the Palestinian Authority’s fiscal situation — compounded by the funding shortages faced by key UN agencies — threatens to worsen the plight of the most-vulnerable Palestinians. “While we must urgently focus on addressing the most-critical issues and on de-escalating the situation on the ground, we cannot ignore the need to restore a political horizon,” he underscored.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), Council President for August, speaking in her national capacity, expressed deep concern for the spike in violence in the West Bank and Israel. Justice must be “pursued with equal vigour” in all cases of violent extremism, whether the perpetrators are Palestinian militants or extremist Israeli settlers, she emphasized, adding that she remained deeply concerned by the damage in the Jenin camp. UNRWA’S funding shortfall is also concerning, she said, urging all Member States to commit pledges so that people in need can receive support amid soaring food prices. For its part, UNRWA must strengthen its effectiveness and financial sustainability. She also expressed her deep concern regarding Hizbullah’s provocations, which represent an increasing threat to Lebanon's peace and security, as well as Israel's. The United States Treasury Department sanctioned the organization Green without Borders and its leaders last week and will continue to support Lebanese civil society groups protecting Lebanon's natural environment while relentlessly pursuing Hizbullah, she added.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) sounded extreme alarm over the growth of settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. So far in 2023, UN agencies have recorded 591 settler-related incidents resulting in Palestinian casualties, property damage or both, the highest monthly average of incidents since records began. This includes the murder of Palestinian Qusai Jamal Maatan by settlers. The displacement of over 400 Palestinians across seven communities from their land due to ongoing settler violence is unacceptable, he underscored, urging Israeli authorities to hold to account and prevent those who have made the lives of Palestinians — such as in the communities of Al Qaboun and Al Mughayyir — intolerable. He also called on the Israeli authorities to thoroughly investigate every instance of settler violence to bring those responsible to justice and end the culture of impunity. He further condemned the terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv on 12 August, the West Bank town of Huwara on 19 August and the South Hebron hills on 21 August, which took the lives of four innocent Israelis.
ISIS MARIE DORIANE JARAUD-DARNAULT (France), noting recent settlement decisions taken by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem, underscored that her country will never recognize the illegal annexation of territory nor the legalization of “wildcat” settlements. She also stressed that the 17 August demolition of a school in Ein Samiya — a facility funded by European donors, including France — is unacceptable, and that Palestinian children have the right to an education. Calling on all parties to exercise restraint, she underscored that the Council is responsible for enforcing the resolutions it has adopted — including resolution 2334 (2016). As the thirtieth anniversary of the Oslo Accords approaches, the lack of progress on the ground is fuelling violence and undermining international peace and security. The Council must mobilize, she urged, emphasizing that the “first step is to restore a credible political horizon”.
DOMINGOS FERNANDES (Mozambique) said that recent data from the region shows that the situation is critical. “There are no signs of a reduction in clashes between Israel and Palestine,” he warned, condemning the escalation of violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. A two-State solution, based on relevant Council resolutions, remains a good basis for the co-existence of two neighbouring peoples and States. Hence, all efforts must focus on establishing “genuine dialogue for peace”, he emphasized. He also strongly condemned the attacks and destruction in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which has led to the loss of many lives. Turning to UNRWA, he urged the international community to provide the needed financial support to the Agency.
ZHANG JUN (China) highlighted “the uncountable number” of meetings on the question of Palestine, which has dragged on for more than 70 years and remains unresolved. Firm political will and resolute collective efforts are needed to prevent the Israeli-Palestinian situation from getting out of control, he said, adding that it is imperative to oppose violence and uphold international law. The situation on the ground remains tense and the escalation of violence and civilian casualties is concerning. “This year has witnessed the killing of over 40 Palestinian children,” he pointed out, condemning all violence against civilians and opposing the excessive use of force by the security forces. All concerned parties must exercise restraint and the occupying Power should ensure the safety and security of the population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Further, it is essential to promote economic development and provide humanitarian assistance, he said, noting that China will continue to do so to the State of Palestine, as well as support UNRWA’s work.
MICHEL XAVIER BIANG (Gabon) condemned the violence that “renders the prospect of a two-State solution ever dimmer”. Continued settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions in the occupied West Bank constitute additional, major obstacles to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace. These acts must cease, as must the harmful practice of retaining the remains of the dead. He called on Palestinians and Israelis to return these remains to the families concerned. Further, holy sites in Jerusalem must be respected and growing violence targeting the Christian community in Israel — namely in their places of worship and cemeteries — is regrettable. It is vital that the international community ensure that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis “does not itself plant the seeds of tension between the three monotheistic religions”, he stressed. Spotlighting the demolition of an elementary school in Ein Samiya, he also underlined the need to maintain schools’ status as “safe spaces”.
RICCARDA CHRISTIANA CHANDA (Switzerland) noted that the year 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinian civilians in the West Bank since the United Nations began recording cases in this conflict. However, this record has already been broken this month, she reported. In the first seven months of 2023, twice as many Palestinian civilians died in the West Bank than in the same period last year, either during operations carried out by Israeli security forces or due to violence committed by settlers. At the same time, 24 Israeli civilians lost their lives as a result of acts of violence perpetrated by Palestinians. Accordingly, she called on the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to commit themselves unequivocally to de-escalation. Israel must refrain from taking measures that would introduce demographic and administrative changes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she underscored, adding that the displacement of communities, such as the recent displacement of 89 Palestinians, including 39 children, in Ras al-Tin, following violence by settlers and coercive measures by Israel, could constitute forcible transfers.
SHINO MITSUKO (Japan) expressed concern over the operations by the Israeli forces, including the recent raid in Jericho, which led to the killing of two Palestinians. At the same time, she expressed shock regarding the murder of an Israeli security guard who was shot by a Palestinian gunman in Tel Aviv earlier this month. Strongly condemning all acts of terror and the targeting of innocent people, she underlined the importance of the protection of civilians, especially children. All the perpetrators of such heinous crimes must be held accountable. The unilateral actions, such as Israel’s illegal settlement activities, demolitions of Palestinian homes and acts of terrorism by Palestinian militants, only fuel tensions on the ground and further push away the parties from a sustainable solution. “Ultimately, there is no alternative to a two-State solution where Israel and Palestine can coexist peacefully side by side in line with internationally agreed parameters,” she said.
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil) emphasized that the security situation in Israel and the State of Palestine has deteriorated markedly since the beginning of 2023, with tensions escalating to alarming levels. Tragically, the civilian population continues to suffer the most, he said, condemning all acts of violence against civilians, whether Israeli or Palestinian, and deploring the disproportionate use of force. Terrorism, in any form or manifestation, is also unacceptable. Further, escalating Israeli military actions have heightened tensions and left a trail of suffering and destruction in the West Bank. The frequent violent raids — such as those recently carried out in the city of Jericho and the Tulkarem refugee camp — are deeply concerning. Moreover, an ever-present risk looms that events in the West Bank may spill into Gaza, where the humanitarian situation continues to worsen. Voicing concern over the critical humanitarian situation of Palestinian refugees, he stressed that restoring UNRWA’s capabilities is imperative.
AMEIRAH OBAID MOHAMED OBAID ALHEFEITI (United Arab Emirates), urging the international community to “put its full force” behind the two-State solution, underlined the need to revitalize efforts to restore trust between the parties and resume serious, effective negotiations. A just, comprehensive and lasting peace cannot be achieved by inciting violence and hate speech, she observed, calling for an end to Israel’s illegal practices and increasing aggression in the West Bank. She also reaffirmed Palestinian children’s right to an education, which requires the ending of activities carried out by settlers in and around schools to terrorize populations. Further, the demolition of schools must cease, she underscored, spotlighting one such recent demolition that occurred days before the start of the school year. “The role of education must be recognized in building prosperous societies — particularly in conflict situations,” she emphasized, also calling on Israel to take genuine measures to contain and end settler violence.
FELIX AKOM NYARKU (Ghana) stressed the need to stop the cycle of violence and increase in settler-related clashes. The increasing frequency and intensity of security operations by Israeli security forces using sophisticated weapons and live ammunition has been accompanied by widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and detentions of mostly Palestinians youth in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He called on the Israeli security forces to exercise restraint and adhere to the principles of proportionality. He further expressed concern over the sharp increase in violent attacks on unarmed Israeli civilians which has resulted in fatalities, the kidnapping of innocent Israelis in Jerusalem and other Israeli settlements and the regular firing rockets into Israeli communities, which have harmed innocent Israeli citizens. “Attacks by terrorist or militant groups against innocent Israeli citizens would not advance the cause of Palestine,” he stressed.
FRANCESCA MARIA GATT (Malta) said that the protection of civilians in conflict is fundamental. Unreservedly condemning all acts of terrorism and extremist violence, which have regrettably continued to take place in recent days and weeks, she expressed concern at the high incidence of Palestinian deaths following military operations in the West Bank. Settlements are illegal under international law and dangerously imperil the viability of the two-State solution based along the pre-1967 borders. Continued provocations and threats to the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem must also cease. She welcomed attempts being made by Israel’s National Security Cabinet to introduce economic measures aimed at bolstering the Palestinian Authority. A more credible Palestinian Authority as a partner is “in everyone’s interest”, she said, also urging authorities in Palestine to hold the overdue national elections as soon as possible.
DMITRY POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) said the ongoing lack of a settlement to the Palestinian problem continues to provoke “regular bloody eruption of violence” in the zone of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, creating growing threats to stability and security of the entire Middle East region. The long-term stagnation of the Middle East peace process is compounded by Israel’s illegal unilateral actions creating irreversible facts on the ground. In 2023, Israeli authorities used a simplified procedure to approve plans to build more than 12,000 housing units, accompanied by the forcible evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He also noted that this year is becoming one of the bloodiest, with the number of Palestinian killed already exceeding more than 200, including women and minors. The July 2023 Israeli operation in Jenin alone led to more than 140 casualties. Additionally, Israeli air forces continue to carry out arbitrary strikes on Syria’s territory, including on the outskirts of Damascus, he observed.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), stating that recent events in the Tulkarm refugee camp risk escalation in other areas of the West Bank, stressed that protection of civilians must always be the primary concern. Also condemning Israeli settler violence, he underscored that the “lives of Palestinian and Israeli civilians are worth the same”. While a political horizon may seem remote, violence is not — and cannot be — either a solution or a substitute for justice. He called on the parties to abide by the commitments they made in Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh — “the best way to bridge the deep — and deepening — divide”. Joining the Special Coordinator’s call for the restoration of a political horizon to break the current cycle of deadly violence, he said that this lies, inter alia, in the parties’ vision for “a future where a viable, democratic Palestine lives beside a secure Israel”.
HERNÁN PÉREZ LOOSE (Ecuador) condemned any act of terror and violence regardless of its origin. “We hope that the justice system will try and duly punish the perpetrators,” he added, also emphasizing: “Remaining silent about such acts is reprehensible; justifying them is even more so”. Israel must immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. For its part, the Council must oppose all unilateral measures that impede peace, including the construction and expansion of settlements, confiscation of land and the demolition of homes. Lasting peace must be the goal uniting all. However, it will only be achieved through a political and just solution, he stressed, underlining that such a solution must be grounded in international law.