Settlement Expansion in Occupied Palestinian Territory Violates International Law, Must Cease, Many Delegates Tell Security Council
Pointing to ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements, demolition of Palestinian structures, daily violence and continued inflammatory rhetoric by their Government representatives, a senior United Nations official reiterated to the Security Council the Secretary-General’s appeal for an end to the occupation and a resolution of the conflict in pursuit of the two-State solution, as members echoed those calls and underlined a need to return to peace negotiations.
Tor Wennesland, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, speaking via videoconference, reported ongoing settlement activity by Israeli authorities who advanced plans for 6,300 housing units in Area C, and approximately 3,580 housing units in East Jerusalem, pointing to the Israeli Government’s administrative actions that likely expedited settlement expansion. “In a continuing trend, many Palestinians, including children, left from their communities citing violence by settlers and shrinking grazing land,” he said.
He noted that 68 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces and 10 Israelis by Palestinians in attacks and other incidents. Detailing the urgent funding needs of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP), he highlighted Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call on the Government of Israel to cease all settlement activity and the demolitions and seizures of Palestinian structures, as well as the UN chief’s support to Palestinians and Israelis in pursuit of the two-State solution.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members stressed that the expanding Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are a violation of international law and must cease. Speakers voiced concern about the ongoing violence and lack of political progress on the thirtieth anniversary of the Oslo I Accord, this year, and called on parties to exercise maximum restraint and take steps to deescalate tensions.
The representative of the United States said the ongoing violence between Israelis and Palestinians sets back prospects for peace and is responsible for “so much needless suffering”. Voicing concern over the situation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, she said the United States opposes the advancement of settlements and urges Israel to refrain from those actions, emphasizing that it undermines “the geographic viability of a two-State solution, exacerbates tensions and further harms trust between the two parties”.
Other speakers, including Gabon’s representative, also called for the lifting of the Gaza blockade in line with Council resolution 1860 (2009), noting that Palestinian territories face budgetary constraints because of restrictions on freedom of movement and trade. Switzerland’s representative pointed out that the immediate reopening of the crossing point is necessary to allow some 20,000 Gazans to go to work in Israel.
Japan’s representative was among speakers who voiced support for UNRWA, underscoring his country’s contribution of over $40 million to the programme. He urged Member States to make sure that UNRWA sustains its core services to the Palestine refugees.
Several speakers proposed ways to enhance efforts in resolving the conflict, with China’s representative calling for higher priority to be given to the question of Palestine on the international agenda and the convening by the United Nations of an international peace conference, as proposed by State of Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas.
France’s representative, echoing other speakers who stressed that the only solution lies in two States living peacefully side by side, both having Jerusalem as their capital, expressed support for the initiative of the European Union, Saudi Arabia and the League of Arab States to incentivize negotiations by preparing a packet of measures that would benefit both parties once a peace agreement is signed. France is prepared to provide a contribution, he stated.
In a similar vein, the representative of the United Arab Emirates stressed the need for intensified diplomatic efforts at the regional and international level to reduce escalation and build trust in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He called for restraint and dialogue, emphasizing that direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine are the only way to ensure security and stability for both sides.
On that note, Brazil’s representative, pointing out that the Council has become unresponsive to the Palestinians’ plight, stressed that the 15-member organ must reflect on its role in paving the way for direct negotiations. “Sitting on our hands while the situation unravels is short-sighted and dangerous,” he warned.
THE SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST, INCLUDING THE PALESTINIAN QUESTION
TOR WENNESLAND, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reporting on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) for the period from 15 June to 19 September 2023, detailed ongoing settlement activity by Israeli authorities who advanced plans for 6,300 housing units in Area C and approximately 3,580 housing units in East Jerusalem. He reported that on 18 June, the Israeli Government removed the requirement for ministerial approval at interim stages of settlement planning and delegated this authority to the Additional Minister in the Ministry of Defense, likely expediting settlement expansion. Moreover, Israeli authorities, citing the lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain, demolished, seized or forced people to demolish 238 structures, including 32 donor-funded ones, displacing 183 people, including 46 women and 91 children. Fifty-nine schools, serving some 6,500 Palestinian students, are at risk of demolition, he added.
“In a continuing trend, many Palestinians, including children, left from their communities citing violence by settlers and shrinking grazing land,” he continued, adding that 68 Palestinians, including 18 children, were killed by Israeli security forces during demonstrations, security operations and other incidents. Meanwhile, 10 Israelis, including one woman, two children and three Israeli security forces personnel, were killed, and 122 Israelis, including six women, six children and 33 Israeli security forces personnel, were injured by Palestinians in attacks and other incidents. Israeli security forces’ 1,042 search-and-arrest operations in the West Bank have resulted in 1,504 Palestinians arrested, including 88 children, he added, highlighting that Israel currently holds 1,264 Palestinians in administrative detention — the highest number in over a decade. Many Palestinian casualties in the occupied West Bank occurred in the context of Israeli operations in Area A, he reported, detailing incidents in August that killed Palestinians and Israelis.
He went on to say that, unfortunately, acts of provocation and inflammatory rhetoric continued, recalling such statements made by Israeli ministers and a senior Palestinian Authority official. As well, despite positive steps, negative trends imperilling the two-State solution continued, he said, noting that Israeli authorities reduced the handling fee for fuel that Israel transfers to the Palestinian Authority. On 17 September, the Erez crossing was closed for exits due to Jewish holidays and has remained closed due to the violence near the security fence, he said, reporting that over 22,000 work and business permit holders have been denied exit since the closure. He pointed out that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) urgently needs $75 million to maintain food assistance through year-end for 1.2 million Palestinians in Gaza, while the World Food Programme (WFP) requires $32 million to restore social assistance to priority families across the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Turning to the resolution’s call on all States “to distinguish […] between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”, he pointed to the United States Department of State’s recent foreign policy guidance in that regard to its relevant agencies. Regarding the resolution’s call on parties to exert collective efforts to launch credible negotiations, he reported that on 12 August, Saudi Arabia appointed an Ambassador to the State of Palestine and Consul General in Jerusalem for the first time since 1947, and on 18 September Saudi Arabia, the League of Arab States and the European Union, in cooperation with Egypt and Jordan, convened a ministerial meeting to “discuss practical ways to reinvigorate” the Middle East peace process. Detailing the Secretary-General’s observations on the matter, he highlighted the UN chief’s call on the Government of Israel to cease all settlement activity and the practice of demolition and seizure of Palestinian structures and to abide by its obligations under international law to protect the Palestinian population, as well as his support for Palestinians and Israelis in their efforts to resolve the conflict “in pursuit of the vision of two States”.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) said the ongoing violence between the Israelis and Palestinians sets back prospects for peace and is responsible for “so much needless suffering”. She expressed deep concern over the situation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and called on all parties to refrain from actions and rhetoric that further inflame the tensions. She called deeply alarming “the sharp rise in violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians” and called to hold accountable all perpetrators of violence against civilians whether Israeli or Palestinian. The United States opposes the advancement of settlements and urges Israel to refrain from those actions, she said, emphasizing it undermines “the geographic viability of a two-State solution, exacerbates tensions and further harms trust between the two parties”. Turning to the immediate needs of Palestinian refugees, she announced nearly $73 million in additional contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and called on all donors to provide additional assistance to the programme as soon as possible. She further added that the United States calls on Beirut to take additional steps to ensure the full implementation of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mandate.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÉRE (France) condemned that, 30 years after the Oslo I Accord, Israeli settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories is increasing. This runs counter to Geneva Convention (IV) as well as Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), he underscored. Declaring that France will never recognize those illegal activities and their legalization, he called on Israel to halt them, as they prevent conflict resolution. He went on to denounce acts of terrorism, reiterating France’s commitment to Israel’s security and protection of civilians. The only solution lies in two States living peacefully side by side, both having Jerusalem as their capital. In this vein, he expressed support for the initiative of the European Union, Saudi Arabia and the League of Arab States to incentivize negotiations by preparing a packet of measures that would benefit both parties once a peace agreement is signed. France is prepared to provide a contribution, he stated.
VANESSA FRAZIER (Malta), noting that the situation remains “increasingly unsustainable for Palestinians and Israelis alike”, emphasized that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, are a violation of international law. She voiced concern about demolitions and the forceable transfer of Palestinian communities. Condemning terror attacks upon Israeli civilians and “episodes of settler violence which have terrorized Palestinian communities”, she urged swift justice for those responsible. Expressing support to credible negotiations on all final status issues, she addressed the fiscal and political situation of the Palestinian Authority, calling for engagement towards reconciliation and the prompt holding of national elections. She emphasized the need to address the humanitarian needs of Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, and expressed support for UNRWA’s critical role in providing assistance.
GENG SHUANG (China) observed that while 2023 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Oslo I Accord, the Occupied Palestinian Territory remains mired in conflict and turmoil. He called for higher priority to be given to the question of Palestine on the international agenda. He voiced support for State of Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas’ call on the United Nations to convene an international peace conference and for the Security Council sending a visiting mission to Palestine and Israel in due course. Urging the cessation of all settlement activities, unilateral actions to change the status quo in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and escalation of settler violence, he called on parties concerned to return to the right track of a two-State solution. He also urged the occupying Power to relax and remove unreasonable restrictions on the movement of persons, goods and land use, and to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip as soon as possible.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), recalling that 15 September marks the third anniversary of the Abraham Accords, encouraged more countries to normalize their relations with Israel. From 11 to 13 September, the British Foreign Secretary visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and spoke to their leaders, emphasizing the importance of elections in those territories, she reported. Noting that the thirtieth anniversary of the Oslo I Accord is a “poignant reminder” that States must work together to achieve peace, she reiterated support for the two-State solution. The Foreign Secretary also met UNRWA’s Commissioner-General and visited Jalazone refugee camp, she observed, spotlighting that the United Kingdom has announced an additional £10 million to address the programme’s crisis. Reporting that 1,105 Palestinians were displaced from their communities since 2022, she pointed out that the increase of settler violence in the occupied territories renders a risk of forced transfer. “We must end the cycle of violence,” she underscored.
ALLEGRA PAMELA R. BONGO (Gabon) urged the international community — in particular those with influence on both parties — to enhance their efforts in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dialogue and direct negotiations must be resumed, she stressed, noting that peace is not possible against the backdrop of hate speech, demolitions, settlement expansion and provocations at the holy sites. Expressing concern over budgetary constraints faced by Palestinian territories in light of restrictions on freedom of movement and trade, she advocated for lifting the Gaza blockade in line with Council resolution 1860 (2009). Welcoming the contribution by the United States to UNRWA, she underscored that if the programme ceases its activities due to lack of funding, social tensions on the ground, including gender-based violence, will worsen. Nevertheless, the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia could foster stability in the region and facilitate the peace process. In this regard, Gabon is committed to a two-State solution, she reiterated.
PEDRO COMISSÁRIO AFONSO (Mozambique) said the current situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is tense, violent and deplorable, marked by clashes, killings, and displacements involving Israeli security forces, Palestinian civilians and armed groups. “It is a situation that leaves little room for a negotiated settlement of the conflict,” he stressed, condemning the practice of hate and inflammatory statements, be they official or individual. Calling on the Government of Israel to refrain from its recent promises to intensify punitive actions against the Palestinian people, he noted that the worrisome facts described in today’s briefing are a reminder of the Council’s duty to maintain peace and security wherever they are endangered. The parties must immediately stop the bloodshed, halt mutual provocations and attacks, and end the human suffering in the occupied territories. On the humanitarian front, he urged the international community to provide financial support to UNRWA and the World Food Program (WFP).
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), recalling Israel’s increasing steps to create irreversible facts on the ground, said that the ongoing explosive situation is a direct result of aggressive Israeli abuses in the Occupied Palestinian territories, the legalization of settlement outposts and the violation of the status quo of the holy sites of Jerusalem. Referring to Israel’s plans to increase the number of Israelis in the north of the West Bank from 170,000 people to 1 million by 2050, with $200 million allocated for that, he condemned such breach of the relevant Security Council decisions and international law. “The increase in violence against Palestinian minors and the demolition of educational institutions, including those built with donor funds, are of particular concern,” he said, adding that the United States continues to promote Arab-Israeli normalization, circumventing the logic of the Arab Peace Initiative. “Russia is committed to the creation of a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he stated.
MOHAMED ISSA ABUSHAHAB (United Arab Emirates) stressed the need for intensified diplomatic efforts at the regional and international level to reduce escalation and build trust in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. He called for restraint and dialogue, emphasizing that direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine are the only way to ensure security and stability for both sides. The United Arab Emirates welcomed recent diplomatic momentum witnessed during the UN General Assembly — a meeting organized by Saudi Arabia, the League of Arab States and the European Union and in cooperation with Egypt and Jordan — and expressed hope for concrete steps towards meaningful negotiations based on agreed international references. Referring to the Security Council resolution 2686 (2023), he called on the sides to stop extremism and hate speech and urged the international community to fund UNRWA. Highlighting the importance of stopping illegal practices and settler violence, “which has reached unprecedented levels and threatened to fuel tensions”, he reaffirmed the commitment by his country to the two-State solution.
FELIX AKOM NYARKU (Ghana) welcomed the commitment made by the leaders of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority during the seventy-eighth United Nations General Assembly to work closely with neighbouring countries and encouraged the deepening of Arab-Jewish relations. Referring to the increasing acts of violence, he stressed that the destruction of infrastructure and properties in both the occupied Palestinian territories and in East Jerusalem dangerously imperils the viability of the two-State solution. Building on that, he urged the relaunching of political talks to address key territorial and security issues and requested the Security Council to facilitate contacts between both sides. Calling on the international community to provide short-term investments to help the Palestinian Authority improve people’s access to education, health care and employment, as well as repair basic infrastructure and strengthen fiscal stability, he urged Israel to halt the demolition of Palestinian-owned properties and prevent the potential displacement and eviction of Palestinians.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan), noting that the lack of political progress is jeopardizing peace and security in the region, urged all parties concerned “to take concrete steps to ensure de-escalation”. Israeli and Palestinian authorities should exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any inflammatory words and actions. He further demanded Israel to immediately cease settlement activities. He called on both parties to advance practical cooperation and noted in this regard the organization of the Japan-Egypt-Jordan Trilateral Ministerial Consultations on the Middle East. Detailing Japan’s support to UNRWA, he underscored his country’s contribution of over $40 million to the programme in 2023 and urged Member States to make sure it sustains its core services to the Palestine refugees.
ANDRÉS EFREN MONTALVO SOSA (Ecuador), highlighting that 2023 marks the most violent year in the region since 2005, voiced concern about the increasing number of victims, expanding settlements and daily violence. It is imperative to reverse those trends, he stressed, voicing hope that the words of the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the State of Palestine spoken before the General Assembly last week lead to action and effective negotiations. He affirmed his country’s commitment to support any Council measure or initiative that prompts parties to resume those negotiations and avoid the escalation of violence. Much work remains to be done to arrive at the two-State solution, he stressed, calling on the international community to ensure that the people of Israel and Palestine enjoy dignified living conditions. He further appealed to parties to put an end to the killings, recruitment and arbitrary detention of minors, and to those who have the ability to contribute to UNRWA and WFP, to do so without delay.
ADRIAN DOMINIK HAURI (Switzerland) voiced concern about the increase in settlements, stressing that they are illegal under international humanitarian law and run counter to several Council resolutions. Expressing alarm by the increase in settler attacks, threats and intimidation, as reported by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), he said Israel, as the occupying Power, must refrain from taking any measures that would introduce permanent changes in the Palestinian territory. Pointing to the continued deterioration of the security situation throughout the occupied territory, he called for the lifting of the closure, which has been imposed on the Gaza Strip for almost 16 years, adding that the immediate reopening of the crossing point is necessary to allow some 20,000 Gazans to go to work in Israel. He urged relevant authorities, as Sukkot approaches, to minimize the risk of tensions around the holy sites and to respect the status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Jordan’s custodial role.
SÉRGIO FRANÇA DANESE (Brazil), recalling that his country’s President highlighted the overdue establishment of a Palestinian State as an example of longstanding unresolved disputes lingering on while new threats emerge, reported that his nation recognized the State of Palestine in 2010. Pointing out that the Council has become unresponsive to the Palestinians’ plight, he stressed: “This must change.” A political process is a cornerstone to containing the cycle of violence, he spotlighted, emphasizing that the Council should reflect on its role in paving the way for direct negotiations. “Sitting on our hands while the situation unravels is short-sighted and dangerous,” he added. Urging Israel to curb settler violence, he condemned any action aimed at altering the status quo of the holy sites. Further, he highlighted the importance of fostering the Palestinian economy, addressing governance challenges and respecting human rights, announcing that Brazil will enhance its contributions to projects in those areas.
FERIT HOXHA (Albania), Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity to recall the support for a two-State solution voiced by world leaders during the recent high-level General Assembly debate. Commending the efforts by the European Union, Saudi Arabia and the League of Arab States to provide a stimulus for negotiations, he emphasized that both conflict parties must do their part — refrain from unilateral steps and focus on de-escalation. The soaring number of civilian casualties cannot become the new normal. Albania thus supports Israel’s proportionate responses to deplorable terrorist attacks, he stated, expressing concern also over violence against Palestinians, including destruction of homes and schools. Further, Tirana rejects hate speech and incitement to violence — in particular by political leaders – and calls for respecting the status quo of holy sites in Jerusalem. Instead, the parties should seek opportunities for cooperation to create an atmosphere conducive to peace, he underscored.