9588th Meeting (AM)

Amid Worsening Humanitarian Situation in Gaza, ‘Settlement Activities Have Continued, Intensified’, Special Coordinator Warns Security Council

Delegates Raise Concern Over Non-compliance with Organ’s Demand for Ceasefire

While the humanitarian impact of the hostilities in Gaza has been cataclysmic and is worsening daily, violence and the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, continue at alarming levels, the head of United Nations peace efforts in the Middle East told the Security Council today, as delegates raised concern over non-compliance with the organ’s demand for a ceasefire.

“We need a ceasefire now, we need the release of all hostages now, the suffering must end,” stated Tor Wennesland, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, commending yesterday’s adoption of resolution 2728 (2024).  Presenting the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016) — which covers the period from 8 December to 18 March — he stressed that “settlement activities have continued and intensified”.  In total, some 4,780 housing units were advanced or approved in settlements in Area C across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.  Citing the lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain, Israeli authorities demolished, seized, or forced people to demolish 300 structures, displacing 314 people, including 137 children.

He reported that numerous Israeli officials called for the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians from Gaza and the re-establishment of settlements there, with a minister posting on social media that Israel should “continue to pressure them, using force, starvation, [and] difficult conditions”.  An Israeli member of the Knesset called on his country “to occupy, to annex, to destroy all the houses [in Gaza], to build […] large settlements.”  On 1 February, the United States issued an Executive Order imposing sanctions on “persons undermining peace, security and stability in the West Bank”.  In total, seven Israeli settlers have been sanctioned under the order.  The United Kingdom, France and New Zealand also subsequently announced sanctions against settlers, he added.

Alongside daily violence in the occupied West Bank, the devastating conflict in Gaza has continued, he observed.  According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, from 8 December to 18 March, at least 14,549 Palestinians were killed, including approximately 4,200 women and 6,000 children, and at least 27,792 were injured.  This brings the total number, since 7 October, to more than 31,790 Palestinians killed, a majority of whom are reportedly women and children.  According to Israeli sources, 134 hostages are still being held captive, of at least 250 taken, while over 1,461 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed by Hamas or other Palestinian armed groups, including at least 338 women, 37 children and 633 members of the security forces, since 7 October, inclusive.

Hostilities remained intense across Gaza, with Israel conducting strikes from air, land and sea, resulting in tens of thousands of casualties, massive displacement of civilians and widespread destruction, he continued.  On 15 March, the Prime Minister’s Office announced approval of plans for an Israeli military operation in Rafah, including steps to evacuate civilians from combat zones.  “More than 1 million people in Gaza are projected to face catastrophic levels of food insecurity by the end of May, and famine in the northern part of Gaza is imminent,” he warned, adding that starvation-related fatalities have already been reported.  Amid a decimated health system, most people lack access to adequate food, clean drinking water, or effective sanitation services.  Despite some progress made on a maritime corridor from Cyprus, alongside the opening of an access point in the north of Gaza, the inadequate levels of humanitarian access and safety of humanitarian workers remain alarming. Accordingly, he called on Israel to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access into and throughout Gaza.

In the ensuing discussion, numerous Council members — among them, the representatives of the Republic of Korea, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Switzerland — condemned all attacks against civilian populations and objects as well as any forcible displacement of Palestinians.  Many recalled that resolution 2728 (2024) demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza along with the unconditional release of hostages.

“With our eyes on Gaza, we must not forget about the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” said Slovenia’s delegate.  Expressing concern that the practices and policies of the current Government of Israel appear to be unprecedently aligned with the goals of the Israeli settler movement, he pointed to the alarming acceleration in settler and State violence and the displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank.

In the same vein, the speaker for Ecuador — while he observed that it is natural to focus on Gaza following the “explosion of violence” — urged those present not to forget what is happening in the West Bank, where violence and settlement activity continue.  Recalling Israel’s recent decision to declare 800 hectares in the Jordan Valley as “State land”, he opposed all unilateral measures that hamper peace.  These include the construction and expansion of settlements, the confiscation of land, the “legalization” of outposts, the demolition of homes and the displacement of civilians.

Also condemning Israel’s recent declaration of 800 hectares of land in the occupied West Bank as “State lands”, Malta’s delegate said that illegal settlements threaten the viability of the two-State solution.  On the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, she observed: “There could not be a stronger indictment of our failure to put an end to this tragedy than the harrowing images of Gazan children suffering starvation.”  Only a ceasefire will permit the conditions necessary to properly alleviate these conditions, and she called on Israel to lift all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance at scale.

While recognizing Israel’s right to self-defence, the speaker for the United Kingdom painted an alarming picture of “unfathomable suffering” in Gaza and urged Israel to open Ashdod port and Kerem Shalom in full and issue visas to aid workers.  Underscoring that Hamas must no longer be in charge of Gaza, she called for the formation of a new Palestinian Government for West Bank and Gaza, accompanied by an international support package.

The delegate for the United States reported that his country is engaged in an “on-the-ground effort” with Egypt and Qatar to secure the release of hostages in the context of a ceasefire.  Further, Washington, D.C., is working to surge humanitarian assistance into Gaza and, while a ceasefire would be the best, most immediate way to achieve that surge, it is not the only way.  The United States continues to coordinate international efforts to establish a maritime corridor for the delivery of aid and to air drop humanitarian assistance into Gaza.  While emphasizing that his country shares Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas and ensuring long-term security, he stressed:  “A major military ground operation in Rafah is not the way to do it.”

The representative of Japan, Council President for March, speaking in his national capacity, added that a military offensive into Rafah would be catastrophic not only for Gaza, but across the region.

The representative of France emphasized that his country will never recognize the illegal annexation of territory nor the legalization of outposts.  To this end, France and the European Union have initiated measures against some settlers and do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over territory that has come under Israel’s administration after 5 June 1967.  He also urged Israel to immediately and unconditionally open all land crossing points, stressing that “resolution 2728 (2024) must be applied by everyone”. 

Algeria’s delegate echoed that Council resolutions are binding — “not almost, not partly, not maybe”.  The killing must stop now, and urgent action is needed to expedite humanitarian relief efforts before the spectre of famine materializes.  Condemning the occupying Power’s refusal to allow United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) convoys to enter northern Gaza, he observed that “we have the tool to avoid this catastrophe — it is UNRWA, which is the backbone of humanitarian action in Gaza”.  Emphasizing that the settler community has quadrupled since the 1990s, he said: “This expansionist agenda is a clear blueprint aimed at altering the demographic landscape and character of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Acknowledging that the United States finally decided, on 25 March, not to single-handedly veto the Council resolution, the speaker for China pointed out that statements issued by that country’s authorities after the vote raise questions about its political will and sincerity.  Council resolutions are binding beyond any doubt, he stressed, adding that every Member State must implement them.

However, stressed Guyana’s delegate, from all indications, the Council’s demand for a ceasefire is not being adhered to, and accountability remains solely lacking in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Echoing her concerns, the representative of the Russian Federation said that Washington, D.C., referred to resolution 2728 (2024) as “non-binding”, in other words, “there is no impact on Israel’s ability to continue to go after Hamas”.  After the resolution’s adoption, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel said that his country would not end the military operation and intended to fight “until they destroyed the Hamas movement and returned all hostages”.  One of the permanent Council members has openly stated that it does not accept the Charter of the United Nations, including this historic resolution on Gaza.  With Washington, D.C.,’s blessing, “Israel — despite the direct demand from the Council — has complete carte blanche and is not planning to stop until it razes Gaza to the ground”.

At the outset of the meeting, the representative of the Russian Federation asked for a procedural vote on convening this meeting, since the representative of France had requested one the day before.  For additional details, please see SC/15641.

For information media. Not an official record.