Members of the Security Council,
On behalf of the Secretary-General, I will devote this briefing to presenting the thirteenth report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2334, covering the period from 18 December 2019 to 20 March of this year.
Let me begin however by praising the far-reaching measures that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have taken to try and contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The coordination that has been put in place and the joint commitment to tackle the threat to both populations is exemplary.
Their efforts have been supported by the UN. The UN Country Team, led by the Deputy Special Coordinator and the World Health Organization, is working closely with all partners and the authorities to ensure coordinated assistance to the health networks dealing with the spread of the virus in the West Bank and to support preparedness in Gaza.
I am grateful to all those who have pledged assistance to our efforts as well.
Returning to the report, let me reiterate that developments during this reporting period cannot be divorced from the broader context: Israel’s continued military occupation of Palestinian territory, illegal settlement activity and the threat of annexation; Hamas’ continuing hold over Gaza and its militant activity; Israeli closures on Gaza; unilateral actions that undermine peace efforts; severe challenges to the fiscal viability of the Palestinian Authority; and the persistent risk of military escalation. All of these developments collectively erode the prospects of achieving a viable twoState solution.
In today’s briefing, I will focus on developments on the ground in accordance with the provisions of the resolution, including on regional and international efforts to advance peace.
Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” and to “fully respect all of its legal obligations in this regard”. No steps have been taken to this effect during the reporting period.
Israeli authorities advanced or approved plans for some 3,800 housing units in West Bank settlements, including about 100 in East Jerusalem. Tenders for a total of some 3,200 housing units were announced, including 1,077 in Givat Hamatos, an area strategically located between the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa and Bethlehem. About thirty per cent of the units advanced, approved or tendered are to be built in outlying locations, deep inside the occupied West Bank.
On 25 February, the Israeli government announced it would advance two plans for a total of 3,500 units in the E1 area in the West Bank. If constructed, these units would expand the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim towards Jerusalem, severing the connection between the northern and southern West Bank, thereby further undermining the possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.
On 9 March, Israel's Defense Minister advanced a plan for a so-called “sovereignty road” between the southern and northern West Bank, bypassing the Ma'ale Adumim settlement and areas around it, and stated that its construction would enable settlement construction in E1. Settlement expansion in E1 has long been considered controversial due to the area's importance for the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state On 15 January, following a ruling by Israel’s High Court of Justice, Israeli authorities demolished two houses in the outpost of Kumi Ori, in Area B of the West Bank. Structures were reportedly also demolished during the reporting period in the outposts of Ma'ale Shlomo and Ma'ale Pinhas. In all of these cases, clashes were reported between settlers and security forces.
Demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures by Israeli authorities continued across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Citing the absence of Israeli-issued building permits, which remain very difficult for Palestinians to obtain, the Israeli authorities demolished or seized 96 Palestinian-owned structures, including 50 in East Jerusalem, in addition to 29 structures self-demolished by their owners, resulting in the displacement of 227 people, including 53 women and 122 children.
During the reporting period, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered the eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, pursuant to lawsuits brought by an Israeli settler-related organization citing pre-1948 ownership of the properties. The families intend to appeal the cases. However, if upheld, the rulings could put hundreds of Palestinians living in the area at risk of forced eviction.
Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) calls for “immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including all acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation and destruction.” Unfortunately, sporadic violence continued during the reporting period.
Between 18 December and 20 March in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, 9 Palestinians, including 2 children were killed and some 30 injured, while some 30 Israelis, including 4 children and 19 security personnel, were injured in various incidents.
On 5 February, during clashes in Hebron, ISF shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian boy, as he was allegedly throwing Molotov cocktails.
On 6 February, a Palestinian man was shot and killed during clashes in Jenin, while in a separate incident, a Palestinian Authority policeman was killed after being hit by a live bullet shot by ISF while he was inside a police station. ISF have opened an investigation into the second incident.
On the same day, a Palestinian man shot and wounded a soldier near the entrance of Jerusalem’s Old City. He was killed by ISF. 12 Israeli soldiers were injured in a car ramming attack in Jerusalem, carried out by a Palestinian, who was later arrested.
On 6 January an Israeli girl and a man were reportedly injured, and at least eight vehicles owned by Israelis were damaged, following throwing of stones, and in one case a Molotov cocktail, by Palestinians on West Bank roads.
On 18 January, an Israeli man was wounded in a stabbing attack carried out by a Palestinian youth in Hebron. The perpetrator was arrested.
On 7 February, another Palestinian succumbed to his wounds after having been shot during clashes in the village of Qaffin in the northern West Bank.
On 18 February, during clashes between police and local residents, a Palestinian security forces shot and killed a 15-year old Palestinian boy in Qabatia, Jenin.
On 22 February, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian man near Lions Gate at the entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, reportedly as he attempted to stab them. On 11 March, during clashes with local residents trying to block Israelis from entering a historical site, the ISF shot and killed a 15-year old Palestinian boy in Jabal al-‘Arma in Beita, Nablus.
In March, there have been a number of incursions by settlers in Palestinian towns particularly in Ramallah and Nablus Governorates.
In Gaza, despite several days of renewed hostilities in late February, the understandings brokered by Egypt and the United Nations continue to be largely upheld and a fragile calm currently prevails.
On 26 December, the organizers of the protests along the Gaza perimeter fence announced that they would be put on hold until 30 March, leading to a period of relative calm along the fence, despite occasional violent incidents.
On 21 January, three Palestinians, including a 17-year-old boy, crossed the fence into Israel from Gaza and were were shot by ISF after they threw explosive devices towards them.
On 31 January, a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was pronounced dead from tear gas canister wounds he sustained during demonstrations held on 11 October 2019.
Rocket fire from Gaza towards Israel, the launching of balloons carrying explosive devices, and Israeli retaliatory strikes have also continued. On 23 February, two Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militants attempted to place an explosive device along the fence. One of them was killed by the IDF who retrieved his body using a bulldozer inside Gaza in an incident that caused outrage and a serious escalation.
In the following two days, PIJ launched over 100 rockets and mortar shells towards Israel, including one that landed in a playground. Israel responded by firing at PIJ targets in the Strip. Overall, 18 Palestinians and 16 Israelis were injured in the exchanges before UN and Egyptian-led efforts succeeded in restoring calm on 24 February.
Despite the call in Security Council resolution 2334 for the parties to refrain from acts of provocation, incitement, and inflammatory rhetoric, such statements continued.
Palestinian leaders continued to make inciteful and provocative statements. Fatah’s official social media pages glorified perpetrators of previous terror attacks against Israelis, and displayed content encouraging children to carry out violence against Jews. PA officials also delivered speeches praising perpetrators of attacks, denying Israel’s existence, and denying the Jewish historic connection to Jerusalem. Hamas officials encouraged attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and the launching of explosive devices using balloons from Gaza.
Israeli officials continued to make dangerous and discriminatory statements. Senior officials have repeatedly called for annexation of Israeli settlements and other parts of the occupied West Bank.
An Israeli minister called for the toppling of the PA if it did not withdraw its claims against Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Some Israeli politicians also made a series of discriminatory statements against Israeli Arabs.
Resolution 2334 (2016) reiterated calls by the Middle East Quartet for “affirmative steps to be taken immediately to reverse negative trends on the ground that are imperiling the two-State solution.” Over the past months, Israel has removed restrictions and monitoring requirements on a number of materials entering Gaza, including some that previously entered through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism. These materials included equipment needed for the construction of critical water and sanitation infrastructure as well as tires, and certain types of cement.
During January 2020, the number of people exiting Gaza via Erez Crossing was around 27,000, of whom 78 per cent were businesspersons and merchants. This is the highest number of exits recorded since 2007. In a related development, in mid-February, Israel raised the number of business permits for entry from Gaza into Israel to 7,000, the highest it has been since 2007.
Progress has also continued on the reconstruction of damage incurred during the 2014 escalation.
To date, 9,000 out of 11,000 totally destroyed houses have been rebuilt, and work on another 800 houses is underway. There remains a funding gap of some USD 35 million needed to complete the reconstruction of 1,000 destroyed homes and USD75 million for the repair of just over 56,000 partially damaged homes. Over 1,000 families remain internally displaced.