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‘No Positive, Hopeful Step Should Be Wasted’ to De-escalate Situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory, Envoy for Middle East Peace Tells Security Council

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SC/14619
30 AUGUST 2021
SECURITY COUNCIL
8847TH MEETING (AM)

Describing an increasingly fragile situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, marked by violence, evictions and protests, a top United Nations envoy urged the Security Council today to seize every opportunity to resume meaningful dialogue.

Three months since the deadly escalation in Gaza, Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process reported, the situation remains tense. He drew attention to a number of Palestinian deaths in July and August, as well as a rally along the Gaza perimeter, where stones and, reportedly, improvised explosive devices were thrown towards Israeli security personnel who retaliated by firing, injuring 51 Palestinians, including 25 children. Children must never be targeted, he stressed, calling on all sides to show restraint.

Also on 21 August, he added, Palestinian security forces arrested 23 people, including well-known human rights defenders and lawyers, for their participation in a planned demonstration. Calling on the Palestinian Authority to immediately stop arrests of human rights defenders, he also highlighted the precarious state of its clearance revenues due to Israel’s continued deductions of an amount equivalent to what it calculates is paid by the Palestinian Authority to the families of prisoners and martyrs.

While welcoming the gradual and partial easing of the access restrictions in Gaza by Israeli authorities, he noted that the volume of trade still remains below pre-escalation levels. In positive developments, he noted meetings between Israeli ministers and their Palestinian counterparts, as well as a meeting between Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. The latter is “the highest-level meeting between the two sides since the formation of the current Israeli Government” he stressed, urging the international community that “no positive, hopeful step should be wasted.”

In the ensuing discussion, delegates called for the resumption of political dialogue while stressing the importance of restraint from both parties. The representative of Kenya warned that if unchecked, incidents such as last week’s altercation at the Gaza perimeter fence “could escalate to the levels we saw in May or worse”.

Mexico’s representative reminded the parties that the prosperity of Palestinians contributes to the prosperity and security of Israelis. The delegate of France welcomed the cooperation measures undertaken between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian authorities and hoped that such actions would lead to more trust.

The delegate of the United States welcomed the agreement between the Organization and Qatar to resume aid delivery to Gaza and called on the international community to facilitate regular predictable access to the territory. Noting his country’s $136 million commitment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), he said provocations along the Gaza border make it more difficult to deliver humanitarian relief to the territory. Both sides must refrain from actions and rhetoric that inflame tensions, such as evictions and compensating individuals who are in prison for acts of terrorism, he said.

Noting that the Middle East peace process has deviated off track, the representative of China pointed to ideas put forward by his Government, such as efforts to support intra-Palestinian unity and the resumption of direct talks between the parties. The double shock of conflict and COVID-19 has exacerbated the dire humanitarian situation, he said, adding that his country has pledged to provide 200,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the Agency.

Also speaking today were the representatives of India, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Norway, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, Estonia, Sant Vincent and the Grenadines and Ireland.

The meeting began at 10:23 a.m. and ended at 11:59 a.m.

Briefing

TOR WENNESLAND, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, [noted(https://reliefweb.int/node/3769482) that three months since the deadly escalation between Israel and militants in Gaza, the situation remains tense. Welcoming Qatar’s contribution of $40 million to the United Nations to provide cash assistance to needy families in Gaza, he noted the continuing violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Tensions along the Gaza perimeter reached a peak on 21 August, when hundreds of Palestinians attended a rally, he said, noting the throwing of stones and reportedly improvised explosive devices towards Israeli security personnel. Israeli forces fired on Palestinian protestors, injuring 51 Palestinians, including 25 children. Reiterating that children must never be targeted, he called on all sides to show restraint, avoid provocations at the fence and keep the protests peaceful.

Drawing attention to a number of Palestinian deaths in July and August, he highlighted the killing of an 11-year-old Palestinian boy in Beit Ummar on 28 July, after Israeli security forces fired at the car he was travelling in with his father and siblings. While Israeli authorities have opened an investigation, he added that the next day the forces killed a 20-year-old Palestinian man amid clashes during the boy’s funeral. Also voicing concern about settler violence against Palestinian civilians, he said further measures must be taken to ensure that Israel fulfils its obligation to protect Palestinian civilians from violence. Security forces must exercise maximum restraint and use lethal force only when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life, he stressed.

Noting that on 21 August Palestinian security forces arrested 23 people, including well-known human rights defenders and lawyers, in Ramallah for their participation in a planned demonstration, he called on the Palestinian Authority to immediately stop arrests of human rights defenders on charges that impinge upon the exercise of freedom of expression. Pointing to Israeli demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem, he urged that country to cease such activities. Noting a gradual and partial easing of the access restrictions in Gaza by Israeli authorities, he said that for the first time in 18 months, permits will be given to 2,000 Palestinian traders and 350 businesspeople to cross from Gaza into Israel. However, the volume of trade still remains below pre-escalation levels, he noted, adding that no amount of humanitarian or economic support on its own will address the challenges facing Gaza. “Gaza requires political solutions that will see a full lifting of Israeli closures, the return of a legitimate Palestinian Government and the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian State,” he said.

Noting the Hamas takeover of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) school, he said the Agency condemned the potential use of its structures. Turning to the precarious state of the Palestinian Authority’s finances, he said that Israel continues to deduct from the monthly transfer of clearance revenues, an amount equivalent to what it calculates is paid by the Palestinian Authority to the families of prisoners and martyrs. Also noting meetings between Israeli Ministers and their Palestinian counterparts, as well as a meeting between Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and President Abbas, he described the latter as “the highest-level meeting between the two sides since the formation of the current Israeli Government.” “No positive, hopeful step should be wasted,” he said, calling for serious political efforts to return to  meaningful negotiations that will address all final status issues and achieve a negotiated end to the occupation and the vision of two States.

Statements

HARSH VARDHAN SHRINGLA (India) expressed concern over the recent escalation of violence in Gaza, which demonstrates the need to address the underlying causes of the conflict. He called for the regular and predictable transfer of aid to Gaza for reconstruction and said the improvement of conditions there will help prevent another round of escalation, emphasizing that the recent call for cash assistance for needy families in Gaza is an important step. Turning to the West Bank, he said both sides must refrain from incitement of violence and noted the status of the legal cases against evictions there. Against that backdrop, the decision by Israel to issue more work permits to Palestinians in the West Bank and facilitate the passage of COVID-19 patients from the West Bank into Israel is encouraging and will help ease tensions. India, for its part, has helped build schools and establish an information and communications technology (ICT) center, and it supports other quick impact community projects in Palestine.

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) expressed concern over the risk of escalation in the region, including recent provocations along the Gaza border. Such incitements make it more difficult to deliver humanitarian relief to the territory, he said. Both sides must refrain from actions and rhetoric that inflame tensions, including compensating individuals who are in prison for acts of terrorism, settlement activity and evictions. He went on to welcome the agreement between the United Nations and Qatar to resume aid delivery to Gaza, including cash instalments to families there. However, while the aid will address basic daily needs, more must be done, he said, calling on the international community to facilitate regular predictable access to the territory. The United States has made a $136 million commitment to UNRWA. The recent return of students to the Agency’s schools demonstrates how vital its services are and the United States will work with the Agency to ensure proper oversight. He commended efforts by Israel to normalize relations with its neighbours throughout the region.

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) rejected the expansionist policies of the occupying Power in Palestine, which he called a blatant violation of international law and binding United Nations resolutions. The occupying Power continues to pursue oppressive policies, he said, calling on the international community to shoulder its responsibility and compel the occupying Power to fulfil its obligations under international law. Gaza remains a grave concern due to the blockade, especially following the most recent Israeli aggression. As such, he called on the international community to increase the level of assistance and response in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and support United Nations efforts, including proper funding for UNRWA interventions. Peace and stability in the Middle East will only be achieved through a peace settlement between the Arab population and Israel, he stressed.

BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom), voicing concerns about the recent tensions in Gaza, called on all parties to take steps to avoid exacerbating tensions and to maintain the cessation of hostilities. Condemning Hamas’s indiscriminate attacks against Israel, including the use of incendiary balloons, she added: “We should all be troubled by the high number of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli forces in recent weeks.” Urging the Israeli authorities to conduct transparent and comprehensive investigations and to hold those responsible to account, she also called on the Palestinian Authority to adhere to international standards of freedom of expression, association and assembly in the handling of protests. Stressing that the use of violence against peaceful human rights defenders, activists and protesters is unacceptable, she also noted that the increasing pace of unilateral Israeli actions across the West Bank is increasing and is a driver of conflict.

TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway), welcoming the memorandum of understanding between Qatar and the United Nations to provide cash assistance to 100,000 families in Gaza, as well as Israel’s lifting of restrictions imposed on the area, called for a “solid and lasting” ceasefire, an increased number of work permits to Israel for Gazans, and contributions by all actors to de-escalate tensions. Reiterating the call for a two-State solution on the basis of the 1967 lines, relevant Security Council resolutions, international law and internationally agreed upon parameters, she expressed concern over Israel’s illegal settlement activities and rising levels of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israel must avoid the excessive use of force and ensure the protection of Palestinians against settler attacks. She said Norway is also concerned about the treatment of political activists by Palestinian security forces and called on the Palestinian Authority to uphold its human rights obligations, underscoring the need to significantly increase tax revenues. Such issues will be discussed at the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee Ministerial Meeting, which Norway will convene on 23 September.

TRA PHUONG NGUYEN (Viet Nam) expressed concern about the recent increase in violence against civilians across the Occupied Palestine Territory, noting that in August alone six people were killed and nearly 1,000 were injured in the West Bank. Pointing to the risk of conflict over the holy sites in East Jerusalem, she called on all parties to exercise utmost restraint, continue to urge Israel to stop using force excessively, and take measures to protect civilians, especially women and children. Welcoming mediation efforts towards a permanent ceasefire, she said without it a new round of hostilities is just a matter of time. Concerned by the recent report about a new proposal to expand West Bank settlements, she called on all parties to end activities that escalate tensions, including continued demolitions of Palestinian homes and property. Turning to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, she strongly supported UNRWA’s efforts to bring children back to school as the new school year has begun and expressed worries about reported violations of UNRWA-operated schools. She also welcomed the memorandum of understanding between the United Nations and Qatar on 19 August for the delivery of assistance to Gaza.

NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) voicing concern about the situation in Gaza, stressed the importance of avoiding a new spiral of violence. The firing of incendiary balloons must stop, she said, welcoming the agreement between Qatar and the United nations to provide assistance to Gaza families. “More can and should be done,” she added, stressing the important role of the Palestinian Authority. Highlighting encouraging signs, she noted the dialogue and the first cooperation measures undertaken between the Government of Israel and the Palestinian authorities. Calling for the strengthening of this cooperation, she said it can contribute towards creating an atmosphere of trust between the parties and enable them to meet their common humanitarian, health and climate challenges. Her country, together with Germany, Egypt and Jordan, stands ready to continue any and all specific and reciprocal measures aimed at restoring trust between parties with a view to resuming negotiations, she said.

ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico), noting the worsening of the situation in the West Bank and the deepening of the Gaza crisis, called on both parties to “not lose sight that the prosperity of Palestinians contributes to the prosperity and security of Israelis.” Expressing concern about the security situation, she condemned the bombings of targets in the Gaza Strip as well as the launching of rockets and incendiary devices into Israel by militias in Gaza. Calling on the parties to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid provocation, she noted the continuing restrictions on the entry and exit of persons and goods from the Gaza Strip. Particularly highlighting delays in humanitarian assistance, she called for the lifting of all obstacles placed on import of goods for Gaza’s reconstruction. Lauding Israel’s “diplomatic activism” and its increasing cooperation with the Palestinian Authority on economic and health matters, she also called for suspension of evictions in East Jerusalem.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) noted escalating clashes in the West Bank and along the Gaza border and warned that they can turn into full-blown hostilities. The August decision by Israel’s supreme court to postpone its examination of eviction cases could further inflame tensions. Settlement activities complicate international efforts to resume negotiations between the parties, she said, stressing that arriving at lasting stability in the region is impossible without a political horizon with a two-State solution at its centre. Long stagnation of the peace process further compounds an already volatile situation. The escalation of violence in May reminds the international community of the risks and threats to regional stability, she said, expressing support for the relaunch of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. In addition, the Middle East Quartet must step up its efforts, she said, noting a suggested meeting with the Quartet in September during high-level week at the United Nations General Assembly.

ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia) said that until the conditions for negotiations are established, the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority must take practical steps to rebuild confidence such as further coordinated efforts to enhance economic cooperation. Expressing concern about the continued tensions around Gaza, he called on all parties to continue to respect the ceasefire and avoid further violence. The launching of incendiary balloons as well as the recent launching of another rocket towards Israel is unacceptable, he said. Turning to the West Bank, he expressed concern about the recent arrests of Palestinian activists calling for transparency in the investigation related to the killing of the political activist Nizar Banat. He called on the Palestinian Authority to ensure freedom of expression and assembly and to conclude a transparent investigation of the death of Mr. Banat.

NEDRA MIGUEL (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said that the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, remains one of the most important unresolved issues of peace and security in the world, pointing out that Israel continued to injure and kill Palestinian civilians, including children. Furthermore, she called on Israeli authorities to halt the demolition of Palestinian houses and property in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the neighbourhoods of Silwan and Beit Hanina. Noting that humanitarian operations in Gaza continue to be seriously affected by the Israeli blockade, she called on the country to lift its blockade and for the Council to demand unfettered humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. Concluding, she welcomed the recent agreement between the United Nations and Qatar to return some Qatari subsidies to Gaza, while urging the international community to continue support to UNRWA.

AOUGUI NIANDOU (Niger) expressed concern over recent incidents in the area, pointing to an upsurge in violent clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli security forces, continued launching of incendiary balloons towards Israel and retaliatory strikes by the Israeli army, as well as the firing of a rocket from Gaza. He attributed the source of all suffering endured by the two sides to Israel’s unbridled settlement policy. On the humanitarian situation, he welcomed the reopening by the Egyptian authorities of the Rafah crossing, the easing of the blockade by Israel on the import of goods into Gaza and the resumption of financial assistance by Qatar. Noting the dire situation in Gaza due to the blockade, characterized by an unemployment rate of nearly 50 per cent, a failing health system and a high COVID-19 infection rate, he called for more generous support to the people of Gaza.

MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya) said clashes in the West Bank and tensions in Gaza, including along the parameter fence, during the last week are of concern, warning that “if unchecked, such incidents could escalate to the levels we saw in May or worse”. He strongly condemned rockets launched from Gaza by Hamas and any militant group against civilians and civilian targets in Israel, as well as terrorist attacks and acts conducive to terrorism by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other militant groups. He urged all parties to recommit to the ceasefire and engage with regional stakeholders, the United Nations Special Coordinator’s Office and the Special Envoys of the Middle East Quartet. Encouraging regional mediation efforts, notably those aimed at fostering intra-Palestinian unity, he said reports of the COVID-19 Delta variant in the Gaza Strip are an urgent concern and called for robust efforts to promote vaccination. He went on to call for unhindered access to humanitarian aid to the area, stressing that instruments to prevent the diversion of such resources by militant groups should be fully operationalized and funding reinforced for UNRWA.

GENG SHUANG (China), recalling the recent clashes along the Gaza border and the arrest operation in the West Bank that resulted in the death of several young Palestinians, called on Israel to abide by relevant United Nations resolutions and fulfil its obligations under international law. The double shock of conflict and COVID-19 has exacerbated the dire humanitarian situation in the territories, he cautioned. Welcoming Qatar’s cooperation with the United Nations, he called on Israel to allow access to Gaza so international aid may be delivered. China has pledged to provide 200,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to UNRWA, he reported. The Middle East peace process has deviated off track and the lasting tension proves that a settlement must rely on a two-State solution. China has put forward ideas to break the current impasse, such as efforts to support intra-Palestinian unity and the resumption of direct talks between the parties.

BRIAN FLYNN (Ireland) called on the avoidance of all unilateral actions which threaten the ceasefire and which undermine the prospect of a two-State solution. Emphasizing that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the conflict, he condemned the recent demolitions and seizures in the communities of Humsa al-Baqai’a and Ras al Tin in Area C of the occupied West Bank. The increased rate of demolitions so far in 2021, including of donor-funded structures, across the West Bank is deeply concerning, he said, pointing to the most recent mass demolition in Humsa al-Baqai’a — the sixth such incident the community has faced this year, which poses particular risk of long-term effects on children. He went on to call on Israel to halt all settlement activity in occupied territory including in East Jerusalem and underscored that people’s rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression must be upheld. Expressing concern over possible evictions of families from their homes in East Jerusalem, he also drew attention to Gaza’s recovery, as the World Bank, United Nations and the European Union Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment identified a need for almost $500 billion. Urging international donors to increase support to UNRWA, he also touched upon the situation in Syria and the political and socioeconomic crisis faced by Lebanon.

For information media. Not an official record.