Settlement Building, Proposal to Annex Palestinian Land Among Factors Threatening Middle East Peace, Delegates Tell Security Council amid Calls for Solutions
8625TH MEETING (AM)
Relentless settlement building, threats to annex land and change the status quo of holy sites, along with worsening conditions in Gaza and persistent violence — including during civilian protests — all threaten to destroy the tenuous peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, delegates told the Security Council today.
Updating the Council on developments between 11 June and 11 September, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process recalled that resolution 2334 (2016) outlined the need for “immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians”. And yet, three years since its adoption, the reality throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory remains extremely concerning.
He said Israel continues its illegal settlement activities unabated, most recently advancing the construction of 3,000 housing units in the West Bank, and either destroying or seizing Palestinian structures across the area. In Gaza, where Israel recently eased import and export restrictions, the health system has nearly collapsed and essential medicines are depleted.
Despite the call for peace embodied in resolution 2334 (2016), civilians on both sides bear the brunt of the conflict, he said. Clashes between police and worshippers in Jerusalem on 10 August reportedly resulted in injuries to 29 Palestinians and four Israel Defense Force members. Also during the reporting period, Israel Defense Forces used live ammunition against “Great March of Return” demonstrators, killing four Palestinians and injuring 496.
Inflammatory rhetoric meanwhile is used on both sides, he said, with a senior Hamas official on 12 July urging Palestinians to “attack every Jew on the globe by way of slaughter and killing”. He likewise expressed concern over Israel’s Prime Minister declaring his intention, if elected, to “apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea”.
In announcing those plans, the State of Palestine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs said Israel’s Prime Minister confessed to a crime. His intention to loot land by force, displace Palestinians and transfer Israeli citizens to their land amounts to a war crime. Acknowledging that bias at the United Nations shields Israel from accountability, he called for urgent international action to change course and achieve a just solution. The rights of the Palestinians are not up for compromise, he assured.
In turn, Israel’s representative said Israel cannot have defensive borders without control of the Jordan Valley. “We must be able to defend ourselves,” notably from drones launched from Syria and provocations by Iran through Hizbullah in Lebanon. Stressing that Israel is ready for direct talks with the Palestinians, he said “we can come to you or you can come to us”. Arab countries, the United Nations and other members of the international community can help by ceasing to enable Palestinian rejectionism and by urging Palestinian leaders to return to negotiations without preconditions.
Jordan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said Israel persists with illegal actions that undermine the two-State solution, rather than respecting international law and interacting with the Arab Peace Initiative. Everyone has a right to peace, but peace will not be achieved by the expansion of illegal settlements or the annexation of the Golan Heights or the Jordan Valley.
Indonesia’s delegate likewise condemned the declaration to annex parts of the West Bank as an “arrogant proposal” that would fail to make Israel or the region more secure, and “bury the prospects” for a negotiated two-State solution.
The representative of the United States said her country has always — and will always — support Israel. “I believe it critically important that we acknowledge that no country faces such a one-sided barrage of unwarranted criticism,” she said.
Had resolution 2334 (2016) been implemented over the last three years, the world would be in a very different place, said Germany’s delegate, perhaps witnessing negotiations towards the creation of two States. Echoing calls by several delegates, he called for renewed efforts to implement the text, calling it instrumental for the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Also speaking today were representatives of Kuwait, South Africa, France, Côte d’Ivoire, Belgium, Peru, Dominican Republic, United Kingdom, Poland, Equatorial Guinea, China and the Russian Federation.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 12:26 p.m.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process, updated on developments between 11 June and 11 September, during which time Israel advanced some 3,000 housing units in the occupied West Bank. In addition, the Security Cabinet reportedly discussed on 30 July the advancement of another 6,000 housing units and — in a rare step — approved construction permits for 715 housing units for Palestinians in Area C. In response to the 23 August terrorist attack near Dolev, Israel submitted a plan for the establishment of 300 new housing units, a decision in line with the practice of expanding settlements in the wake of attacks in the West Bank. On 29 August, more than a year after being evicted from a disputed building in Hebron’s H2 area, several dozen Israelis moved into the compound, despite ongoing legal proceedings to determine its ownership.
Meanwhile, demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures by Israel continued across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, he said. Citing the absence of Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain in Area C and in East Jerusalem, 165 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished or seized. Among other incidents, he highlighted a costly 24-year legal battle which ended recently when an Israeli court ruled to evict a Palestinian family in favour of an Israeli settler-related organization.
Despite that Council resolution 2334 (2016) calls “for immediate steps to prevent all actors of violence against civilians”, he said worrying levels of violence persist throughout the occupied Palestinian territory. In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, three Palestinians — among them, one child — and two Israelis, including one child, were killed, while 336 Palestinians and 21 Israelis were injured in clashes, attacks and settler-related violence. Describing cases of young people killed during demonstrations or indiscriminate rocket attacks, he said that on 12 July, a 9-year old Palestinian boy was shot in the forehead by Israel’s security forces during clashes in Kafr Qaddum, West Bank, and remains in critical condition. On 8 August, a 19-year old Israeli was stabbed to death in the West Bank, near the Migdal Oz settlement, south of Bethlehem.
In Jerusalem’s Old City, clashes between police and worshippers on 10 August reportedly resulted in injuries to 29 Palestinians and four Israel Defence Force members, he said. Also during the reporting period, Israel Defense Forces used riot dispersal means and live ammunition against “Great March of Return” demonstrators. Four Palestinians were killed and 496 were injured by live fire. More broadly, 33 rockets and mortar shells were launched from Gaza towards Israel, and while most were intercepted, 18 landed in Israeli towns. On 27 August, three Palestinian policemen were killed, and three pedestrians injured in two separate apparent suicide explosions. On 6 September, Israel Defense Forces shot and killed two Palestinians, aged 14 and 17, during Great March of Return protests.
On the political front, he said a senior Hamas official on 12 July urged Palestinians to “attack every Jew on the globe by way of slaughter and killing”, underscoring that Hamas and other Palestinian factions welcome stabbing, car ramming and bombing against Israelis. Israeli officials continue to make provocative statements, with several politicians publicly minimizing Palestinians’ connection to their ancestral land. On 10 September, Israel’s Prime Minister declared his intention, if elected, to “apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea”.
Turning to Gaza, he welcomed some easing of Israel’s import and export restrictions, noting nonetheless that the enclave’s health system has nearly collapsed, with essential medicines completely depleted. On 22 August, Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed that the Authority will receive $568 million in reimbursed fuel taxes, he said, urging all donors to continue to fund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
As for implementation of resolution 2334 (2016), he emphasized that Israel’s settlement expansion has no legal validity and must cease immediately, reiterating the Secretary-General’s concern over statements regarding the annexation of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea. He condemned all attacks on Palestinian and Israeli civilians and stressed that all perpetrators must be held accountable. The status quo at the holy sites must be upheld, he reiterated, expressing concern over worsening humanitarian and economic conditions in Gaza and pressing all Palestinian factions to engage with Egypt on reconciliation.
RIAD MALKI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Palestine, said the purpose of the Secretary-General’s reports on the Palestinian question is not to listen to the degree of violations of international law or number of civilian casualties. Such reports only point to diminishing prospects for peace amid Israel’s continued violations of international law and resolutions from a belief it enjoys exceptional status. For Palestinians, it is unacceptable that their precious lands are used as bribes to win right-wing votes. In announcing plans to annex territory north of the Dead Sea, Israel’s Prime Minister confessed to the crime, he said, describing that Government’s intentions to loot land by force, displace Palestinians and transfer its own citizens to their land as war crimes under the Rome Statute. The occupying Power is creating new facts on the ground so that, in the end, Palestinians will have to accept what remains on offer. However, the rights of the Palestinians are not up for compromise and their just cause is not up for sale. A peace process that does not take the occupation into account, which considers international resolutions obsolete and that expects the international community to accept such a state of affairs goes against the requirements for peace.
He said any serious negotiations must be based on ending the occupation that began in 1967 within a determined timeframe and addressing all aspects of a final settlement based on the two-State formula. This is not a Palestinian condition or an argument to avoid dialogue, as some claim, but rather a condition to which the entire world has agreed. It is not enough to say there is no “plan B”; rather, the means to implement “plan A” must be identified so that the will of peacebuilders can prevail over those of the bulldozers. Thanking all those who support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he said avenues must be found to enforce Council resolutions, including resolution 2334 (2016). He called for supporting Palestinians’ inalienable right to self-determination, providing humanitarian and development assistance, not assisting illegal settlement activity, distinguishing between Israeli and occupied territories, and ensuring accountability. The real bias at the United Nations shields Israel from accountability. A State that believes it is above law will be tempted to continue acting as an outlaw, he said, calling for urgent international action to change course, restore hope and achieve a just and lasting solution.
DANNY BEN YOSEF DANON (Israel) said Iran is the greatest challenge to security in the region. For years, Israel has been the lone voice calling out the danger posed by the Iranian regime. Many have tried to paint Israel as “the boy who cried wolf”, but it is more like “the Dutch boy who puts his finger in the dyke to hold back the sea”. Today, Israel has more partners and allies at that dyke. He drew attention to a recent air strike on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, which he said has Iran’s fingerprints all over it, as well as shipping incidents in the Strait of Hormuz, the downing of a United States drone in international airspace and an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that found radioactive traces at an Iranian nuclear facility. Iran must be stopped, not with smiles or handshakes, but with economic, political, diplomatic and any pressure necessary, he said, urging the Council to bring more pressure to bear on a regime that has genocidal ambitions and spends billions of dollars supporting terrorist groups.
Emphasizing that “we must be able to defend ourselves,” he said Israel’s borders are threatened by the same strategy of terror that places the wider region at risk. Recalling the launch of drones from Syria towards his country, he said Iran also operates in Lebanon through Hizbullah, which recently fired anti-tank missiles at an Israeli military outpost and vehicle. Iran turns rockets in Hizbullah arsenals into precision-guided missiles, which cannot be allowed. Israel will keep doing its utmost to protect its citizens and security interests, and any country that allows such attacks will face the consequences. Stressing that Israel cannot have defensive borders without control of the Jordan Valley, he underscored that those borders are necessary for regional stability, a position that is aligned with Council resolutions and the right to self-defence. Israel understands that Jordan and others have their own views, which creates an opportunity for dialogue. Israel would like to advance the political process and welcomes efforts by the United States to renew meaningful dialogue. It is ready for direct talks with the Palestinians. “We can come to you or you can come to us,” he said. For their part, Arab countries, the United Nations and other members of the international community can help by ceasing to enable Palestinian rejectionism and by urging Palestinian leaders to return to negotiations with no preconditions. Israel awaits a partner ready to look forward, not backwards, towards a brighter future, he said.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) recalled that resolution 2334 (2016) asks Israel to halt settlement activity immediately and to comply with its legal obligations. Emphasizing that Israel is an occupying Power, he said it continues to build and expand illegal settlements, determined to defy the will of the global community and international law. It is regrettable that international inaction has encouraged Israel, he said, calling its plans to build more than 2,300 housing units on occupied land “a measure of provocation”. More than ever, the international community is responsible for holding Israel accountable, he said, adding that a lasting, comprehensive and fair solution must be based on Council resolutions, the principle of Land for Peace, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet Road Map.
KELLY CRAFT (United States) said her country has always — and will always — support Israel. “Israel will have no better friend than Kelly Craft,” she added, expressing dismay at the unwarranted criticism of Israel at the United Nations. Since its creation, Israel has served as a refuge and a beacon of democracy, supporting press freedom, gender equality and a robust open economy. It has earned its reputation as a hub for immigration and a leading investor in start-ups the world over. “I believe it critically important that we acknowledge that no country faces such a one-sided barrage of unwarranted criticism,” she said, pledging to fight every effort that seeks to delegitimize Israel’s security and undermine its standing in the global community of peaceful States.
FEBRIAN RUDDYARD (Indonesia), on the Prime Minister of Israel’s campaign declaration that he would annex parts of the West Bank, denounced any act that undermines multilateralism and international law. He condemned that “arrogant proposal” as one that cannot yield security or stability for either Israel or the region and would “bury the prospects” of a negotiated two-State solution. The Council must assert its authority over violations of international law and its own resolutions. Referencing the Council’s affirmation that Israel’s settlement building on Palestinian territory constitutes a flagrant violation of international law, he stated that this practice threatens regional peace and promises permanent insecurity. Highlighting the suffering of Palestinians inside the occupied territories as well as those in refuge, he urged the Council to enhance Palestinians’ capacity to fully govern themselves. He advocated renewed support for UNRWA and greater collective efforts “through any possible means”. As the two-State formula represents the only peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue, he called for international unity to bring the peace process “back on track.”
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) reiterated that the only just resolution to the situation in the Middle East is one based on the two-State solution, along 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as the capital of a sovereign Palestinian State. He characterized Israel’s settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as “deeply disturbing”, a deliberate violation of international law and a contravention of Council decisions. The lack of action by the Council “reduces it to a body that is unable to uphold its own decisions and whose credibility is eroded”. He went on to insist on the full implementation of resolution 2334 (2016), calling for stricter measures to be taken against those violating it, and for written reports by the Secretary-General on the issue. Expressing deep concern about the ongoing exchange of hostilities and rights violations in the occupied territories, he urged the Council to consider a “mini-mission” to the region, as “a clear indication that the international community has not washed its hands of the core and oldest conflict in the Middle East”.
NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France), describing the threats overshadowing the two-State solution, expressed concern over the announcement by Israel’s Prime Minister to annex parts of the Jordan Valley, a move that would only fuel tensions in the region. He urged all parties to refrain from all unilateral actions that would jeopardize the already fragile situation on the ground. Settlement activity is illegal under international law, undermines the feasibility of a two-State solution and must end. He called on all parties to exercise maximize restraint and condemned the disproportionate use of force targeting Palestinian protesters. While international support is crucial, in particular for UNRWA, the only long-term solution to the conflict is a political one. “Our overarching and unchanging goal must be that of a Palestinian State living side-by-side with Israel,” he stressed.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) advocated respect for the rule of law and international law, including resolution 2334 (2016), "which is part of international law" and was adopted "without the slightest opposition" three years ago. Had that resolution been implemented over the last three years, the world would be witnessing negotiations leading to the creation of two States, under internationally defined parameters. He called for renewed efforts to implement resolution 2334 (2016), which is instrumental for the well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians.
EVA ISABELLE ELIETTE NIAMKE (Côte d’Ivoire) said recent developments in the region have made prospects for peace more remote. Calling for more innovative approaches, she deplored the lack of consensus in the Council that made it impossible to adopt a resolution on 19 September on the humanitarian situation in Syria. Turning to the Palestinian question, she invited the international community to step up its efforts to relaunch the political process. Only through strict adherence to international law and Council resolutions can a lasting and mutually acceptable solution be found. She went on to reiterate her country’s commitment to the two-State solution and called on Palestinian and Israeli authorities to uphold the rights of vulnerable persons, particularly children.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said prospects for a two-State solution are slipping away. Noting that 51 schools in the West Bank are facing demolition, he called on Israel to end settlement activity and compensate those who have suffered damages. He also condemned all acts of violence, irrespective of who the perpetrators might be. On Gaza, he called for restraint, the protection of civilians and respect for international humanitarian law. All parties must guarantee free and unfettered humanitarian access, bearing in mind the needs of women and girls. For Belgium, there is no alternative to the two-State solution and it will not recognize any changes to pre-1967 borders unless agreed by both parties.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said rigid positions, lack of dialogue and ongoing violence have led to an unsustainable and destabilizing stalemate in the peace process. Emphasizing that indiscriminate attacks by Hamas and other radical actors must stop, he stressed the need for Council unity, adding that its members must take a stand when the situation on the ground demands it. He expressed alarm that prospects for a political solution risk being undermined by growing tensions and unilateral actions. He also recalled Israel’s obligation to comply with Council resolutions, including by ending settlement activity. He underscored the urgent need to satisfy the basic needs of the population in Gaza, where poverty creates fertile ground for terrorism, and appealed for stable and predictable financing for UNRWA.
Mr. FIALLO (Dominican Republic) expressed concern over illegal settlement expansion which continues with no recourse, underscoring support for the prevailing international consensus on a two-State solution. The Council must fully engage with all parties to achieve this goal. Expressing alarm over the state of Gaza’s health-care system, he said the sector near collapse as it works to treat the many injured in the “Great March of Return”. Stressing that access to and control of natural resources is a major challenge for Gazans, he urged Hamas to end attacks that imperil civilians, and in turn, pressed the Palestinian Authority to present a solution that addresses the threat posed by Hamas to Israel.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) expressed alarm over suggestions that any part of the West Bank can be annexed, reiterating that such a move would damage peace efforts and could not pass unchallenged. He urged both sides to advance Palestinian development, including in Area C, stressing also that Israelis deserve to live free from terrorism and anti-Semitism. Pressing Israel to exercise proportionality and Hamas to stop its provocations, he said that faction must also release the bodies of Israeli soldiers so their families can grieve. He also encouraged the United States to present a detailed proposal for addressing the concerns of both Israelis and Palestinians.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) reaffirmed her country’s commitment to a just and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-State solution and an agreement that ends the occupation which began in 1967. Calling on all parties to refrain from actions that contravene international law, she expressed concern over the recent announcement of a possible annexation of areas in the West Bank, particularly the Jordan Valley and the northern shore of the Dead Sea, which — if implemented — would constitute a serious breach of international law. She urged parties to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza and commended efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations Special Coordinator in that regard. She underscored the need to relaunch the intra-Palestinian reconciliation process, stressing that the only way forward for Palestinians and Israel is the negotiation of a two-State solution. Regrettably, Israel’s settlement expansion indicates that the establishment of a viable Palestinian State might not be possible. Recalling that Israel’s settlement building is illegal under Council resolution 2334 (2016), she said UNRWA plays a crucial role in providing assistance, stability and security in the region.
VICTOR MANUEL ELÉ ELA (Equatorial Guinea) said both sides have lost countless loved ones. Adding to that plight is the staggering suffering of the Palestinian people, which should sound the alarm for the international community to act. He urged the Council to take stock of why countless resolutions have failed to change the situation on the ground, as Israel continues to pursue its settlement activities. “We cannot simply shrug off Israeli concerns over its security,” he continued, reiterating calls to restore the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, as it is best equipped to address deteriorating socioeconomic conditions there. He also expressed support for Egypt as a mediator in discussions between the two sides. Both Israelis and the Palestinian must continue to abide by the 1994 Paris Protocol on Economic Relations, he said, also expressing support for the work of UNRWA.
WU HAITAO (China) said recent inflammatory statements have increased tension in the region while the peace process has stagnated. Resolution 2334 (2016) should be effectively implemented, as continued settlement activity will seriously dampen the prospects for the two-State solution. A comprehensive, just and lasting settlement based on international consensus must be promoted and any new initiatives must meet existing international guidelines. Neither violence nor inflammatory statements can help. Expressing China’s concern about recent incendiary remarks concerning the annexation of the Jordan Valley, he said Israel should act with caution and safeguard the foundation of the peace process. Turning to Gaza, he said the parties concerned should lift the blockade as soon as possible and implement relevant United Nations resolutions. The international community should meanwhile continue to support UNRWA. He went on to note his country’s recent appointment of a special envoy for the Middle East.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity to stress that his country — with longstanding ties to States in the Middle East — is carefully monitoring the situation in a region where equilibrium has been destroyed by external geopolitical engineering. Emphasizing that settlement activity seriously obstructs peace, he shared concerns about recent statements by Israel’s leaders regarding the expansion of sovereignty to include the Jordan Valley. He added that incessant efforts to put forward alternative arrangements will undermine long-established international parameters. The only way forward is through joint efforts, with the Council playing a central role, he said, adding that the Russian Federation favours using the Middle East Quartet as a unique mechanism for assisting the process. It is time for the Council to send a mission to the region in a bid to build trust, relaunch negotiations and prevent the failure of international efforts.
AYMAN SAFADI, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of Jordan, said “silence is not an option” and that effective means are required to salvage hopes for peace. The alternative to a clear position that favours international law and consensus is the loss of moderation and spread of extremism and conflict, which would threaten regional and international peace and security. Instead of respecting international law and interacting positively with the Arab Peace Initiative, Israel persists with unilateral and illegal actions that undermine the two-State solution and demolish all tenets of the peace process. Everyone has a right to peace, and that is the goal that Jordan continues to seek, but peace will not be achieved by the expansion of illegal settlements, the targeting of UNRWA or the annexation of the Golan Heights or the Jordan Valley, which accounts for one third of the occupied West Bank, he said.
The magnitude of the danger calls for immediate action, he said. The Council and the international community must halt illegal settlements and prevent annexation of the Jordan Valley. Moreover, the historical status of Jerusalem must not be altered. It must be a city of peace, not a scene of occupation, injustice and deprivation, and protecting its status is a collective responsibility. Stressing that the Palestinian cause remains the principal issue in the region and the cause of all its instability, he said depriving the Palestinians of their rights will not lead to peace. Security for all will come through respecting the rights of all, based on international law and shared values. Jordan spares no effort to achieve lasting peace and will continue to work with the United Nations and all its friends to do so, he said.
For information media. Not an official record.