Escalating tensions in East Jerusalem must be diffused without delay, but they could not be separated from the wider unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the United Nations top political official told the Security Council this afternoon.
“Further delay in the pursuit of peace will only exacerbate the conflict further and deepen divisions,” Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said at a briefing held following the Secretary-General’s receipt of letters from the Palestinian Observer demanding an end to Israeli settlement activity and provocations at the holy sites.
Mr. Feltman said that the Secretary-General was alarmed by new reports about Israel’s advanced planning for some 1,000 Israeli housing units in East Jerusalem, on the heels of the September decision to accelerate the construction of some 2,600 units in the city. “If pursued, these plans would once again raise grave doubts about Israel’s commitment to achieving durable peace with the Palestinians as the new settlements threaten the very viability of the future State of Palestine,” he said.
He said that once again, the Secretary-General called on Israel to reverse those activities, freeze settlement activities and abide by its commitments under international law and the Quartet Road Map. Tensions were also heightened by provocations and access restriction at the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount Compound, where Palestinians had been arrested for “allegedly” throwing stones at Jewish visitors. Israeli police had been injured.
He reiterated the Secretary-General’s call for access for all to their holy sites and for avoidance of inflammatory rhetoric. In that regard, he noted Israel’s assurance that it had no plans to change its long-standing policies governing the holy sites in cooperation with Jordan. “Incitement of violence from any quarter must cease and the sanctity of the holy sites of all States must be respected,” he said.
Tensions were also increased in Jerusalem by the killing of two people, including an infant by a Palestinian driver who aimed his car at a rail station and received praise from some other Palestinians, and by clashes during a Palestinian burial that resulted in proposals for overwhelming police presence and harsher punishments for stone and firebomb throwing. The reported demolition of Palestinian homes and arrests and a death from West Bank demonstrations also made tensions soar.
Following Mr. Feltman’s briefing, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, Riyad Mansour, urged the Council to “stand firm” by its position and uphold its responsibility to bring the illegal situation to an end. Israel must be demanded to immediately cease illegal settlement activities, as well as end provocations at holy sites in East Jerusalem. He said that the territorial contiguity and integrity of a Palestinian State was being undermined by the settlements, seriously diminishing the viability of the two-State solution. Israel must be compelled to comply with international law and commit to peace.
Ron Prosor, Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said he found it strange that, while hundreds of people were killed each day in crises in the rest of the Middle East, the Council was meeting after Palestinians had first provoked a situation by throwing rocks at tourists — which he stressed were real and not “alleged” — and then requested a meeting over the inevitable reaction. Jews had not been allowed to visit their holy sites while Jordan occupied Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967, but since then all peoples had access. Israel had done everything to minimize tensions, even restricting its own citizens from some of Judaism’s holiest places. He added that the primary obstacle to peace was not the building of housing for Jews in their ancient capital but the Arab world’s refusal to acknowledge that Israel was the nation State of the Jewish people.
All 15 Security Council members spoke after those statements, expressing deep concern over the heightened tensions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and urging the parties to refrain from actions and statements that would further inflame the situation. Speakers also urged a return to peace negotiations towards a two-State solution, saying that Israeli settlement activities were counter-productive toward that end. The representative of Jordan, noting that his country had requested the meeting, said his country would do its utmost to defend Jerusalem’s holy sites, as it had taken on that responsibility.
Also making statements today were the representatives of the United States, France, China, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Luxembourg, Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Chile, Chad, Australia, Nigeria, Lithuania and Argentina.
The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 5:14 p.m.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, said Jerusalem had always maintained an Arab and Islamic identity. “And it will remain so,” he said, but it was under siege, amid Israel’s “reckless” attempts to change its character, falsify its history, alter its demography and negate Palestinian rights. Israeli provocations, notably at Al-Haram Al-Sharif, home of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Qubbat Al-Sakhra, were aggravating religious sentiments and deepening mistrust. In countless official letters to the Council, Palestinians had urged that serious international attention should be given to the crisis in Occupied East Jerusalem.
While Palestinians were working to save the two-State solution on the basis of pre-1967 borders, he said, Israel was expanding its illegitimate control over East Jerusalem and the rest of Occupied Palestine. Israel not only denied that East Jerusalem was occupied, but sought to negate Palestinian rights and characterize the area as a solely Jewish and Israeli city. Since 1967, Israel had targeted East Jerusalem with illegal measures and openly supported the illegal actions of its settlers. “The territorial contiguity and integrity of our State is being fragmented and undermined by such illegal actions, seriously diminishing the viability of the two-State solution,” he stressed.
Moreover, Israel had continued to confiscate properties, he said, including 35 Palestinian homes by extremist settlers in the Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, forcibly displacing hundreds of Palestinian families. Israeli occupying forces and Jewish extremists continued their incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque and attacks on Palestinian worshipers. There had been “grotesque” competition among Israeli officials over who could provoke more Palestinian and Muslim sensitivities, as well as attempts to pass legislation to change the status quo over the holy site. Excavations in the city threatened the integrity of the holy sites. He unequivocally condemned all such actions, as well as the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, where people were suffering the devastating impacts of the recent Israeli war against them.
That the situation was illegal was not simply a Palestinian perspective, he said, recalling that the Council itself had deemed it as such. The International Court of Justice and the General Assembly had also been clear in that regard, while global consensus had been firm on the illegality of the Israeli “settlement enterprise” and status of Jerusalem, including non-recognition of Israeli claims to sovereignty. He urged the Council to “stand firm” by its position and uphold its responsibility to bring the illegal situation to an end. Israel must be demanded to immediately cease illegal settlement activities, as well as provocations at holy sites in East Jerusalem. Israel must be compelled to comply with international law and commit to peace.
“Failing to do so, it must be held fully accountable for its crimes,” he said. With that, he reiterated the call for the Council to adopt a resolution reaffirming the parameters of the two-State solution, and outline a timeframe for bringing an end to Israeli occupation and achieving independence.
RON PROSOR (Israel), citing recent killings in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia, said most of the people being oppressed in the region had been ignored by the Council, cast aside to make way for a litany of half-truths, myths and lies about Israel. He was here to convey one simple truth. “The people of Israel are not occupiers and we are not settlers,” he said. “Israel is our home and Jerusalem is the eternal capital of our sovereign State.” There were many threats in the Middle East, but the presence of Jewish homes in the Jewish homeland had never been one of them. That the international community was outraged when Jews built homes in Jerusalem yet silent when they were murdered for living in the city was “appalling” hypocrisy.
“The primary obstacle to peace is not settlements,” he said, but rather, it was the Arab world’s refusal to acknowledge that Israel was the nation State of the Jewish people. For thousands of years, Jews had turned their hearts in prayer towards Jerusalem and their connection to their capital could not be denied. Archaeological evidence was being deliberately destroyed, in efforts to erase all traces of the religious and historical ties between Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. If Palestinians wanted a brighter future, they must stop rewriting history and abandon the destructive rhetoric. Unless Palestinians made peace with the past, they would be held captive by resentment and hatred.
In that context, he recalled that Hamas’s charter called for Israel’s destruction and murder of Jews worldwide. The group targeted Israeli civilians, blew up buses, kidnapped and murdered teenagers, shot rockets into Israeli cities and built terror tunnels into its towns, while the Palestinian Authority’s President was orchestrating a campaign to vilify Israel. “And you seem willing to play second fiddle,” he said, reminding the Council of his “hate-fuelled” attack against Israel during the General Assembly. Palestinian extremists had turned Temple Mount into a battleground, throwing Molotov cocktails at visitors and police. At Shechem, under Palestinian Authority control since 1995, Palestinian vandals had burned Jewish prayer books and reduced the building to rubble.
From 1948 to 1967, when Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule, the city was divided and everyone could visit Judaism’s holiest sites, except Jews, he said. Following Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, Israel reunited Jerusalem, and since then, all people — regardless of religion or nationality — could visit the city’s holy sites. According to the status quo brokered between Israel and the Waqf, Muslims would enjoy access to pray at their holy sites, while all other religions would be allowed access to the Temple Mount. Yet today, while Israel was doing everything to minimize tensions, the Waqf had violated the status quo agreement by restricting access to Judaism’s holiest place. “Under our watch, Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, will remain a free and open city for all people and for all time,” he concluded.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) thanked the President for responding quickly to the call for this meeting. He said the world must turn its attentions to the illegal Israeli policies that threatened Jerusalem, as described by Mr. Feltman. His country would continue to do its utmost to defend Jerusalem and its holy sites and ensure they were not desecrated, as was its duty. He condemned all settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. He called on the Council to shoulder its responsibilities and end Israel’s practices and its occupation of Palestinian land. The two-State solution must be brought to life, immediately, through serious negotiations with a timetable and an end to practices that hampered the peace process.
DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) expressed deep concern over what he called the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem. The difficult time in the Middle East required wise choices by leaders. He urged all to refrain from actions, including settlement activities and incitement, which increased tensions. The historical status quo at the holy sites must be preserved, as Israel had promised. Coordination mechanisms that had allowed access to the sites must be maintained. He recalled his country’s clear opposition to settlements and other unilateral actions. In other areas, he condemned the killing of the Israeli infant and offered sympathies to the family of a 14-year-old Palestinian killed during a demonstration, both of whom he said were United States citizens. Finally, he reiterated the importance of a negotiated solution to the conflict.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that once again it was seen that the status quo was unsustainable. Settlement activity, tensions over the holy sites and the risk of a new explosion of violence were creating a critical situation requiring leaders of both sides to take steps towards peace. He welcomed in that context progress toward Palestinian reconciliation and called for an end to Israeli settlement activity. The Council should not remain a mere spectator; France stood ready to consider a time-limited framework for talks for a durable solution to the conflict. Prospects for peace must not be allowed to disappear.
LIU JIEYI (China) urged the parties to maintain restraint and avoid further escalation of tensions. His country’s policy opposing settlements was clear; he called on Israel to halt related activity. Peace talks must be resumed as soon as possible, with support by the international community to take the process forward. The Council should play its due role by taking action in response to what he called legitimate demands of the Palestinians.
MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom), noting that attempts to alter the status quo carried serious political and security implications, strongly urged Israel to comply with its international legal obligations as an occupying Power, including vis-à-vis holy sites. It must work with the Waqf to avoid inflaming tensions. He condemned actions that had made it more difficult to reach a peace agreement, including increased violence in Jerusalem, voicing concern over recent settlement announcements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Settlements were illegal under international law and obstructed the two-State solution. The United Kingdom deplored plans to relocate Bedouin from around the E1 area. Israeli settler movements in East Silwan had fuelled tensions. Such actions had made it more difficult for Israel’s friends to defend it against claims it was not serious about peace. Israel should reverse its policy on illegal settlements and all parties should create a climate conducive to peace, focusing on resumed negotiations.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) expressed concern over thousands of new settlements in East Jerusalem and the exacerbation of tensions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Unilateral actions damaged the prospects for a peaceful solution. Settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem was illegal and must stop, a requirement outlined in the Quartet Road Map. Recalling that one country had vetoed the anti-settlement resolution, he said a “dangerous” turn had been seen around Al-Aqsa Mosque. He urged maximum restraint, recalling resolution 478 (1980), which outlined that measures aimed at altering the nature of Jerusalem were illegal. The situation had deteriorated, with the failure of United States-mediated negotiations. The Council could play a more substantive role in helping the sides implement previous decisions. The Russian Federation had long urged the Quartet’s involvement. Indirect contacts between Israelis and Palestinians must continue, with Egypt’s involvement. Strengthening the Palestinian leadership was a precondition for success. He hoped that final status negotiations would resume.
SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg) said settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem had made Palestinians’ lives more difficult. The two–State solution risked being an abstract concept that could not be applied on the ground. The Council must call for an end to provocations and condemn calls to violence by both sides. It also should condemn settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as settlements were illegal, threatened the two-State solution and contravened the aspirations of both sides to live in peace and security. All sides should make the two-State solution a reality. Israel had a right to live in peace and security, she said, and questioned how the country could take measures that undermined that goal. Israel must end its settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as measures aimed at altering the demographic nature of East Jerusalem. For its part, the Council should play a more active role in preserving the two-State solution.
OH JOON (Republic of Korea) called on all parties to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation in Jerusalem. He expressed deep concern over settlement activity and appealed to both sides to refrain from unilateral measures. He condemned violent incidents, and called for the maintenance of the status quo on access to holy sites, and for both sides to return to the negotiating table in the effort to reach a two-State solution.
OLIVIER NDUHUNGIREHE (Rwanda) said the tensions in Jerusalem must be resolved peacefully and both parties must make greater efforts, following the already high tensions that resulted from the Gaza fighting, to refrain from greater provocation. He called for maintenance of the status quo agreement on the holy sites. Both parties should recommit themselves to serious negotiations towards a two-State solution and save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) said it was deplorable that the Council had to deal once again with Israeli settlements and practices related to the holy sites; the issues had been decided long ago. He condemned the announcement of the building of new settlements. Unilateral actions perpetuated discord and mistrust between the parties. He called on the Council to exercise its responsibilities in pursuit of the two-State solution.
MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad) expressed his concern over what he called the continuing brutal practices of Israel, including its actions at the holy sites and settlement activity, which could completely undermine the peace process. He asked how the Palestinians could build a nation when their territory was reduced on a daily basis. It was high time to lend real momentum to the peace process, which required Israel to end its illegal practices.
GARY QUINLAN (Australia) expressed disappointment at the failure of final status negotiations. Efforts to achieve peace through a two-State solution must immediately resume. Condemning recent violence, he said both sides were obliged to do their utmost to reduce current tensions. Israelis and Palestinians must show real leadership in seeking a path towards peace and reconciliation. While welcoming the Israeli Prime Minister’s announcement that access to the holy sites would be maintained, he was troubled by the decision to build 1,000 new apartments in East Jerusalem and expropriate West Bank land. The Australian Foreign Minister called his Israeli counterpart to reconsider that plan. Israelis and Palestinians deserved to live side by side in peace and security. He urged both sides to resume negotiations, adding that the Council should support that process only with their full commitment.
KAYODE LARO (Nigeria) said plans to build settlements carried grave consequences, voicing support for the two-State solution, for which there was no viable alternative. He pressed Israel to abandon plans to build new settlements in East Jerusalem, which was part of Occupied Palestinian Territory, under international law. Calling on both to restart negotiations, he said dialogue was the only means to resolving the question of Palestine. All unilateral actions should be avoided, steps should be taken to deescalate tensions and negotiations on final status issues should resume. He wished to see Israelis and Palestinians live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders and in line with relevant Council resolutions.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITÉ (Lithuania) urged all sides to refrain from actions that would heighten tensions and lead to further incitement and hate crimes. She condemned Israel’s decision to approve plans for new illegal settlements, which ifadvanced would severely threaten the final status of Jerusalem as the future capital of two States. Israel must desist from measures aimed at altering the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and legal status of the city, as those actions contravened the Fourth Geneva Convention. Supporting Jordan’s actions to preserve the status quo of holy sites in East Jerusalem, she called on all sides to cease provocations around the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif complex. Israel and Palestine should resume peace negotiations and show a strong commitment to reach a two-State solution, itself achieved on the basis of relevant Council resolutions, the Madrid conference terms of reference, the Road Map and the Arab Peace Initiative.
MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina) deplored that, amid discussions about reconstruction in Gaza, there was an urgent need to address actions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The plans were part of a settlement campaign in East Jerusalem, as were demolitions and forced displacements of Palestinian residents. The settlement expansion continued amid violence, incitement and attempts to change the status quo of the holy sites in the city. “These actions are irresponsible,” she said, and risked destabilizing the region. They contravened international law, endangered the viability of a two-State solution and could trigger fresh violence. The Council had already deplored Israel’s attempts to change the physical nature and demographic composition of Jerusalem. It now must do its utmost to salvage the two-State solution. It could accept Palestine as a United Nations member, conduct a long-postponed visit to the region and engage in a serious discussion on the Palestinian draft resolution.
* The 7290th Meeting was closed.