Failing to rectify persistent governance and security issues in Gaza and the slow pace of reconstruction six months after the conflict with Israel had fostered an increasingly worrisome “toxic” environment, a top United Nations official told the Security Council today.
“International efforts cannot succeed in isolation,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the 15-member body in his monthly briefing on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. “A genuine and lasting peace can only be reached by the commitment of the parties to overcome their mistrust and make the difficult compromises necessary to achieve a resolution to this conflict.”
While the Middle East Quartet (United Nations, Russian Federation, United States, European Union) had prioritized the resumption of negotiations and called for accelerated reconstruction in Gaza, he said it was imperative to obtain a commitment from Israelis and Palestinians to put aside their mistrust and demonstrate the courage and leadership required to move the peace process forward.
After another “tumultuous and deadly month in the Middle East”, he said the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians had continued to threaten further escalation that could trigger potentially irreversible consequences for both parties and the two-State solution. The Secretary-General continued to be very concerned about the fragile security situation, volatile political dynamics and the slow pace of reconstruction in Gaza.
He said that clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians had persisted alongside the Israeli authorities’ continued demolition of Palestinian structures in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Israel’s decision to issue tenders for West Bank settlement construction was a deep disappointment and that illegal action should be halted and reversed.
He also called for an immediate reversal of the Israeli Government’s decision to withhold $200 million in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in retaliation for the Palestinian accession to the International Criminal Court, as that was a violation of its obligations under the Paris Protocol of the Oslo Peace Accords. “Paralysing the Palestinian Authority from conducting essential government business is in no one’s interest,” he cautioned.
In Gaza, political challenges, including the outstanding issue of unpaid salaries to public sector employees and civil service reform, represented clear dangers for stability, he stated. Mounting tensions had posed risks to United Nations personnel and operations in Gaza. That included a violent protest on 28 January at the Organization’s offices stemming from the suspension of a cash assistance programme operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Concerned about escalating violence, he said the Secretary-General was alarmed at reports of Palestinian militants firing several dozen rockets at Israel.
Conveying the Secretary-General’s call for both sides to refrain from unilateral steps that could further aggravate the situation, Mr. Feltman said one of those key factors was for donors to fulfil their pledges. Despite the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism’s continued expansion, donors had yet to fulfil the vast majority of their commitments, he said, underlining that $100 million was urgently needed for the UNRWA cash assistance programme and another $705 million for addressing the humanitarian needs of 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Deadly attacks had occurred in other areas of the region, he said. With regard to reports of Israeli air strikes in the Golan on 18 January, he called on all parties to refrain from any action that could undermine stability in the area. Following the 28 January breach of hostilities between Lebanon and Israel, when Hizbullah launched anti-tank guided missiles at an Israeli military convoy south of the Blue Line, he said the Secretary-General condemned all violence and regretted the death of a United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeeper. The immediate engagement by UNIFIL and the Special Coordinator for Lebanon had helped to prevent a further escalation and to restore the cessation of hostilities, he said, welcoming the reaffirmation by Israel and Lebanon of their commitment to the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006). “Neither country nor the region can afford another conflict,” he warned.
In addition, Lebanon’s border with Syria remained affected by security incidents and cross-border fighting, he said. The prolonged “vacuum” in Lebanon’s highest office was also of serious concern, and the Secretary-General looked to the continued support of the Council to preserve Lebanon from the impact of conflicts in the region and to help it address the multiple challenges it faced.
The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 10:30 a.m.