Without positive efforts by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to move peace negotiations forward, tensions and violence in the region could only worsen, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council this afternoon.
“Accepting a fatalistic narrative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only accelerate a deterioration of the situation,” Jeffrey Feltman, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said in the monthly briefing on the topic.
Stressing in particular that the conflict could not be viewed in isolation from the regional turmoil, he warned that “the risk of radicalization in the occupied Palestinian territory is heightened by the lack of a political horizon.”
The Secretary-General, Mr. Feltman said, was encouraged by the recent reaffirmations by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his commitment to the idea of a sustainable two-State solution, but had emphasized that such a pledge must be translated into action, including a halt to unilateral activities in the West Bank such as settlement building.
He added that the Secretary-General welcomed Israel’s measures to ease restrictions on Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, particularly during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — although some measures had been revoked in response to repeated rocket fire from Gaza — and had encouraged Israel to expand such confidence-building measures.
The situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, remained tense during the last month, Mr. Feltman said. Israeli forces conducted some 400 operations, resulting in the arrest of 510 Palestinians. Three Palestinians died in separate incidents, and one Israeli was killed and others injured due to attacks, with 186 Palestinians injured in a variety of circumstances over the period.
He said that the Secretary-General expressed deep concern, in addition, over the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, warning that draft legislation to permit force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, if approved by the legislature, would be in contravention of international standards.
The demolishing of homes and other structures in the West Bank also continued and a petition to restore planning authority to Palestinian villages in Area C was rejected by the Israeli High Court of Justice, he said, maintaining that the planning system as it stood made it virtually impossible for Palestinians to develop their land in Area C. He reiterated concerns over plans to relocate some 7,000 Palestinian Bedouins and herders in that area as well.
On Gaza, Mr. Feltman said the situation there was exacerbated by a number of security incidents. During the reporting period, 10 rockets were fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza, without casualties or damage. A further 11 were test fired towards the sea. Israeli security forces responded by conducting 11 airstrikes on militant sites in Gaza, without injuries. Concerns were also mounting around internal divisions within Gaza, including a potentially developing threat from militant Salafist individuals or groups.
Referring to media reports suggesting that a flotilla was expected to group and head towards Gaza in the coming days, he said a flotilla would not help to address the dire situation in Gaza and reiterated his call on the Government of Israel to lift all closures, with due consideration of Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
The circumstances in Gaza highlighted the need for strengthening Palestinian unity, he said. Conflicts, poor governance and the closures had crushed Gaza’s economy and unemployment had spiked. He was, nevertheless, encouraged by Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s commitment to overcoming those obstacles. The willingness of all Palestinian factions to resolve their differences, including on border crossings with Israel and Egypt, was integral to lifting the blockade and advancing Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood.
While overall progress on Gaza’s reconstruction remained too slow, the establishment of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism had been vital to facilitating the entry of material, he said. With major construction work expected to begin imminently, there was a need for additional funding for the Mechanism, which would exhaust its funds in September.
Mr. Feltman expressed hope that the release on Monday of the Human Rights Council’s independent Commission of Inquiry’s report on Gaza would contribute to bringing justice to victims of the 2014 war and encourage parties to engage in serious and credible examinations of their own behaviour.
On Lebanon, he noted that the country had been without a President for over a year, which prevented the Parliament from legislating on urgent issues, affecting the economy and the Government’s ability to function effectively.
Along the eastern Lebanese-Syrian border, he said, Hizbullah had reportedly seized a number of positions from armed extremist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front, in the region of Qalamoun up to the outskirts of Arsal. The Lebanese Armed Forces were deployed in and around Arsal to prevent the fighting from reaching the town. He urged donors to fulfil existing pledges for assisting the 1.2 million registered refugees and Lebanese host communities.
General calm remained in the area of operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), he said, despite what he called escalatory rhetoric on both sides, security concerns in the Golan Heights and Israel’s near-daily violations of Lebanese airspace.
On Syria, Mr. Feltman reported that the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy continued the Geneva Consultations with a view to developing recommendations on the operationalization of the Geneva Communique. On 4 June, the Envoy held discussions in Istanbul with the Syrian Opposition Coalition, and from 15 to 17 June with Syrian officials in Damascus.
In Damascus, he said, the Special Envoy also raised issues related to the protection of civilians, including the unacceptable use of barrel bombs by Government forces while also condemning the use of gas canisters by opposition groups. Among other developments, he said that the Turkish Government had raised concerns about refugee flows resulting from efforts to oust ISIL from areas of northern Syria.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and closed at 3:21 p.m.