Amid New Violence in West Bank, Speakers in Security Council Urge Palestinians, Israelis De-escalate Situation, Respect Status Quo around Holy Sites

16 October 2015
SC/12083

Amid New Violence in West Bank, Speakers in Security Council Urge Palestinians, Israelis De-escalate Situation, Respect Status Quo around Holy Sites

7536th Meeting (AM)

The crisis sparked by fresh violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza could not be stopped by security measures alone, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs told the Security Council today, urging Palestinians and Israelis to respect decades-old status quo arrangements around holy sites, and for political leaders on all sides to calm their language in a joint effort to deescalate the situation.

Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, describing recent events in a special meeting called to address the situation, said a fire set today by a group of Palestinians at the holy site of Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus was “particularly troubling”, in light of its religious dimension.

He welcomed President Mahmoud Abbas’ condemnation of the attack and announcement that a committee had been formed to investigate the crime.  All sides had to respect all holy sites and reject the extremist elements pushing a political agenda that sought to transform the current situation from a national to a religious struggle.

The incident followed a deadly week in the West Bank, he said, citing 11 reported attacks against Israelis and Israeli security forces leaving four Israelis and nine Palestinians dead, and 16 Israelis and four Palestinians wounded.  In Gaza, seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians had been killed, while 124 Israelis and more than 1,118 Palestinians had been injured since 1 October.

Since then, he said, Israeli Defence Forces had “significantly” bolstered their presence in Israeli cities, while many Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem had been surrounded, with access roads blocked and checkpoints established.  Movement restrictions in the West Bank had been reinstated and ad hoc checkpoints erected at more than 100 sites in the area.

He said the United Nations had maintained a consistent position on those issues.  Collective punishments, including house demolitions, contravened international law and he urged Israel to immediately desist.  The occupation and diminishing prospects for achieving Palestinian Statehood had transformed Palestinian anger into outright rage.

“Such loss of political perspective is the single most damaging factor which contributes to the anger and frustration driving the violence,” he said.  Tensions at holy sites in Jerusalem, the main cause of the crisis, were compounded by “reckless” statements by Palestinian and Israeli extremists that Israel aimed to change the status quo at the holy sites, and a “heavy-handed” approach by Israeli security services.

The Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine said he had asked the Council to urgently intervene to end aggression by settlers and extremists towards Palestinian people and shrines.  The Holy Shrine and the Al-Aqsa mosque had been subjected to continued aggression by extremists, who wanted to impose a change from the present situation, threatening to turn the conflict into a religious one.

He pressed the Council to force Israel to withdraw its armed formations immediately, especially in occupied East Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque.  It also must provide protection for the Palestinian people until occupation was over.  In that context, he urged that resolution 904 (1994) be implemented, which among other things called for disarming settlers.

Taking issue with that perspective, Israel’s representative said his country was facing an onslaught of terrorism.  Men, women and children were stabbed daily, but there had been no call from the Council for the Palestinian leadership to end incitement.  Israel was taking all steps necessary to defend its people.  The violence had begun with lies about the Temple Mount.

He said Palestinian leaders had repeated the baseless lie that Israel wanted to change the status quo of the Temple Mount, despite contrary statements by the Prime Minister.  Israel would not agree to an international presence of the Temple as it would change the status quo.  The Prime Minister was willing to meet with Palestinian leadership to bring calm to the region.  The Council must insist that Mr. Abbas comes to the table, as only direct negotiations could lead to peace.

The representative of Jordan said her Government had called for today’s meeting, as recent developments in the Palestinian territory had “crossed all possible lines”.  Israeli authorities must immediately respect the historic status quo of Jerusalem and stop measures aimed at dividing Al-Aqsa mosque.  She rejected any attempt to infringe on heritage and religious sites.

The representative of the Russian Federation requested the Secretary-General to convey to the Council the results of a study prepared by the Secretariat in response to a July 2014 letter from President Abbas requesting that the Palestinian State be placed under United Nations protection.

Also speaking today were the representatives of the United States, France, China, New Zealand, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Chile, Venezuela, Nigeria, Angola, Lithuania and Spain.

The meeting began at 11:11 a.m. and ended at 1 p.m.

Briefing

TAYÉ-BROOK ZERIHOUN, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said that a large group of Palestinians just today set fire to the compound containing the holy site of Joseph’s Tomb in the West Bank city of Nablus.  Fortunately there were no reported injuries but the site sustained major damage.  The Secretary-General strongly condemned the reprehensible act, and called for the perpetrators to be swiftly brought to justice.  The United Nations welcomed President Mahmoud Abbas’ condemnation of the attack and announcement that a committee had been established to investigate the crime.

“This incident represents a particularly troubling development in light of its religious dimension,” he said, calling on all sides to respect all holy sites and reject the extremist elements pushing a political agenda that sought to transform the current situation from a national to a religious struggle.

The incident followed a deadly week in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israel, he said, citing 11 reported attacks against Israelis and Israeli security forces leaving four Israelis and nine Palestinians dead, and 16 Israelis and four Palestinians wounded.  There were also three reported stabbing and ramming attacks on Israelis in Israel.

In Gaza, he said, a seventh Palestinian succumbed to his wounds on 10 October after clashing with the Israeli Defence Forces, while on 11 October, a Palestinian woman and her child died after Israeli airstrikes on Hamas sites in Gaza.  The airstrikes were in response to rocket fire on Israel on 10 October.  Palestinian militants fired at least eight rockets towards Israel during the past week alone, with most falling short and landing within Gaza territory.  As of 15 October, a total of seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians had been killed, some 124 Israelis and more than 1,118 Palestinians had been reportedly injured since 1 October.

Since those attacks, he said, Israel’s security cabinet had passed a range of new measures which were already being implemented.  Israeli Defence Forces had “significantly” bolstered their presence in Israeli city centres, while many Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem had been surrounded, with access roads blocked and checkpoints established.  Movement restrictions in the West Bank had been reinstated and ad hoc checkpoints erected at more than 100 sites in the area.  Other measures being introduced aimed to deter would-be terrorists.  The homes of those accused would be demolished within days of any such abuse, and their families — if East Jerusalem residents and not Israeli citizens — would have their permanent residency revoked.

Collective punishments contravened international law and he urged Israel to immediately cease that practice.  The crisis could not be resolved through security measures alone.  The occupation and diminishing prospects for achieving Palestinian Statehood had transformed simmering Palestinian anger into outright rage, he said, a reality that had been compounded by dire economic circumstances and expanding settlement activities.

“Such loss of political perspective is the single most damaging factor which contributes to the anger and frustration driving the violence,” he said.  Tensions at holy sites in Jerusalem were the main instigator of the current crisis, while “reckless” statements by Palestinian and Israeli extremists — reinforced by some mainstream voices — had instigated that Israel aimed to change the status quo at the holy sites.  The Israeli Prime Minister’s assurances that he had no such intension were welcome, but perceptions would only change when actions, based on agreements between Israel and Jordan, followed those words.

Another factor feeding the escalation was the “heavy-handed” approach by Israeli security, he said, citing video footage that raised “serious questions” about the appropriate level of force used by the Israeli Defence Forces and police.  He encouraged greater restraint when there was no imminent threat to life or serious injury.  The impact of social media and irresponsible rhetoric had also dramatically escalated the situation, he said, assigning blame to both sides.  He urged community, religious and political leaders on all sides to calm the language and work together to de-escalate the situation.

Statements

RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, said he had asked the Council to urgently intervene to end aggression by settlers and extremists towards defenceless Palestinian people and shrines.  There were now 35 martyrs, including children and more than 1,000 injured.  Most of them were minors.  The Holy Shrine and the Al-Aqsa mosque were subjected to continued aggression by extremists who wanted to impose a change from the present situation, a provocation leading to further escalation and which threatened to turn the conflict into a religious one.  Israel, the occupying Power, was responsible for the situation and for illegal violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.  The illegal settlements were a fertile ground for the extremist phenomena and there was no hope for progress without ending settlements immediately and completely.  It was time to force Israel to its commitments, as it had been allowed to continue with impunity.  The Israeli officials should be held responsible for those crimes, as well as the terrorist settlers.

He said that an 18 month old infant had been killed and his 4‑year‑old brother burned.  Until now the terrorists had not been arrested although they were known.  The Mayor of West Jerusalem had even called for armed Jewish militias.  The aggression would not break the will of his people who fought against occupation peacefully to achieve a sovereign State with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Council had to take responsibility by condemning the acts and forcing Israel to withdraw its armed formations immediately, especially in occupied East Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque, he said.  Israel had violated its responsibility of the occupying Power in the protection of civilians.  The Council must provide protection for the Palestinian people until occupation was over.  He called for implementation of resolution 904 (1994) and other relevant resolutions, which had among other things called for disarming settlers.  The Council must act urgently by providing international protection for his people.

DAVID YITSHAK ROET (Israel) said his country was facing an onslaught of terrorism.  Men, women and children were stabbed on a daily basis, but there had been no call from the Council for the Palestinian leadership to end incitement.  Citing examples of those attacks, he said Israelis did not feel safe walking the street and feared for the life of their children.  Israel was taking all steps necessary to defend its people.  The violence faced had begun with lies about the Temple Mount.  Palestinian leaders had repeated the baseless lie that Israel wanted to change the status quo of the Temple Mount over and over again.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had stated that Israel was firmly committed to the status quo and was in favour of all people to visit the Temple Mount.  Israel would not agree to any international presence of the Temple Mount as it would change the status quo.

He said Palestinian leaders were determined to erase Jewish history.  A Palestinian proposal in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) called for including the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site, as an integral part of the Al-Aqsa mosque.  Joseph’s Tomb had been burned, and that was a desecration of the freedom of religion of others.  That disrespect was also evident in action by Palestinians on the Temple Mount.  The mosque had been used as staging ground for firebomb attacks to prevent Jews and Christians to visit the Temple Mount on the Jewish New Year.  Palestinian leaders, however, stood mute.  President Abbas had declared that he welcomed every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem.  Jews have no right to desecrate the sites with “their filthy feet”.  If any other leader had said something like that, the Council would have condemned it immediately, but now 15‑member body was silent.  Instead of calming tensions, Palestinian leaders continued to lie and incite violence.  Something was deeply wrong if a child took up a knife.  It was easy to incite children and tempting to turn them into symbols, which was happening in the Palestinian social media.  Young children watched television shows that encouraged them to kill all Jews and become martyrs.

The situation was dire, but there was a way forward, he said.  Prime Minister Netanyahu had expressed a willingness to meet with Palestinian leadership to bring calm to the region.  The Council must insist that Abbas comes to the table as only direct negotiations could lead to a real and lasting peace for all the people in the region.

DINA KAWAR (Jordan) said her Government had called for today’s meeting to urgently address the latest developments in the Palestinian territory, especially occupied East Jerusalem, including Israel’s incursion into Al-Aqsa mosque and imposition of a reality that would change the status quo there, as well as provocations by Israeli extremists that had “crossed all possible lines”.  Israel’s actions in Occupied Palestinian Territories, such as systematic violations of defenceless Palestinians, required the Council to take measures to protect Palestinians.  For more than seven decades, Palestinians had endured Israeli occupation.  Every day, Israel devised new coercive measures against Palestinians who had lost hope in the international efforts to save them from such aggression.  Israel’s security could not be achieved by indulging in collective and individual punishment, through excessive use of force and killing innocents.

She urged the Council to spare no effort to end Israel’s violations in Palestinian territory, as well as its breaches of international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.  The Council should explore options to provide legal protections to Palestinians in the occupied territory.  Israeli authorities must immediately respect the historic status quo of Jerusalem and stop measures aimed at dividing Al-Aqsa mosque.  She rejected any attempt to infringe on heritage and religious sites, supporting President Abbas’ decision to investigate the torching of Joseph’s Tomb.  Her country would spare no effort to support Palestinians, end Israeli occupation of Palestine and establish a viable Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) condemned in the strongest terms all violence in Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere, stressing the importance of preventing inflammatory rhetoric or actions that fed violence.  There was growing frustration on both sides amid declining hopes for a two-State solution.  There was no justification for violence.  While the United States supported Israel’s right to defend its citizens, every effort must be taken to guard against the unnecessary loss of life.  Settler violence in the West Bank was a concern.  She stressed the importance of both sides condemning the violence.  The United States was committed to advancing a two-State solution and urged all sides to take steps to restore calm.

She welcomed Israel and Jordan’s commitment to maintain the status quo at the Temple Mount, noting that her country’s Secretary of State had spoken with the Israeli Prime Minister, Palestinian President and Jordanian King, and soon would travel to the region.  “The status quo is not sustainable,” she said, noting that the Quartet had stressed the importance of both sides demonstrating their commitment to the two-State solution.  The United States had strongly supported significant steps to reverse the current trends towards creating a two-State reality on the ground.  Such steps could be taken without impacting Israel’s legitimate security concerns.  She urged working towards a political solution that outlined two States living side by sides in peace and security.

VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) expressed great concern at the escalation of violence in Palestinian territories, especially East Jerusalem, which reduced the possibilities for achieving a political solution.  Both parties needed to stop the violence and ensure measures were taken to de-escalate the situation.  Normalizing the situation around holy sites in East Jerusalem was important and he urged avoiding any step that violated the status quo, and other violence by Palestinians or Israelis.  Holy sites must be addressed in a mutually beneficial manner through dialogue.  Immediate steps must be taken to reduce tension and see the cause of what was happening in Palestinian territories, as they were related to the 1967 occupation, including of East Jerusalem.  Israel, as an occupying Power, was obliged to address the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and respect humanitarian principles regarding people in the occupied territories.

In Gaza, Israel’s steps to prevent humanitarian assistance were unacceptable, while the blockade ignored the Council’s demands, he said.  His country was ready to help de-escalate the situation, including through the Quartet.  It was important to consider a Council mission to the Middle East, which his Government had proposed years ago.  Renewed negotiations on a two-State solution would foster regional security.  In July 2014, President Abbas had sent a letter to the Secretary-General to place the Palestinian State under United Nations protection.  The Secretariat had prepared a study in that regard, the results of which he hoped the Secretary-General would convey to the Council.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), condemning all attacks, said his country had been warning of new unrest in the Middle East, amid expanded settlement activity and the absence of a peace process.  It was urgent to relaunch the political process and advance towards a just and lasting peace.  The two-State solution could not be left to unravel, especially amid the rise of Da’esh.  The Council must respond to the current escalation.  As such, France had prepared a draft statement, which it would submit to the Council, calling for calm and maintenance of the status quo for the Esplanade of the Mosques.  A political horizon must be created, and the establishment of an international support group was relevant in the context.  The Quartet had expanded to include key Arab actors.  It was time to rebuild a political horizon to advance and conclude peace discussions, which would allow for working on confidence-building measures, collective support to Palestinian reconciliation, and the drawing up of guarantees and provision of compensations, which parties would need to sign.  France favoured another meeting of the expanded Quartet.  “We cannot simply do nothing,” he said, urging that all means be used to find a lasting solution.

LIU JIEYI (China) said that as the conflict had recently escalated, he was concerned about the military crackdown by Israeli forces.  The excessive use of force against civilians was unacceptable.  “Violence for violence does not help resolve issues,” he said and urged both Palestinians and Israelis to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalation.  The international community and the Council should have a stronger sense of urgency and actively respond to the legitimate demands of the Palestinians and take measures to immediately cease the violence.  Peace talks were the only path forward.  The international community must promote the quick resumption of talks with direct participation of all partners.  He supported the just cause of the Palestinian people to restore their rights and his country stood ready to contact parties and coordinate actions to promote the resumption of talks.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) called on all sides to cease violence, refrain from provocative rhetoric and uphold the historic status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites.  Unless all parties addressed the root causes of the violence it would continue to happen again and again, he said, urging a viable solution and economic and social stability.  The Council had a role to play to generate conditions on the ground conducive to negotiations towards a two-State solution.  The 15‑member body also had a role to play in telling the parties clearly and firmly to get ready to negotiate, and provide them with a timeframe for commencing negotiations.  He looked forward to discussing ideas at the open debate next week, which he believed should focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The conflict had continued too long and resulted in far too many innocent deaths.

RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) said he was concerned by provocations and violence in and around the holy sites and condemned all attempts to change the character of East Jerusalem.  Condemning all acts of provocations around the holy sites, he urged parties to exercise restraint.  Over and over again the Council had been warned about the time bomb in occupied Palestine, he said.  It was the longest occupation in modern history, and the Council had done nothing while the occupying Power had acted with impunity.  There were many reports of terrorist acts committed by Palestinians, but there were no reports about the violence committed by illegal settlers.  The Council and the international community shared the blame for the continuation of the situation.  The United Nations needed to protect the people in the occupied Palestinian territory as that would also address Israel security concerns.  Furthermore, he underscored the importance of the extended Quartet in its engagement in the Council.  The continuing occupation was a rallying point worldwide for extremism.  The Council must act to address the root cause of the conflict and put an end to the occupation.  “Otherwise a higher price will be paid in the future”, he said.

MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad) was concerned by the upsurge of violence in the occupied territories, particularly in East Jerusalem, caused by the actions of illegal settlers around the mosque.  Condemning all violence against innocent civilians, he said that a growing number of victims indicated the scope of the violence that was taking place in the occupied territory.  The acts of repression were unacceptable and violated the Fourth Geneva Convention, among other things.  The Council must take the appropriate measures to ensure the protection of Palestinian civilians.  It must act urgently to end the serious violations and ensure that the provocation by Israeli settlers not be repeated.  The occupying Power should not enjoy total impunity.  The worsening of the situation made it all the more urgent to relaunch the political process on a new basis, to end the deadlocked talks and to make the two-State solution a reality.  He called on the two parties to strive to pacify the situation and undertake confidence-building measures.  Israel should put an end to settlement expansion, demolishing houses and forced displacement.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), expressing deep concern over the terrorist attacks this month, said the Council must respond urgently and effectively to situations such as in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and elsewhere.  Whether committed by Israelis or Palestinians, the United Kingdom condemned all such violence.  The first priority was the swift end to the violence and rapid de‑escalation of the situation, and the perpetrators must be subject to prosecution.  All should call on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to avoid actions that could exacerbate the situation.

He said the status quo, and access to the Temple Mount and other holy sites, must be preserved, and that his country was in touch with relevant authorities on that point.  Security restrictions must be immediately lifted.  Israelis and Palestinians must believe there was an alternative to conflict.  Political leaders on all sides and the Council must clarify that the two-State was essential.  The United Kingdom was ready to work with the Council and other international partners through private diplomacy, statements and resolutions and any other route that would achieve a lasting solution.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) condemned in the strongest terms the recent violence, which indicated a polarization.  He appealed to Israeli and Palestinian authorities to take steps to promote peace, urging respect for agreements and established practice regarding the esplanade of the mosques.  Settlement activity undermined rapprochement.  The two-State solution offered the best prospects for peace.  Yet, it would not be possible to negotiate without recognizing Palestinians’ right to self-determination and the Council should help create conditions that fostered trust by supporting any initiative that advanced a peace process.  Chile supported proposals that would lay the groundwork for consensus in that regard.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) condemned the current violence in Palestine, which stemmed from the illegal occupation that had deprived Palestinians of their right to self-determination.  He cited Council members that had blocked a political solution, which in turn, had denied refugees their right to return.  Israel continued to deny Palestinians their right to self-determination and existence as a sovereign State.  Israelis hoped to provoke the Palestinians to create violence, to which it responded in a brutal way, notably through an endless settlement programme.  He condemned the destruction of homes in the West Bank, and rejected aggression on the holy sites by settlers and the Israeli Defence Forces.  He urged the Council to demand that Israel end the violence and place Palestinians under United Nations protection, in line with the Fourth Geneva Convention and resolution 904 (1994).  The Council could recommend that Palestine become a full United Nations Member State.

U. JOY OGWU (Nigeria) said all people and nations of goodwill admitted that the killings in Jerusalem were a serious threat to peace and security.  The carnage was complicating an already difficult situation.  She called for calm on both sides, with parties refraining from rhetoric and preserving the status quo at the holy sites.  The root causes of the conflict must be addressed comprehensively within the framework of negotiations.  Both sides must work to facilitate the peace process.  She urged Israel in that regard to cease immediately all settlement construction in the occupied territory.  Calling on regional leaders to encourage the parties to resume negotiations, she said the two-State solution was “inevitable and inescapable”.

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) said he was alarmed at the escalating situation, including actions by extremists at religious sites in Jerusalem.  That state of affairs was due to the desperation of the Palestinian people, the unacceptable actions of illegal settlers and the lack of the international community to solve the conflict.  He urged all involved to avoid actions that only served the purposes of extremist elements on both sides.  Prime Minister Netanyahu had stated his readiness to negotiate, and he hoped that proposal would be accepted by the Palestinian leadership.  If the situation grew worse, the ramifications could be disastrous for the whole region.  It was important for religious leaders and community leaders to call for peace and reconciliation.  The Council must promote reviving the peace process and set the framework for a final situation.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania), condemning violence committed by all parties, said that respecting international law was paramount and urged the parties to refrain from provocative action and uphold the status quo.  Authorities should take all measures necessary to cease violence and commence negotiations without delay.  The international community must insist that both parties commit themselves to peace and dialogue.  She called on both sides to take all measures necessary to protect the civilian population.  Parties must accept that the “everything or nothing” approach would result in nothing.  Her country remained committed to the two-State solution.

ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain), expressing concern over the situation in occupied Palestinian territories and in Israel, said the underlying causes needed to be examined, especially the political vacuum.  The status quo of mosques must be guaranteed and he urged compliance with the agreements that had established it.  Jerusalem was a holy site for Muslims, Christians and Jews and should not be used by extremists, a point the international community should make clear.  He valued Jordan’s role in that context, trusting that dialogue with Israel would help stabilize the management arrangements agreed years ago.  It was important to restore the spirit of tolerance.  Moreover, the role of political and community leaders was essential for establishing calm.  He urged cooperation on security issues and avoiding any incitement or excessive use of force.  It was important to examine formulas to help parties fulfil their protection obligations, and in that context, the Council should receive the report being prepared by the Office of Legal Affairs containing options for appropriate Palestinian protection.  Another meeting of the Quartet in a broader format would be helpful ahead of next week’s Council debate.  He urged creating a political horizon that would allow for advancing a two-State solution.

For information media. Not an official record.