Humanitarian Chief Reports Growing Curbs on International Aid, Shrinking Space for Non-governmental Organizations
The United Nations coordinator of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process called on all stakeholders to counter “a hate-driven agenda” threatening to destroy possibilities for a two-State solution to the conflict, in his monthly briefing to the Security Council today.
“A carefully worded statement or well-crafted speech will not reverse the current trajectory,” said Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, emphasizing: “What people long for is action.” Inaction would allow the situation on the ground to keep changing steadily in a dangerous direction as proponents of Israel’s settlement expansion felt emboldened, as internal divisions among Palestinians flared up and as “the possibility of a future Palestinian State comes under threat like never before”.
He said poverty and food insecurity in West Bank camps, like the one in Nablus that he had visited twice this month, combined with regular Israeli incursions had created the potential for violence. A series of clashes between residents of the Nablus camp and Palestinian security forces in the past few months had resulted in one death and several injuries. It was critical to deal with such situations according to the law and to revive hope for refugees, he added, urging greater support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Israel’s planning for additional settlements and its demolition of Palestinian structures in the West Bank were increasingly worrying as the number of demolitions reached 1,020, nearly twice the 2015 total.
Turning to the situation in the Gaza Strip, he expressed deep concern over continuing build-up and smuggling activities by militants, as well as increased restrictions on the movements of goods and people into and out of the enclave. Owing to those restrictions, the availability of construction materials was woefully behind demand, he said, noting that the backlog of households approved to receive cement had reached 33,000 people. He went on to urge Israel to address the increased denial of exit permits for national staff of international aid agencies, which had significant implications for their ability to operate. On the other hand, he welcomed Egypt’s opening of the Rafah crossing for 10 days, saying it had enabled thousands to take care of their needs.
Concerning Lebanon, he said there had been further signs that the county was overcoming its political crisis, with progress toward the formation of a Government. Hopefully that positive momentum would translate into a full reactivation of institutions, including the holding of parliamentary elections by May 2017. The situation in the operational area of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) remained mostly quiet, with some violations by both sides, he noted. On the occupied Syrian Golan, he said the precarious situation there clearly jeopardized the ceasefire between Israel and Syria, urging both to maintain liaison with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) and to refrain from any actions that could exacerbate the situation.
The Council also heard a briefing by Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who said that while 70 per cent of Gaza’s population currently received some form of international assistance, the ability to deliver it had become increasingly restricted due to Israel’s banning or restricting imports of certain goods deemed to have dual military and civilian purposes. Among others, projects to reduce the risk of flooding and to rehabilitate water wells had suffered long delays, he noted.
He reported that last month, in addition to the denial of United Nations applications for employees to leave Gaza for meetings with their managers, the operating space for non-governmental organizations had been made more difficult by the fact that Hamas sought to audit and review staff. Moreover, the division between the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and in Gaza burdened humanitarian actors and budgets, he said. Ultimately, real progress in Gaza would require the full lifting of the blockade. Until then, Israel must ensure that items needed for reconstruction, relief and emergency preparedness were allowed entry and that aid workers were able to move about.
As pressures increased on communities in Area C of the occupied West Bank, obstacles to United Nations operations also came under pressure, he said. The pace of Israel’s demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian property far exceeded that of any previous year. Israeli forces frequently confiscated or destroyed relief items, including tents, water cisterns and other basic survival needs. Noting that Palestinians in Area C were living in an increasingly coercive environment created by discriminatory planning policies, demolitions and other practices, he said a coherent international response was needed to enhance the protection of civilians and deliver accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. In order to prevent a further deterioration in a region already overwhelmed with humanitarian emergencies, decisive collective action by the Council was vital, he stressed.
Following those briefings, Elbio Rosselli (Uruguay) said that, in the face of a situation that was not merely static but deteriorating, the parties must make progress towards two independent States. They must refrain from actions that placed obstacles in front of that goal, including settlement construction and violence. Hampering the delivery of humanitarian assistance, reminiscent of Syria and Yemen, was particularly disturbing, he emphasized, appealing strongly to the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to “cease and desist”.
Rafael Dario Ramírez Carreño (Venezuela) deplored the inaction that allowed Israel’s colonization of Palestinian territory and other illegal practices that undermined the possibility of a two-State solution and the exercise of Palestinian rights. Noting that several elected members were nearing the end of their tenure, he called upon the Security Council to stop the long-term shirking of its responsibility, suggesting that, at a minimum, it should adopt a strong resolution against Israeli violations.
The meeting began at 10:27 a.m. and ended at 11:05 a.m.