With fresh violence erupting around the holy sites of the Old City of Jerusalem, Israelis and Palestinians should not let fear triumph, but should create conducive conditions for resuming peace negotiations, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today.
“For too long, the Israeli and Palestinian populations have lived their lives vacillating between hope and fear — with fear frequently triumphing,” Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said in his periodic briefing to the 15-nation body, noting that the time had come to right that balance and restore hope for a peaceful future for both peoples.
Expressing grave concern over the recent spike in clashes in and around the holy sites, Mr. Mladenov said such serious provocations had the potential to ignite wider violence. He urged all political, community and religious leaders to ensure that visitors and worshippers demonstrated restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area. All sides had a responsibility to preserve the historic status quo in line with the agreements between Israel and the King of Jordan, as Custodian of the Muslim Holy Sites in Jerusalem.
Over the last three months, he said, the Middle East Quartet envoys had actively consulted with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the League of Arab States, the Gulf Cooperation Council and other key international partners on ways to save the two-State solution and establish conditions for a return to meaningful negotiations. A comprehensive approach must entail significant policy shifts by Israel as well as Palestine’s unflinching commitment to achieving genuine national unity.
Israel’s encouraging efforts in recent months to ease some restrictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza must be expanded in order to address humanitarian, economic and infrastructural challenges, he said. Such initiatives should be part of a wider political process aimed at facilitating, and not substituting for, a final status agreement.
Noting the Palestinian leadership’s decision to hold consultations over the next three months on convening a meeting of the Palestinian National Council for the first time in almost two decades, he encouraged all factions to seize that opportunity to achieve national unity with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
Regional and international engagement was also key, and Israel should recognize that potential, he said, noting in particular the Arab Peace Initiative. At the international level, the Secretary-General would chair a meeting of the Quartet on 30 September to discuss ways to link regional and international efforts to create conditions on the ground for a return to negotiations.
Turning to Israeli’s policy of settlement construction and demolition of Palestinian-owned structures in Area C of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, he said that August saw the highest number of demolitions since June 2010, with 142 Palestinian-owned structures demolished and more than 200 Palestinians displaced. He called on Israel to freeze demolitions, to reverse “relocation” plans, and to expedite approval of outstanding planning submissions by Palestinians. On a positive note, reconstruction was picking up despite funding shortfalls, he said, urging donor countries to fulfil their pledges.
The situation in Gaza remained precarious, he said. With power outages averaging 12 to 16 hours per day and 40,000 public-sector employees without full salaries for one year, the people of Gaza were suffering. The United Nations would continue to support the efforts of the legitimate Palestinian institutions and reach out to all factions in order to ensure that the humanitarian, social and economic challenges of Gaza were addressed.
Over the last month, five rockets were fired at Israel by militant groups from Gaza, while a further 10 rockets were test fired at the sea, he said. Israeli security forces conducted two airstrikes inside the Strip. Such incidents underscored the fragile dynamics in Gaza, which, without positive change, would continue to provide fertile ground for extremism and ultimately undermine the Palestinian goal of statehood.
On Lebanon, the situation in the area covered by the United Nations Interim Force there remained generally quiet, he said, welcoming the launch of a political dialogue on 9 September to address key issues, including the presidency. On 22 and 25 August, heavy clashes between factions in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh had resulted in fatalities. However, following the negotiation of a ceasefire, the situation was now calm.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 10:18 a.m.