Despite Calming of Tensions around ‘Flashpoint’ Holy Site, Perceived Impunity for Settler Attacks Has Driven Violence, Members Told
It was sad that after the Secretary-General’s visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah two months ago, and despite a decline in the number of attacks over the past few weeks, the bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians had not stopped, Miroslav Jenča, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council today.
Briefing the 15-member body on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, he reported that 7 Israelis and 34 Palestinians had been killed. Stabbings, vehicle attacks and shootings by Palestinians targeting Israelis continued on an almost daily basis as suspected assailants were shot and killed in return and as clashes continued to result in Palestinian deaths. Hebron remained the most volatile component of the current escalation, he added.
“Overcoming today’s challenges in Israel and Palestine will require unprecedented vision by Israeli and the Palestinian leadership to see beyond today’s confrontations and take bold steps to create a peaceful future,” he said. “I call upon them to let go of their immediate political fears and focus on the greater good of achieving a sustainable long-term peace for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.”
Reiterating the firm United Nations condemnation of all terrorist attacks, he emphasized that leaders on all sides had a responsibility to stop incitement. While the current circumstances should not be accepted as “the new normal”, a comprehensive strategy could not rely uniquely on enhanced security measures, but must also address the primary elements motivating Palestinian anger, he stressed.
He went on to point out some positive developments, noting that tensions had calmed around the flashpoint Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and efforts were under way to implement the understandings reached between Israel and Jordan. Perceived impunity for settler attacks against Palestinians had also driven violence, he said, underscoring the need to charge and swiftly bring perpetrators to justice. There were concerns that injustices associated with an occupation that showed no prospect of ending fed into a perspective — particularly among the youth — that Palestinians had nothing to lose by sacrificing their lives, he explained. They continued to endure extensive restrictions on their movement, and ongoing demolitions against Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley remained troubling. “Such acts are a clear violation of international law, aggravate an already tense environment and may be counterproductive,” he pointed out.
Turning to the situation in the Gaza Strip, he said Palestinian militants there had fired 10 rockets towards Israel without injury. They had also conducted two cross-border shootings aimed at the Israel Defense Forces. However, despite persistent security, governance challenges and funding shortages, Gaza’s reconstruction process had advanced and included repairs to 90 per cent of damaged schools and hospitals. However, reviving the economy and productive sectors remained a major outstanding task, he warned, noting that last week’s launch of the global humanitarian funding appeal included $517 million in funding needed for Palestine. The appeal represented a 19 per cent reduction compared to 2015, but remained elevated due largely to Gaza’s significant humanitarian needs.
“A political horizon to end the conflict now seems more distant than ever,” he said. “Leaders on both sides cannot continue to ignore the underlying causes perpetuating and fuelling extremism on all sides.” It was up to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to choose whether they would demonstrate leadership in building sustainable peace and security, or allow the future of their respective peoples to drift in uncertainty as radicalism and extremism took over. Israeli statements committing to a two-State solution had yet to be followed by action, and the settlement enterprise continued to deepen its roots in the occupied West Bank. The transition to greater Palestinian civilian authority had yet to begin, and progress in the areas of housing, water, energy and agriculture, among others, was lagging.
He announced that envoys of the Middle East Quartet were now in Israel and Palestine to promote significant steps on the ground, consistent with prior agreements that could restore hope to the Palestinian people and preserve the viability of a negotiated two-State solution. It was to be hoped that the Council would provide guidance on developing a new peace architecture for resolving the conflict.
Turning to the situation in Lebanon, he noted that while the country remained resilient in the face of serious challenges emanating from the conflict in neighbouring Syria, political paralysis was preventing it from managing those challenges effectively. Regarding discussions on the question of the presidency, which had been vacant for more than 18 months, he expressed hope that the current efforts would lead to an opening that would enable the effective functioning of State institutions.
In the wake of last month’s attack by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), he urged the international community to redouble support for Lebanon’s security and stability. While welcoming the release of members of the Lebanese Armed Forces held hostage by Al-Nusra Front, he expressed hope for the speedy release of hostages held by ISIL.
He said the situation along the Blue Line and in the operations area of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) had remained relatively calm, with both parties continuing to work with the Force through the established liaison and coordination arrangements. However, Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace continued on a daily basis, he noted.
The meeting began at 10 a.m. and ended at 10:15 a.m.