Israeli Settlement Expansion Threatens Peace Process, Some Speakers Warn, as Others Decry Lack of Unity in Palestinian Leadership
The two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was at risk of being replaced by a one-State reality of perpetual violence and occupation, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council today, encouraging both sides to take the difficult steps needed to change that destructive trajectory.
Briefing the 15-member Council, Secretary-General Ban called attention to Israel’s expansion of its settlement construction activities, noting that in the past two weeks alone, plans had been advanced for another 463 housing units in Area C of the occupied West Bank. The decades-long policy, which had settled more than 500,000 people on Palestinian territory, was diametrically opposed to the creation of a Palestinian State, he emphasized. “Settlements are illegal under international law,” he said, adding: “The occupation, stifling and oppressive, must end.” The international community, including the Security Council and the Middle East Quartet, universally viewed the expansion of settlements as an obstacle to peace, he stressed.
As Palestinians prepared for the first local elections in more than 10 years, the international community was seeing growing threats to the electoral process and the credibility of institutions, he said. “Local elections in the West Bank and Gaza, if held in line with international standards, could provide an important renewal of Palestinian democracy and a first step towards advancing national unity.”
Turning to the situation in Gaza, he acknowledged the progress made since the 2014 ceasefire. Houses, hospitals, schools and critical infrastructure had been repaired, thanks to generous donors and good cooperation among Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations, he noted. However, 65,000 people remained displaced, requiring more assistance to rebuild destroyed houses. With Gaza still subjected to closures, the enclave was a “ticking time bomb”, he warned, citing the ever-present instability and risk of violent escalation.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers called on both sides to demonstrate genuine restraint and to refrain from the use of force, which could only stir up further violence. Many delegates said the status quo was unsustainable, stressing that Israel’s ongoing settlement expansion undermined the viability of the peace process.
In that vein, the representative of the United States emphasized that her country was strongly opposed to Israel’s settlement activities, which were inconsistent with its stated desire to realize a two-State solution. On the subject of Syria, she said the United States and the Russian Federation had recently reached an agreement on a series of steps aimed at reducing violence and suffering. That agreement was not based on trust and promises, but rather on actions, she stressed. The United States expected the Russian Federation to stop the Assad regime from using barrel bombs and indiscriminately attacking civilians.
The Russian Federation’s representative said that initiatives to resolve the deadlock over Israel’s settlement expansion must complement the work of the Middle East Quartet. While reaffirming the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative, he described the absence of Palestinian unity as a major obstacle. In addition, the humanitarian and economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially the Gaza Strip, contributed to the radicalization of public opinion, he pointed out.
Council President Murray McCully, Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, spoke in his national capacity, expressing deep disappointment that both parties to the conflict had fallen seriously short of expectations. If the prospect of a two-State solution was shattered, international attention would shift to the two standards of citizenship in the State that would remain, he warned.
Egypt’s representative pointed out that instead of bearing witness to the creation of a sovereign Palestinian State, the world was seeing the continuing seizure and destruction of its land and the Judaization of Jerusalem. Due to the international community’s lack of political will, the besieged Palestinian population was living in inhumane conditions, he said, while underlining that their legitimate rights would not change no matter how long the conflict continued.
Also speaking today were representatives of France, Uruguay, Malaysia, Angola, Japan, Senegal, Venezuela, United Kingdom, Spain, China and Ukraine.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:53 a.m.
Briefing by Secretary-General
BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that a two-State solution was at risk of being replaced by a one-State reality of perpetual violence and occupation. Despite warnings from the international community and the region, leaders on both sides had failed to take the difficult steps needed for peace. In the past two weeks alone, he noted, plans had been advanced for another 463 housing units in four settlements in Area C of the occupied West Bank.
Describing the decades-long policy that had settled more than 500,000 Israelis on Palestinian territory as diametrically opposed to the creation of a Palestinian State, he said the recent statement by Israel’s Prime Minister portraying those who opposed settlement expansion as supporters of ethnic cleansing was unacceptable and outrageous. “Settlements are illegal under international law,” he emphasized. “The occupation, stifling and oppressive, must end.” The international community, including the Security Council and the Middle East Quartet, universally viewed the expansion of settlements as an obstacle to peace, he stressed.
As Palestinians prepared for the first local elections in more than 10 years, the international community saw increasing threats to the electoral process and the credibility of institutions, he said. Expressing particular concern about last week’s decision by the Palestinian High Court to suspend all preparations, he said: “Local elections in the West Bank and Gaza, if held in line with international standards, could provide an important renewal of Palestinian democracy and a first step towards advancing national unity.” Regional efforts to encourage reconciliation and strengthen moderate political forces could play a positive role, he added.
Turning to Gaza, he acknowledged the progress made in the two years since the 2014 ceasefire. “Houses, hospitals, schools and critical infrastructure have been repaired, thanks to generous donors and good cooperation between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations,” he noted. At the same time, 65,000 people remained displaced, requiring more assistance to rebuild destroyed houses. More coordination was required to accelerate ongoing reconstruction.
He went on to point out that Gaza remained subject to closures, describing the enclave as a “ticking time bomb”. The ever-present instability and risk of violent escalation, continued arms build-up and militant activities by Hamas and other radical groups kept both sides of the border in a state of constant alert. Furthermore, humanitarian deprivation of Gaza’s nearly 2 million residents fed instability and extremism. “The corrosive Palestinian political divide worsens the humanitarian situation and stifles development,” he said, adding that the absence of a government of national unity inhibited the realization of an end to the occupation and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State.
Regarding Golan, he expressed concern about continuing breaches of the ceasefire line, and fighting in the areas of separation and limitation. Such developments undermined the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement and jeopardized the ceasefire between Israel and Syria, he cautioned. He concluded by noting that the the Ad-hoc Liaison Committee would soon meet in New York, and encouraged both sides to focus on positive policy shifts, while welcoming their recent agreement on outstanding electricity debts and the creation of a new energy market.
MURRAY MCCULLY, Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand and Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity, expressing deep disappointment that comments made today could have been made with equal force and relevance at any time in the last two-and-a-half years. Innocent lives continued to be lost despite calls for compromise, he noted. While there had been some positive developments, the picture painted by the Secretary-General “should alarm us all”. Both parties were falling seriously short of the international community’s expectations and must rethink what they needed to do to keep the prospect of a two-State solution alive.
Recent developments regarding Israeli settlements were of particular concern, and “no amount of spin” could hide the fact that such actions had profoundly negative impacts on the peace process, he emphasized. The Palestinian side was also falling short, as reconciliation had been placed on the back burner and rockets continued to be launched. If the prospect of a two-State solution was shattered, international attention would shift to the two standards of citizenship in the State that remained. Recalling that it had been eight long years since the Council’s adoption of a resolution on the issue, he warned that “history will not judge us well”.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) recalled that 13 September marked the twenty-third anniversary of the Oslo Agreement. Today, instead of bearing witness to a sovereign Palestinian State, the international community saw a “pseudo-State” patched together from a number of settlements. Instead of adhering to the internationally recognized concept of land for peace, the world was seeing the continuing seizure and destruction of Palestinian land and the Judaization of Jerusalem. Indeed, the besieged Palestinian population was living in inhumane conditions, due largely to a lack of political will on the part of the international community. However, the legitimate rights of Palestinians would not change no matter how long the crisis continued, he said, stressing, however, that “we must choose peace”. The Arab Peace Initiative demonstrated that the region’s States were ready to live side by side and in peace with Israel if it put an end to the occupation. “We are still waiting for an Israeli response to this initiative,” he said, voicing concern that Israel continued to ignore the proposal.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that Israel’s settlement policy constituted a major threat to a two-State solution, undermining the future of Palestinians. Populations had been transferred while houses continued to be destroyed, he said, emphasizing that such actions only delayed the process for reaching a viable settlement. Emphasizing the need for renewed international assistance to the peace process and for the preservation of a two-State solution, he warned that continued violence and attacks only fuelled the radicalization of public opinion, urging both parties to return to the negotiation table.
MAN (Uruguay), expressing concern about the lack of progress, said there had been no positive news in the last months. “Despite a gradual drop in violence, the political climate has not changed,” he noted, describing Israel’s continuing statements and construction of housing units as a serious threat to peace. Both parties could overcome their differences, yet violence and attacks against civilians continued to weaken mutual trust. Urgent measures were needed for the resumption of dialogue in order to meet the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians, he emphasized.
VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that, despite reduced levels of tension on the ground, the situation in the Middle East remained complex. While a number of initiatives had been proposed against the backdrop of the deadlock over the issue of Israeli settlements, all such plans must complement the existing work of the Middle East Quartet, he emphasized. Reaffirming the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative, he also described the lack of Palestinian unity as a major obstacle. He expressed concern about the humanitarian and economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially the Gaza Strip, warning that it contributed to the radicalization of public opinion. Stressing the need to end violence and incitement, as well as settlement activity, he said the Russian Federation was engaged in efforts to return the parties to a political diplomatic format, in close cooperation with the Quartet and other international partners.
RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia) agreed with other speakers that the Council must play a crucial role in salvaging the two-State solution, adding that the expansion of Israeli settlement activities threatened to bury it despite widespread international condemnation. For far too long, Israel had continued its actions with impunity, he said, adding that there were increasing reports of land seizures and home demolitions, as well as settler violence. In most such cases, Palestinians had no recourse to justice. Settler violence in particular could no longer be treated as a number of isolated incidents because it was clear that settlers were emboldened by Israeli policy. Such actions were part of a brutal and systematic attempt to break the spirit of the Palestinians and to make their lives so unbearable that they would eventually leave. “Clearly, doing nothing is not an option for the Security Council,” he said, stressing that it must take urgent action to halt illegal settlements and end Israel’s oppressive policies.
JOÃO IAMBENO GIMOLIECA (Angola) expressed concern about the lack of progress towards a two-State solution and the lack of unity within the Security Council. Emphasizing the importance of reversing negative trends on the ground, he said Israelis and Palestinians must live side by side in peace. However, Israel’s continuing settlement policy had delayed progress and diminished the importance of existing mechanisms such as the Middle East Quartet. Pointing out that it had been almost 40 years since the Security Council had determined that Israeli settlements had no legal validity, he stressed: “Time is running out for a meaningful solution.”
KORO BESSHO (Japan) voiced concern about violence towards civilians, terrorist attacks and incitement to violence, as well as over the policy of settlement expansion, saying it violated international law and eroded the viability of a two-State solution. Recalling that Japan had hosted the fifth ministerial meeting of the Four Party Consultative Unit for the Corridor for Peace and Security, on 7 September in Jericho, West Bank, he said the initiative sought to support a sustainable economy in Palestine and to underpin the viability of a two-State solution. Cooperation among the four parties through that initiative had lasted 10 years, regardless of the highs and lows of the political situation, and had played a vital role in rebuilding trust, he noted. Turning to Syria, he welcomed the 9 September agreement which had led to a cessation of hostilities since 12 September. Recalling that the February ceasefire had held for two months, he emphasized: “We must prevent a relapse.”
GORGUI CISS (Senegal), linking the continuation of annexation activities and the difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza, warned that a two-State solution was at risk. He expressed regret that Israeli security services had confiscated civilian structures and demolished Palestinian homes, which had led to the displacement of thousands of people. “Palestinians are living in constant fear,” he said, emphasizing the need to repair their houses and end settlement expansion. Calling attention to the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, he called upon the international community to provide necessary assistance. Access to water and electricity was very difficult while extreme poverty and high unemployment levels had led to the conflict. Palestine’s growth rate would have been higher had there been no occupation, he said.
SAMANTHA POWER (United States) expressed concern about recent developments on the ground and emphasized that all sides must exercise restraint. The international community could make a tangible investment in the region’s stability by contributing to Gaza’s reconstruction efforts and supporting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), she said, warning that a suspension of that Agency’s core services could further destabilize the region. The United States was strongly opposed to Israel’s settlement activities, which were inconsistent with its stated desire to achieve a two-State solution, she said. Turning to Syria, she said the United States and the Russian Federation had recently reached an agreement on a series of steps aimed at reducing violence and suffering. That agreement was not based on trust and promises, but rather on actions. Among other things, the United States expected the Russian Federation to use its leverage to stop the Assad regime from using barrel bombs and indiscriminately attacking civilians. Early reports indicated that violence had decreased, but not stopped, she noted. The Assad regime must stop blocking the delivery of humanitarian assistance and opposition forces must provide assurances that aid would not be impeded in areas under their control. Stressing that any party to the conflict that sought to maintain legitimacy must distance itself from terrorist groups, she urged the Russian Federation to ensure that the Assad regime could no longer use the excuse that it was targeting Al-Nusra as a pretext to attack its own people.
DOUGLAS NICOMEDES ARCIA VIVAS (Venezuela) expressed concern about the “intransigence” of the occupying Israeli forces, saying that by flouting international law, Israel was eroding the two-State solution. Through its illegal settlement activity, that country was arbitrarily and with impunity expanding its territory and dispossessing the Palestinian people. Israeli settlers threatened the Palestinians with violence, he said, noting that entire towns and communities were at the mercy of the occupying forces. Calling attention to the critical humanitarian situation in the occupied territories, he said that in Gaza in particular, many schools, homes and hospitals had been destroyed. Residents lacked the materials needed to rebuild, which constituted a form of collective punishment. Venezuela called on the United Nations to step up efforts to deal with the situation and ensure that the needs of the Palestinian people were met, in particular by including humanitarian aspects in its discussions on the matter. Israel must end its occupation and lift its siege of Gaza, and both parties must return to the negotiating table.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said that since the Quartet’s last report, the international community had witnessed the worrying acceleration of Israeli settlement activity, which eroded the viability of a two-State solution. It was unfortunate that Israel had pushed its plans forward and continued to demolish Palestinian structures. “Numbers speak for themselves,” he said, adding that Israel’s policies raised questions about its commitment. Its actions would have terrible impacts on communities. Turning to Gaza, he said the enclave had the world’s highest unemployment rate, and welcomed the parties’ recent agreement on outstanding electricity debts and the creation of a new energy market.
JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain) said the expansion of settlements was an obstacle to peace that undermined the viability of a two-State solution. “We have no time to waste,” he emphasized. The situation on the ground had delayed the peace process and undermined trust between the parties. “We must create prospects for peace before it is too late,” he stressed, voicing support for convening an international conference to restore confidence. Welcoming the recent agreement on outstanding electricity debts and the creation of a new energy market, he said it was a small step in the right direction.
WU HAITAO (China) recalled that the international community had recently put forward a number of plans intended to refocus attention on Palestine and Israel. Expressing support for such efforts, he said the top priority was to break the impasse in which peace talks remained mired and to work to establish a sovereign State of Palestine. Israel should act first by stopping its settlement activities, lifting the siege of Gaza and ending restrictions on aid, he said. At the same time, Israel’s legitimate right to security must be respected. China had long been committed to the peace process, he said, recalling that President Xi Jinping had delivered a speech to the League of Arab States earlier this year. China was also working to help Palestine revitalize its economy.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said his delegation had consistently supported the Middle East peace process, as well as the idea of a two-State solution. He expressed deep concern about recent developments on the ground, including the exchange of allegations of ethnic cleansing between the parties, which did not serve the goal of rebuilding an atmosphere of trust. Recent escalations were a reminder that “the status quo is a road to nowhere”, he said. No one could reasonably argue that the question of Palestine could be tackled without addressing the root causes of the conflict, he said. However, inter-Palestinian reconciliation was an important precondition for achieving peace with Israel. Warning that Israel’s ongoing settlement activity and its legalization of outposts could hamper the peace process, he emphasized that diplomatic efforts must be redoubled. Ukraine remained steadfast in its hope that a two-State solution could be achieved through negotiations.