Speakers Urge End to Israel’s Settlement Activity, Intra-Palestinian Discord, Urging Renewal of Talks on Two-State Solution
Citing outbreaks of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Israeli settlement activity, Palestinian political turmoil and militant activity, along with continued suffering in Gaza, speakers in a day-long debate at the Security Council warned that, regardless of other conflict in the region, the situation must not be ignored.
“We must all avoid the risk of sleep-walking into another violent conflict at a time when the region as a whole needs moderate forces to unite and stand up to the radicalization that we see in the Middle East,” Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said as he gave his monthly briefing, via video teleconference from Jerusalem, at a meeting which also heard from Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, as well as some 46 other speakers.
The absence of visionary leadership continued to define the conflict, Mr. Mladenov said, noting that a lack of progress in negotiations toward a two-State solution was leading to growing anger among Palestinians and profound disillusionment among Israelis. That situation was weakening moderates on both sides, particularly in regards to Gaza. In addition to the announcement of settlements that would effectively divide the West Bank in two, Palestinian political bickering continued, causing the postponement of local elections in the West Bank. Hamas legislators had called for resumption of the Hamas-led Government there, making reconciliation almost impossible.
Mr. O’Brien said that nearly every resident in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was affected by crisis. In Gaza, humanitarian suffering stemmed from nearly 10 years of closures and exacerbated by successive rounds of hostilities between Hamas and Israel, international Palestinian political divisions and Egypt’s near complete closure of border crossings. Children had suffered the most. He welcomed Israel’s recent decision to sell an addition 10 million cubic meters of water to Gaza, but a long-term solution was necessary.
In the West Bank, he said, 1,477 Palestinians had been displaced due to increased demolitions, which he reiterated must cease immediately, as they violated international law. “We must move towards decisive action that will reduce humanitarian needs, secure respect for international law and bring to Palestinians and Israelis alike the hope and reality of a stable, peaceful and prosperous future,” he stated.
Following those briefings, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, noting an Arria-formula meeting last week on the issue of Israeli settlement expansion, said that the illegality of such activities and the threats they posed to the two-State solution were matters of international law and not just Palestinian opinion. Reaffirming support for initiatives by France and others to move the peace process forward, he added that such efforts could not absolve the Council from its own responsibility. , pointing out that settlement activity had quadrupled while that body stood silent.
Israel’s representative situated the focus on settlements as part of what he called the slander against Israel that had been promulgated throughout the United Nations system. Meanwhile, for 68 years, he said, his people had woken up every morning to the threat of war and terror while building a vibrant democracy and a thriving economy. Enumerating advances that had been pioneered by the country, he said that instead of noting such contributions, millions of the Organization’s resources had been put into propaganda and a proliferation of one-sided resolutions against the Jewish State, which were counterproductive to the quest for peace.
Most other speakers, however, described the continuation of Israeli settlement activity as a major obstacle to peace and called for it to end. Delegations also urged relief from the Gaza closure, along with increased aid to reconstruction in the Gaza Strip and an end to housing demolition in the West Bank. In addition, there were numerous calls for an end to military activities in Gaza, a halt to attacks and incitement to violence in the West Bank and for reconciliation between Palestinian parties.
Most speakers, in addition, called for negotiations to resume in order to salvage the prospects of two States living side-by-side in peace and security. The representatives of France and the Russian Federation reiterated their proposals for international meetings that would serve to re-energize the peace process. Those proposals garnered the approval of many speakers, but some warned that such initiatives must work together and should not deflect from the responsibilities of the Security Council. The representatives of the United States and Spain, among others, also emphasized that a settlement must be negotiated between the parties and not be imposed by others.
Also speaking today were representatives of Venezuela (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), France, Senegal, Uruguay, Egypt, New Zealand, Ukraine, United States, Angola, Malaysia, China, United Kingdom, Japan, Russian Federation, Lebanon, Indonesia, Iran, Norway, Pakistan, Brazil, Syria, Nicaragua, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Costa Rica, Jordan, Guatemala, South Africa, Turkey, Namibia, Qatar, Kuwait (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, Maldives, Morocco and Cuba, as well as the European Union, Holy See and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
The meeting began at 10:03 a.m. and ended at 4:25 p.m.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, said that international focus on the question of Palestine had been overshadowed by the other tragedies in the region but it must not be put aside. Sadly, settlement announcements, outbreaks of violence and terror, and the absence of visionary leadership continued to define the conflict, increasing the risk of more conflict. The lack of progress had led to growing anger and frustration among Palestinians and profound disillusionment among Israelis, weakening moderates on both sides, particularly in regards to the Gaza Strip, where he warned that the restrictions and military activity were raising tensions. “We must all avoid the risk of sleep-walking into another violent conflict at a time when the region as a whole needs moderate forces to unite and stand up to the radicalization that we see in the Middle East,” he said.
During the reporting period, he said, there was a shooting, praised by Hamas, which left two Israelis dead in East Jerusalem. As well, two Palestinians had been shot by Israeli security forces. Israel continued planning settlements, which he reiterated were illegal, including housing units that would drive a wedge between the north and south West Bank. Palestinian political bickering continued, causing local elections in the West Bank to be postponed. Hamas legislators had called for resumption of the Hamas-led Government there, which would make reconciliation almost impossible.
The security and political situation in Gaza caused particularly deep concern, with evidence of building materials being diverted to military use, he said. Along with empty warehouses, no new residential reconstruction had been approved since March. Affirming that humanitarian suffering continued in the strip, he emphasized that, at the current rate, it would take years to address the full reconstruction needs there. The parties to the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism must recommit to ensuring its smooth operation.
Noting the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel and the tunnels that had been destroyed, he reiterated the Middle East Quartet’s position that the illicit arms build-up and military activity must be terminated. Control of Gaza must return to a Palestinian Government of national unity, and the closures must be lifted. Turning briefly to the Golan Heights, he called the situation volatile there and underlined the importance of the maintenance of liaison between all parties and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
STEPHEN O’BRIEN, Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that nearly every resident in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was being affected by the protection crisis. Half of the households suffered from food insecurity and an estimated 1 million people were in need of humanitarian health and nutrition intervention. In Gaza, the humanitarian crisis stemmed from nearly 10 years of closures and exacerbated by successive rounds of hostilities between Hamas and Israel, international Palestinian political divisions and Egypt’s near complete closure of border crossings. Children had suffered the most. He welcomed Israel’s recent decision to sell an additional 10 million cubic meters of water to Gaza, but a long-term solution was necessary.
Gaza’s gross domestic product (GDP) stood at half that of the West Bank and its unemployment rate was double, he said, with youth unemployment at 60 per cent. Movement and access restrictions also impeded economic activity. Rebuilding local housing and infrastructure was essential. International support and some relaxation of import restrictions by the Israeli authorities had resulted in progress, but some 60,000 people still remained displaced. Their living conditions raised concerns, including protection risks and gender-based violence. There was a need for development activity and economic recovery. The hopelessness of youth would drive more local insecurity and contribute to even more radicalization. The full lifting of the closures was crucial to lasting progress in Gaza. The operating environment for humanitarian action in Gaza had also deteriorated. Access for humanitarian staff had become problematic. Low-level hostilities between Israeli security forces and Palestinian armed groups persisted.
As for the West Bank, he said, the past year had been the most deadly for Israelis and Palestinians since the end of the second intifada. The number of structures demolished in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem stood already at 958, 75 per cent higher than in all of 2015. Demolition of donor-funded humanitarian assistance structures had also spiked. Overall, 1,477 Palestinians had been displaced. Those demolitions violated international law and must cease immediately. “We must move towards decisive action that will reduce humanitarian needs, secure respect for international law and bring to Palestinians and Israelis alike the hope and reality of a stable, peaceful and prosperous future,” he stated.
Turning to Iraq, he said that as hostilities intensified in Mosul he was extremely concerned for the safety of up to 1.5 million people. Civilians were subject to sniper fire and might be used as human shields. He called on all parties involved to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. He anticipated a displacement wave of some 200,000 people over the coming weeks, with up to 1 million displaced in the course of the operation. Shelter had been prepared for 60,000 people and preparation of sites for a further 250,000 people was accelerating. As the winterization of displacement sites became a priority in the coming weeks, needs were expected to rise, he said, adding that “as needs rise, so too must the international response”.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for the State of Palestine, stressed that the settlements issue was not a “one-sided Palestinian issue”, adding that the illegality of such activities and the threats posed to the two-State solution were matters of international law and not Palestinian opinion. The Israel that bullied and boasted that peace would not come through resolutions was the same Israel that was actually created by a United Nations resolution. The Quartet’s July report had called for reversal of the negative trends on the ground to salvage the two-State solution, and the Israeli response had been in the form of more settlement activities.
Calling on the international community to support the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), he added that the debilitating funding crisis the Agency faced could have far-reaching negative consequences. Furthermore, it was necessary to determine what actions could stop the downward spiral and revive peace prospects. Reaffirming support for France’s initiative to mobilize international action on the issue, he added that such efforts could not absolve the Council from its own responsibility. In the years of that body’s silence, Israeli settlement activities had quadrupled. The Security Council must shoulder its political, legal and moral responsibilities.
DANNY DANON (Israel), stressing that his country was a proud and thriving democracy, stated that it was time for the United Nations to answer for “the slander and the defamation of the Jewish state by so many in these halls”. Calling on the Security Council to put an end to funding for extremist organizations that sought to harm Israel, he added that “the Committee on the Exercise of Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People” had disgraced itself with anti-Israel activity. Despite the severe budget deficit, over $6 million of United Nations funds, collected from taxpayers around the world, was being used to fund groups whose only purpose was to spread lies and propaganda against his country.
Referring to the Human Rights Council as the Organization’s “Hall of Shame,” he added that the Council had a special agenda item dealing with Israel while no other country had been singled out. For sixty-eight years, the people of Israel had woken up every morning to the threat of war and terror, but they had gone on to build a vibrant democracy and a thriving economy. “When was the last time we heard of Iran or Libya or Tunisia or Venezuela making ground-breaking advances in medicine or in artificial intelligence,” he asked, adding that allowing those countries to use the United Nations as a platform for their hypocrisy undermined the integrity of the Organization.
RAFAEL RAMIREZ (Venezuela), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, said that Israel’s breaches of international law, including humanitarian and human rights law, were inflicting widespread suffering and were deliberately destabilizing the situation in the region. Israel continued to confiscate Palestinian land, repeatedly revealing its intentions to continue such illegal seizure and de facto annexation. Furthermore, it was persisting in fragmenting its contiguity and undermining the viability of the two-State solution on the basis of the pre-1967 borders.
He underscored that the Security Council had failed to uphold its obligations despite clear global consensus on the illegality of Israel’s policies and practice. Consequently, Israel had intensified its illegal oppressive measures against the Palestinian civilian population. The Council should address the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Council’s own resolutions to halt Israel’s ongoing illegal colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Lebanon also continued to suffer from Israeli violations of its borders, territory and airspace. With regard to the occupied Syrian Golan, he condemned the measures taken by Israel to alter that area’s legal, physical and demographic status.
Speaking in his national capacity, he also recounted the recent meeting, jointly sponsored by his country along with Angola, Egypt, Malaysia and Senegal and including civil society organizations, on what he called the grave problem of Israeli settlement expansion in Occupied Palestinian Territory. Participants called such activity the main impediment to peace. He demanded a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate end to it. He also supported all proposals that would lead to a peaceful solution of the occupation, including the French proposal of an international conference and the request of the Palestinians to be admitted to the United Nations as a full-fledged Member State.
FRANCOIS DELATTRE (France) said that the so-called status quo in the Middle East actually represented backsliding away from a two-State solution. There was a collective responsibility to save that solution and to prevent a situation in which neither Palestinian rights nor Israeli security would be ensured. He condemned Israeli settlement activity as well as the firing of rockets from Gaza. Palestinian reconciliation and the reestablishment of a political horizon to save the two-State solution were needed. France’s initiative aimed at holding international discussions in order to relaunch the political process, elicit renewed commitment to the two-State solution and pool existing initiatives. Calling for a conference to take place by the end of the year for those purposes, he also urged Council members to intensified support in the quest for peace in the Middle East.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal), warning that the situation was now tending toward a one-State and not a two-State solution, said that Israeli settlement activity was the main impediment to a peaceful resolution. The situation in the Gaza Strip was a time bomb and reports were showing grave problems for the Palestinian economy. While reiterating condemnations of hate, violence and terrorism, he also emphasized that the lack of a political horizon and violations of Palestinian rights fostered extremism. What was now needed was a timetable with specific goals toward an independent Palestinian State, creation of a Palestinian Government of national unity and better coordination of various initiatives, including the efforts of France, the Arab Group and the Russian Federation.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay), reiterating his country’s support for the two-State solution as the only option for peaceful coexistence, called on the international community to encourage parties to return to the negotiating table and for those parties to create the necessary condition for resumption of negotiations. If the current situation continued, the two-State solution would no longer be viable. The ongoing settlement activities, which were illegal under international law, was concerning. Condemning the recent events that cost the lives of two Israelis, he also welcomed the initiatives of France and the Russian Federation. Direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis were the only way forward. Peace required conviction and the courage to take risks for peace, as had been shown in Colombia.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said the international community had agreed repeatedly on the two-State solution based on the borders of 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital. There was an urgent need to end the most protracted occupation of recent history. The restoration of land to the original owners was the optimum way for the Israeli people to live in peace with its neighbours. During the Arria-formula meeting, pro-peace Israeli voices stated that it was impossible to continue the occupation, as well as the demolitions and settlement activities. He said he hoped that the call for peace launched by Israelis expressed the feeling of the majority of that country’s people. Egypt and other countries in the region were fully committed to salvage the two-State solution, he stressed, adding that he hoped that the friends of Israel, including major Powers, would respond to the call from Israelis and Palestinians for peace.
GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said he was deeply disappointed that the efforts to address the situation in Syria by the United States and the Russian Federation had broken down and that the Council had been unable to act. In Yemen, civilians on both sides had borne the brunt of the conflict, he said, adding that he was shocked by the airstrike against a funeral in Sana’a in October. The Coalition’s response acknowledging its responsibility was encouraging. Turning to Israel and Palestine, he expressed deep disappointment at the continuation of actions and trends that were leading parties further away from the possibility of a negotiated two-State solution. Israel’s continued policies of settlement construction and demolitions were particularly concerning. Continued inflammatory rhetoric, incitement and acts of violence were also profoundly damaging to prospects for peace. The only alternative to a two-State solution was a future of perpetual occupation, characterized by endless violence and increasingly brutal oppression. He said he hoped that Council members would commit to supporting action that enabled practical steps towards making a two-State solution a reality.
ROMAN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain), citing results of the recent Arria-formula meeting, warned that the two-State solution was in danger of disappearing as a viable option. Israel must stop building and expanding settlements, and incitement to violence and attacks must end, he stressed, adding that the response to attacks must be proportional. He called for Palestinian reconciliation and the building of a hopeful future for the Palestinian people through political and economic progress. The Security Council had a crucial role to play, but any action by the Council must recognize that a settlement could not be imposed on the parties and that existing initiatives must be coordinated and complement each other. In that vein, he supported the French, Russian and Arab initiatives. The ultimate goal of all of them was to create the conditions for moving the peace process ahead.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said the vicious circle of escalation demonstrated that the status-quo was a road to nowhere. The strongest driver contributing to the deteriorating situation was the Israeli settlement policy. Israel must demonstrate genuine restraint and refrain from a disproportionate use of force whereas the Palestinian side must condemn any crime and violent assault against Israelis. As for Syria, he said the situation continued to spiral out of control. The Syrian regime, with support of the Russian Federation, was actively reasserting itself militarily. The only way out was a result-oriented discussion on the establishment of a credible, inclusive, non-sectarian governance transition body, followed by adoption of a new constitution and the holding of elections. As for Yemen, noting a cessation of hostilities for 72 hours, he called on the parties to resume direct talks without preconditions. Encouraged by the progress achieved by the Coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in Iraq and Syria, he expressed concern that the group remained a threat to the regional and global security.
DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) said that Hamas was a terrorist organization which opposed efforts for a peaceful solution and denied Israel’s right to exist. Israel must decide between expanding settlements and preserving the possibility for a two-State solution. The 2400 settlement units advanced over the last three months and the demolition of 300 structures were part of a systematic undermining of the two-State solution. That solution should be implemented on the ground now. However, a permanent status agreement could only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two parties. He also said he was confident that Iraqi forces would prevail over ISIL in Mosul, but warned of serious humanitarian consequences. As for Syria, he said that despite the announcement of a momentary pause of hostilities, delivery of humanitarian aid was not possible because of the Russian Federation’s unwillingness to coordinate with other partners. A population of hundreds of thousands was at risk of starvation. Food and medicine was available in western Aleppo, but the Assad regime would not give permission to deliver. For political talks to work, the Russian Federation and the Assad regime needs to stop bombarding East Aleppo.
JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola) noted both the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and a continued lack of unity within the Security Council on the matter. The most negative trend was the continued expansion of illegal settlements in Palestinian Territories, which maintained an atmosphere of mistrust, hostility and violence among Israelis and Palestinians. The Council’s double standards of holding perpetrators of violations of international and humanitarian law accountable were unacceptable. The Quartet had proven powerless in its assertion of principles and strategies for negotiations towards a solution. The Israeli Government had increased settlement related activities, and that regime had become the pillar of the colonization policies, as well as the means to entrench the occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Emphasizing that his country maintained good relations with Israel and Palestine, he said that Angola’s stand was exclusively based on the fundamental duty to uphold justice and the rights of the Palestinian people.
RAMLAN BIN IBRAHIM (Malaysia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), voiced regret that the Security Council had not offered either effective or even symbolic responses to what he called “the ever-increasing threats to the two-State solution”. Unless the root cause of the conflict – the prolonged and repressive military occupation – was dealt with, the endless cycle of violence would continue and feed into the political narrative of those who thrived on it. Describing the recent Aria-formula meeting on the issue of Israeli settlements, he said that the outcome was decidedly clear: settlement expansion and related repression must stop. He said he hoped to see effective Council action on the issue in the next few weeks, along with pressure by the international community. In addition, he urged civil society world-wide to continue to highlight violations of international law in the occupied Palestinian territories and requested that a humanitarian briefing become a permanent feature of Council meetings on the situation in the Middle East and the Palestinian question.
LIU JIEYI (China) said that establishing the independent state of Palestine was the key to the settlement of the issue. Calling on Palestine and Israel to exercise restraint and participate in peace talks, he added that the escalation of violence was a disaster for both sides. Only an early resumption of talks would enable the region to achieve a lasting peace, and Israel should take the lead to show good faith, cease settlement activities and put an end to the demolition of Palestinian houses. Stressing that the legitimate security concerns of the countries of the region should be respected, he noted that new ideas had been raised for the settlement of the dispute, including the convening of an international peace conference as well as establishing an incentive mechanism for peace. The Council must play a bigger role in pushing the parties towards peace. Urging Israel to lift its blockade against Gaza, he added that his country would continue to provide assistance to Palestine.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), acknowledging the trends that were eroding the viability of the two-State solution, said that Israel’s push for more settlements while demolishing Palestinian structures ran directly opposite to Quartet recommendations. With new demolition orders issued, it was clear that the international community had not seen the end. Also of great concern was the dire situation in Gaza, which was on the brink of a possible return to war. “Anyone sleepwalking into that needs to wake up,” he said. Turning to Syria, he added that the suffering of the people of Aleppo had become a weekly focus of the Council. Veto after veto had prevented the Security Council from taking action. There were one hundred thousand reasons to do so, with one hundred thousand children under siege. Those children held no responsibility for the events that had led to the crisis but the Syrian regime and the Russian Federation were choosing to put their lives in danger. The Russian Federation had chosen to back a regime that employed the medieval tactics of siege and starvation and their excuse was that terrorists must be defeated. Of course the terrorists must be defeated but it did not justify bombing Aleppo until there was nothing left to bomb, he stated.
TAKESHI AKAHORI (Japan) noting the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, said that his country’s initiative, “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” was an effort to support economic and social development in Palestine. In order to achieve a two-State solution, the international community needed to assist Palestinians in realizing sustainable economic development. Three Palestinian companies, marking the tenth anniversary of that initiative, had just commenced operations in Jericho Agro-Industrial Park, its flagship project. He voiced hope that the Park would grow to become a pillar of the Palestinian economy. Calling on the international community to continue to move forward with the peace process, he added that reversing the negative trends remained an urgent task, and, as a member of the Council, his country would continue to engage actively in that task.
VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that, while the Quartet’s report provided specific recommendations, violence on the ground continued and the probability of a repeat of last year’s confrontation were quite high. The pace at which Israel was seizing land meant that the point of no return would be reached and a one-State solution would be the only option. In response to appeals by the State of Palestine for international pressure to be brought to bear, he reiterated his country’s willingness to organize a meeting in Moscow on the Middle East, an initiative supported by the Security Council. He also urged Palestinian factions to work together. Of Syria, he noted the question of accountability, underscoring the role of the United States and the United Kingdom and their entry into Iraq. In the east of Aleppo, there were terrorist forces that were undermining international efforts to provide humanitarian aid and alleviate human suffering. The representative of the United States’ claim that the Russian Federation had placed obstacles before the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians was not right. He also noted that all eyes were now on the campaign to liberate Mosul from ISIL.
NAWAF SALAM (Lebanon) said that despite the announcement of an accord that included the cessation of hostilities in Syria and the deliverance of humanitarian aid, those hopes had been dashed. He called for the Security Council to restore efforts to end hostilities and to restart negotiations among Syrian parties in Geneva in order to achieve a lasting solution on the basis of Council resolutions. Underscoring the displacement of Syrians, he also underlined the displacement of the Palestinian people and their uprooting from their land. The territories under occupation continued to be developed by Israeli settlers, he said, noting that one thousand housing settlements in East Jerusalem had been approved, along with others in the West Bank. In addition, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had recorded that, since the beginning of 2016, there had been increased violence by Israeli police against Palestinian civilians, as well as a “shoot to kill” policy.
INA HAGNININGTYAS KRISNAMURTHI (Indonesia), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the OIC, stated that over the past fifty years, while a lot of Palestinian blood had been shed and the international community had done a lot of talking, there had been no tangible peace in Palestine. The persistent human rights violations and the restriction of access to basic humanitarian needs posed the biggest challenge to the two-State solution. She recalled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s words during the General Assembly in September, urging world leaders to declare 2017 as “the international year to end the Israeli occupation”, for which she voiced support. Furthermore, the illegal settlements were a prime obstacle to the peace process. History would question the commitment of the Council to that issue.
GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the Israeli regime continued to breach international law, including humanitarian and human rights law, and by doing so, it was destabilizing the situation, with consequences that reached beyond the Middle East. The illegal settlements in the Palestinian territory constituted not only grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention, but were also war crimes as defined by the International Criminal Court Rome Statute. Other crises in the region had been stoked through invasion, illegal foreign intervention, terror, and extremism. The unjustified invasion in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition had continued for more than 500 days, he said, and those horrendous attacks were happening under the watch of the Security Council.
GEIR O. PEDERSEN (Norway), giving an overview of the failed ceasefire in Syria and the recently vetoed resolution to end the bombardment of Aleppo, said that the Syrian regime was obliged under international humanitarian law to provide immediate and full humanitarian access to all parts of the country. The Syria Humanitarian Response Plan for 2016 was only 37 per cent funded. While many donors had delivered on the pledges they gave in February, humanitarian needs were increasing. Turning to the Israel-Palestine issue, he said that the recent agreement on electricity debts and the transferring of the electric sector to the Palestinian Authority was important. The rationale of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism was to prevent unintended use of the building materials entering Gaza. However, the current volume of imported construction materials remained insufficient and an increase in the flow of cement through the mechanism was urgently needed. Calling on Israelis and Palestinians to address the most imminent threats to the two-State solution, he added that every announcement of a new settlement and every new act of violence corroded the prospects for peace.
MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said the brutal occupation of Palestine and the denial of self-determination was a key source of the conflicts that were consuming the entire region. Rejecting Israel’s plan to make three hundred new settlements in the West Bank, she said that activity was sabotaging the possibility of a two-State solution. The inability of the Security Council to halt the expansion of Israeli settlements had encouraged the leadership to entrench. However, the Occupying Power should recognize that its political identity would not survive a one-State solution. An independent State of Palestine based on pre-1967 borders was an essential prerequisite to sustainable peace in the Middle East. The grim situation in Syria, which included foreign interference, State repression, terrorism and ethnic division, had resulted in human suffering and the refugee crisis. She underscored the need to defeat ISIL and other terrorist groups, and to preserve the country’s territorial integrity.
CARLOS SERGIO SOBRAL DUARTE (Brazil) called the collapse of the cessation of hostilities in Syria “a bitter setback”, expressing concern about the Council’s rejection of two draft resolutions aimed at restoring a suspension. Brazil favoured an inclusive, Syrian-led process and separation of so-called “moderate” opposition forces from active terrorist groups. On the question of Palestine, he expressed concern about Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and in Occupied East Jerusalem. While he welcomed Russian, French and Egyptian efforts to promote conditions conducive to revitalizing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, no ad-hoc initiative could substitute for the Council’s responsibilities. On Yemen, he condemned the airstrikes on a funeral ceremony in Sana’a, pressing all actors in that country to abide by international humanitarian law. On Lebanon, he expressed concern that positive momentum generated by local elections had not translated into a solution to the national political deadlock. On Libya, he condemned the recent attempted coup against the Government of National Accord.
BASHAR JA’AFARI (Syria), denouncing the Special Coordinator’s decision to ignore the occupied Syrian Golan, said that Israel’s settlement campaigns and utter disregard for the United Nations resolutions had been aided by the blind support of certain Security Council members. The veto had been misused more than forty-four times, he said, stressing that the veto was “a privilege, not a right”. The Israeli occupation was aiming to “Judaize” the occupied Syrian Golan, in total disregard of international law.
Furthermore, Israel had recently granted priority in budget disbursement to settlements in the Golan, which had not been noted by the Special Coordinator, he went on to say. Israel also provided new settlers with incentives such as taxation and agricultural assistance. Israeli support of terrorism was not just a flagrant violation of international law, but also exposed the lives of the Organization’s employees to danger, as when terrorist groups kidnapped workers of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
SIMON KASSAS, observer for the Holy See, expressed grave concern about the gradual movement away from the two-State solution proposed in 1947, adding that the straying from the Madrid peace process and the Oslo accords of the 1990s had served to increase the frustration among the Palestinian polity. The Middle East, which was the cradle of civilization and the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, had become the theatre of “incredible barbarism”. Recalling Pope Francis’s appeal for an immediate ceasefire in Aleppo and other parts of Syria, he added that Christians and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in the Middle East were on the verge of total annihilation. Madmen preaching hatred and inciting violence in the name of God must be stopped, he stated.
MARÍA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO (Nicaragua), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Palestinian Rights Committee, acknowledged the Russian Federation’s proposal for a meeting in Moscow to promote dialogue between Palestine and Israel. It was crucial to immediately end the occupation, she said, stressing that impunity was holding the Council hostage and impeding a two-State solution. Further, Palestine must be able to exercise its right to development. Citing the report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), she said the costs of occupation should be accounted for and returned.
BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) said blockades in Gaza were worsening Palestinians’ social, economic and humanitarian situation. Continued settlement construction obstructed peace and the two-State solution was the only viable option to achieve that goal. He urged the Quartet to pursue mediation efforts, calling on Palestinian and Israeli leaders to show political responsibility in that regard. Syria also required urgent attention and he commended efforts by the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy. He also called on all parties to stop civilian suffering, underscoring the importance of humanitarian aid to besieged areas.
MAHMOUD SAIKAL, Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said that with socioeconomic conditions in the blockaded Gaza Strip at their lowest point since the Israeli occupation had begun in 1967, the expansion of illegal settlements had reached an unprecedented level. At the 14 October Arria-formula meeting, Israeli experts had described how settlement building breached Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, as well as violated both Article 49 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, and the 2004 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the construction of the wall.
Despite calls to halt those activities, he said Israel continued to plan and build new settlements, and its policies had deprived Palestinians of their land, contradicting its commitment to the two-State solution. States and private entities were obliged not to foster Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, particularly regarding settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Noting that the Council had described Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a “serious obstruction to peace”, he said the Arab Peace Initiative provided an opportunity to reach a historic settlement. The international community could not continue to manage the conflict, he said, as it was clear the situation was rapidly deteriorating.
MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina) condemned attacks against civilians in Syria, expressing regret that the Council had not agreed to establish a ceasefire and ensure access to humanitarian assistance, especially in Aleppo. Argentina had joined other countries in asking the General Assembly President to convene a meeting to discuss that item. His country had dispatched a contingent of white helmets to Lebanon to assist with the refugee situation and would receive 3,000 Syrian refugees. Expressing concern about the deadlock in the Israel-Palestine peace process, he recognized Israel’s right to live in peace alongside its neighbours within internationally recognized borders, as well as the right of Palestinians to build an independent and viable State.
JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA-GARCÍA (Costa Rica) said civilians continued to pay a high price in the Middle East conflicts. It was crucial to find a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish “a new peace architecture”. Expressing regret over increased violence in Syria, he reiterated an appeal for the Council to implement the code of conduct promoted by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group to restrict veto use. Recalling remarks by the Special Envoy for Syria, he said Aleppo could disappear by December if the international community did not find a solution. If the Council continued its inaction, the General Assembly should convene an emergency session on the issue.
SIMA SAMI BAHOUS (Jordan) said the deteriorating situation in the Middle East should not prevent the relaunching of the peace process or end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The absence of a solution to the Palestinian question was at the heart of tensions in the region, and the answer should ensure Palestinians’ right to establish a sovereign, independent State, along 1967 borders. Moreover, negotiations should preserve Jordan’s national interests and she reiterated that Israel’s continued settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem, undermined the two-State solution. Jordan would work to protect Jerusalem, in line with its historic role in that city, a fact recognized in the peace accord between Jordan and Israel. On the Syrian crisis, she stressed the need to reach a political solution that provided for the return of its people and ended extremism and violence. Jordan was hosting 1.4 million Syrian refugees and its capacities were strained as a result.
JOANNE ADAMSON, representative of the European Union, expressed concern at trends on the ground threatening the viability of the two-State solution. While parties had been called on to engage with the Quartet, among other stakeholders, and implement its recommendations, negative trends instead had accelerated, which risked entrenching a one-State reality of perpetual occupation. There was no alternative to a negotiated two-State solution that met Israeli and Palestinian security needs, as well as Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty.
Since early 2016, she said illegal Israeli settlement expansion had accelerated, while other policies threatened the socioeconomic viability of Area C. She expressed concern over the cycle of violence and killings, most recently on 9 October in Jerusalem, and urged all parties to work towards a de-escalation of tensions. Moreover, the humanitarian needs in Gaza could only be addressed through political progress. The ceasefire should be respected by all sides, she said, urging Palestinian factions to engage in reconciliation on the basis of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) platform and Quartet principles. Israel must fully open the crossings and address legitimate security concerns.
JORGE SKINNER-KLÉE (Guatemala), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, called the situation in the Middle East critical, with indiscriminate violence in Aleppo and Yemen violating the basic human right to life. The tragic situation in Syria was due to inaction by the Council, which had been unable to reach even minimum consensus. The lack of access to humanitarian aid violated international humanitarian law, he said, urging that pressure be applied to end the violence and achieve a cessation of hostilities. A unilateral ceasefire was a first step in that direction. As for the situation in Israel and Palestine, he expressed concern about new settlements in the West Bank. Walls, home demolitions, restrictions on non-Governmental organizations, and rocket launches were all actions that prevented a solution. Settlements were illegal and prevented the two-State solution.
WOUTER HOFMEYR ZAAYMAN (South Africa), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that the Palestinian people had lived under Israeli occupation for almost half a century, with the West Bank continuing to experience heightened tension. Reaffirming that the central responsibility for attaining peace was in the hands of the Palestinians and Israelis themselves, he stressed that dialogue and negotiation remained the only way forward. The guidelines for those negotiations had to be based on the already established international legal framework. Welcoming the French initiative, he added that while meetings such as the current one were important, it needed to be followed up with meaningful concrete action.
Mr. BEGEC (Turkey), supporting initiatives that could end the vacuum on the political track, objected to Israeli practices that violated Palestinian rights as underlined in last week’s Arria-formula meeting. A revival of the peace process and the recognition of the State of Palestine, to allow it to negotiate equally with Israel, were necessary. Normalized relations between his country and Israel, meanwhile, had allowed Turkey to provide assistance to Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere. He pledged continued efforts to pursue a just and lasting settlement of the conflict. Turning to Syria, he said that the parties must be held accountable for crimes against humanity. He called for actions that would move peace forward and improve the horrific situation on the ground. “This is our collective responsibility,” he said.
Mr. DIAMONDS (Namibia), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the situation was dire across many countries in the Middle East. Noting the holding of the Arria-formula meeting last week, he said there was no excuse for continued settlement expansion and the accompanying repression. He commended France, the Russian Federation and others for their initiatives to achieve a negotiated solution to the conflict and he called on Israel to end its illegal practices, including home demolitions. He also expressed deep concern over reports of torture in Israeli prisons and the holding of young Palestinian detainees. Calling for the end of the occupation, he looked forward to Palestinians realizing their rights in a viable, independent State of their own and expressed hope that Israel would soon wake up to the necessity of making that happen.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) said that achieving peace in the Middle East depended on parties’ respect for international law. There was no alternative to a Palestinian State based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, an end to Israeli occupation and settlement activities, and lifting of the siege of Gaza. The success of any peace initiative required Israel to stop imposing a fait accompli in the occupied territories. Noting that the situation in Syria presented the greatest challenge, she said failure to find a settlement to that crisis would only lead to more instability in the Middle East. The Syrian regime continued to violate international law, target civilians and commit massacres everywhere. The humanitarian catastrophe had not been enough for the Syrian regime to change its policy. The Council was required to interfere in order to protect civilians in Aleppo, she said, urging that resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva Declaration be implemented completely.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH A ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), underlined the urgency for the Security Council to assume its proper role and end what he called a deteriorating situation promulgated by Israeli practices in occupied Palestinian territories. He called for the adoption of an unequivocal resolution addressing the settlement policy and other violations of law to preserve the two-State solution guided by previous agreements and the Arab Peace Initiative. He also reiterated support for the French initiative to restore a political horizon under international patronage and a specified timeframe, with a view to ending the occupation and achieving a just and lasting peace.
Meanwhile, he warned of grave consequences for provocations and attacks on worshippers and Islamic and Christian holy sites, and for the actions of Israeli terrorist settler groups. The right to security was not exclusive to Israel, he stressed. He urged the Council to take up its Charter obligations to ensure protection of Palestinians and stop Israeli violations that nurtured extremism, violence and racism, and could further fuel a religious conflict, which endangered regional and international peace and security.
MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and OIC, expressed his frustration with the Council’s failure to live up to its obligations to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. The Council’s immediate priority was to send a message condemning the illegal Israeli settlements, which had been identified as the main obstacle to pursuing final status negotiations and a viable two-State solution. The Arria-formula meeting held last week was unequivocal that settlements undermined the peace process. He proposed that 2017 be declared the “International Year to End the Occupation”, and pledged support to Palestinians in realizing their inalienable right to self-determination.
AHAMED LEBBE SABARULLAH KHAN (Sri Lanka), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, decried the civilian suffering that was being caused in Syria and called for the end of violence and for provision of humanitarian aid to be allowed. Despite such conflicts in the rest of the region, it was critical that a just solution for the question of Palestine be found. Both parties must create an environment that would allow a return to negotiations. To that end, Israel must refrain from counterproductive practices, and attacks against Israelis must end. He expressed hope that Palestinians would soon enjoy their unalienable rights, following reconciliation of all Palestinian parties.
EINAR GUNNARSSON (Iceland) said the epicentres of conflict in the Middle East – Syria, Yemen, Libya – impacted neighbouring countries severely and that their outcome testified to the “staggering costs” the world had incurred in failing to prevent them. The continued targeting of civilians was “completely unacceptable", he said, stressing that impunity must not be allowed to prevail. The two-State solution was the only viable plan for resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, Israel’s settlement policy remained a great concern, as it was making it impossible for the emergence of a Palestinian State. Settlement expansion and destruction of Palestinian structures undermined the basis for peace. He encouraged Palestinian leaders to avoid provocations, as violence against Israeli citizens was “totally unacceptable”, and unite Palestinians under a democratic Government.
ABDALLAH Y. AL-MOUALLIMI (Saudi Arabia) condemned Israeli aggressive practices, including settlement policies and use of excessive force against the Palestinian people. He welcomed the French initiative to hold an international peace conference in regards to Israel and Palestine, and called on the Council to respond to the lack of accountability and grant the Palestinian people their right to self-determination and to establish their own State. He also welcomed the final United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) resolution that admitted that Jerusalem was also an Islamic heritage site.
Noting that the Arab League was concerned by the deteriorating situation in Syria, he condemned the crimes committed by the Syrian regime, as well as those committed by organization such as ISIL and the Al-Nusra Front, which amounted to war crimes. The Council was responsible for the continued humanitarian tragedy. The recent humanitarian pause was an initial step that should lead to a no-fly zone. The Iran forces should withdraw from Syria. Welcoming the stopping of military actions for 72 hours, he said that his country would protect its borders against attacks by the Houthis. The Council should organize an urgent debate regarding Iranian violations, such as smuggling arms to the Houthis, and impose sanctions on that country.
HELENA YÁNEZ LOZA (Ecuador), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, affirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and Statehood, and expressed concern over the lack of political will to make that come about. She also expressed concern over practices that went against United Nations decisions and international law. Recalling that her country was one of the first to recognize the State of Palestine, she affirmed that a negotiated settlement that ended the occupation and provided for Israel’s security needs was the only solution to the conflict. She called for the international community to bring back hope to the Palestine people and to fulfil all commitments made at the time of the original partition resolution.
AHMED SAREER (Maldives), noting the inability of the Council to exercise its duties, called upon all Council members to ensure compliance of all States with its relevant resolutions. Every effort must be taken to alleviate and end the suffering inflicted on the innocent civilians in Syria. The perpetuating hostility and conflict in the occupied Palestine was another result of the Council’s failure to exercise its responsibilities. The expansion of settlements and designation of land for exclusive Israeli use was in clear violation of international law. He called upon Israel for an immediate cessation of their settlement activities. It was the responsibility of the Council to facilitate a two-State solution by setting the parameters necessary to maintain conditions on the ground so that the parties could work in good faith.
ABDERRAZZAK LAASSEL (Morocco) said that the other crises in the Middle East should not remove attention from the deteriorating situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. He was particularly concerned about threats to the holy sites of Jerusalem and the displacement of Palestinians from the city. The international community must do everything possible to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to negotiations in order to bring about the realization of two States living side by side in peace along the lines of United Nations agreements and the Arab Peace Initiative. He supported the initiative of France to help end the stalemate, as well as the complementary call of President Abbas for an international conference for that purpose.
ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba), associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, noted that the Palestinian people continued to suffer for almost 50 years from the illegal occupation of Israel. She asked how long the Council would be held hostage by the threat of veto by the United States. Until the Council fulfilled its responsibility, Israel would continue the consolidation of the occupation and render the two-State solution inviable. She also condemned the politization of the Syrian crisis by some members of the Council who wanted to impose regime change in Syria, rejecting an intervention agenda under the excuse of fighting terrorism. Only negotiations without pre-conditions could lead to a political solution. Peace could only be achieved based on the right of the Syrian people to decide their own future without any interference.