Israel had moved forward with illegal settlement activity at a high rate since late June further dashing hopes for a two-State solution, the United Nations top envoy for the Middle East peace process told the Security Council today.
“Continuing settlement expansion, most notably during this period in occupied East Jerusalem, is making the two-State solution increasingly unattainable and undermining Palestinian belief in international peace efforts,” Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov told Council members. Violence against civilians and incitement had also perpetuated mutual fear and suspicion, impeding efforts to bridge gaps between the two sides.
Over the last three months, Israel had not stopped settlement activities, as called for by Council resolution 2334 (2016), he said. In occupied East Jerusalem, plans were advanced for more than 2,300 housing units in July, 30 per cent more than for the whole of 2016.
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the destruction of Palestinian-owned property across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, continued; albeit at a significantly lower rate, he said. Since the beginning of 2017, 344 structures had been demolished, a third of them in East Jerusalem, displacing more than 500 people. In Area C of the occupied West Bank, three educational facilities serving 175 children were demolished or confiscated due to the lack of building permits, which were virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain.
Violence persisted as one of the main obstacles to resolving the conflict, he underscored, adding that, although the reporting period had been characterized by relatively low levels of fatalities, several incidents had occurred. Nineteen Palestinians had been killed in attacks, clashes and Israeli military operations. Further, eight Israelis had been killed in clashes and attacks, including three Israeli-Arab perpetrators of the 14 July attacks against two Israeli policemen in Jerusalem’s Old City. In response to the events at the Holy Esplanade, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a freeze of all contacts with Israel on all levels, including security coordination.
After three months of quiet, on three separate occasions, Palestinian militants fired rockets towards Israel with no injuries reported, he said. In response, the Israeli Defense Forces conducted five airstrikes in Gaza, resulting in three Palestinians being injured. Settler-related violence also continued, with 25 such incidents taking place, the majority which involved Palestinian agricultural property around Nablus being vandalized and assaults against Palestinians in or around Hebron. Punitive demolitions also persisted, while the space for civil society and freedom of expression continued to shrink.
He recalled that resolution 2334 (2016) called upon both parties to refrain from acts of provocation, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric, and to condemn all acts of terrorism. At the height of the July crisis around the holy sites in Jerusalem, officials and representatives on all sides employed provocative rhetoric. In the midst of largely peaceful protests, Hamas and senior Palestinian Authority officials called for an escalation and a “day of rage” across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, while Hamas and others continued to glorify terror attacks. President Abbas explicitly condemned the 14 July attack, and some Palestinian leaders and religious authorities on both sides called on protestors to avoid violence and provocation.
Israeli officials continued to use provocative rhetoric in support of settlement expansion, he said. Other senior Israeli politicians made repeated calls for annexation of the West Bank, with one member of the Knesset expressing his desire to “destroy” hopes for Palestinian statehood.
The situation remained extremely fragile in Gaza, he emphasized, adding that the chronic energy deficit had been substantially worsened by the Palestinian Authority’s decision to reduce the electricity supply to the Strip. As a result, electricity service was down to about four hours a day. Some 190 health, water and sanitation facilities continued to rely on back-up generators. On 17 September, Hamas officially accepted the Palestinian Authority’s demands for Hamas to dissolve the Administrative Committee it established in March and allow the Government of National Consensus to take up its responsibilities in Gaza. However, it remained unclear whether the agreement would be implemented and electricity supply restored to Gaza.
On the political front, the envoys of the Middle East Quartet continued to meet to discuss current efforts to advance peace, as well as the deteriorating situation in Gaza, he said. In August, a United States’ delegation travelled to the Middle East and met with regional interlocutors with a focus on reviving the peace process, with all parties agreeing to continue working towards a sustainable peace and promote security and stability across the region. On 27 August, the Secretary-General arrived in the region for his first official visit, during which time he strongly reaffirmed the United Nations position that there was no alternative to the two-State solution. Earlier this month, Egypt hosted delegations from Hamas and Fatah in an effort to advance Palestinian unity.
The Jenin agreement was an important first step towards a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian power purchasing agreement that would lead to greater Palestinian energy autonomy, he said. While all initiatives to improve the Palestinian economy were welcome, much more needed to be done to support the political process aimed at establishing Palestinian statehood. Economic development was no substitute for sovereignty and statehood. Intra-Palestinian reconciliation remained critical to preventing the continuing militant build-up and restoring hope for the future. In that context, he welcomed Hamas’s recent announcement on the dissolution of its Administrative Committee in Gaza and the agreement to allow the Government of National Consensus to assume its responsibilities.
He went on to emphasize that collective and determined action by the parties, the region and the international community was needed to initiate a serious political process that would realize a two-State solution, ending the occupation and resolving all final status issues.
Speaking after the briefing, Luis Bermúdez (Uruguay), requesting that all relevant reports be distributed in writing prior to Council meetings, expressed concern that, nine months after the adoption of resolution 2334 (2016), no progress had been made in its implementation. Israel’s continued expansion of illegal settlements remained an immense impediment to peace efforts, he said, noting how multiple schools in the occupied territories had been demolished by Israel. The dramatic and alarming humanitarian situation of the 2 million people living in Gaza remained a serious threat to peace and further carried with it the risk of triggering another conflict.
A legitimate government in Gaza was essential to bringing humanitarian relief there, he added, urging Hamas to renounce all violence and abandon rhetoric of hatred. That was essential to humanizing the other side in the conflict. There were no alternatives to the two-State solution, he stressed, adding that it was time to reinvigorate political measures to return all parties to the negotiating table. Israeli and Palestinian authorities must make every effort to avoid provocative measures that had the potential to increase tensions.
Pedro Luis Inchauste Jordán (Bolivia) said that engaging in sincere dialogue was the only way to guarantee a lasting and fair peace in the Middle East. The international community must continue to pressure Israel to halt its settlement activities. Israel continued to reject the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice and refused to recognize that its settlements were a clear breach of international law, he noted. The humanitarian situation continued to unravel due largely to the electrical outage and shortage of fuel in Gaza. Palestinians must be able to live in humane conditions, he stressed, urging Israel to end its illegal blockade of Gaza. He also requested that the trimester Middle East report be distributed in writing prior to meetings. All resolutions must be implemented with the same amount of vigour and urgency as was required of them, he added, stressing that Palestinians had a right to an independent State.
Kairat Umarov (Kazakhstan) said that it was important to consider that the two-States-for-two-people option had been accepted by both sides. He called on both parties to refrain from any action that would put that solution into jeopardy. Palestinians had an inalienable right to statehood and Israel had a right to security. He called on the Middle East Quartet to reinvigorate talks and urged all political parties on each side to integrate into one political track. The humanitarian situation in Gaza continued to fuel conflict and tensions, he added.
The meeting started at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 10:40 a.m.