Delegates Alarmed by Planned Eviction of Bedouin Village, Urge Reversal of Sharp Funding Cuts to Palestine Refugee Agency
Warning that current trends are jeopardizing the possibility of a two-State solution for Israelis and Palestinians, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council today that the international community must step in to change this grave trajectory.
Currently, negative developments outweigh positive news, Nickoloy Mladenov said, presenting the seventh report on resolution 2334 (2016), covering the period of 13 June to 12 September. During the reporting period, violence escalated, settlement activities accelerated and sharp rhetoric was inciting further clashes. Meanwhile, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was running out of funds, casualties from clashes were on the rise and the humanitarian conditions in Gaza were worsening.
“There has been no positive movement by the parties to take steps to reverse negative trends on the ground,” he said, calling on the international community to join the United Nations in condemning violence and incitement. “Twenty-five years have now passed since the signing of the Oslo Accords. It was a historic moment that captured the world’s attention and filled Palestinians, Israelis and the region with hope that a genuine peace could be realized. Sadly, that courageous vision of a lasting peace now lies in tatters.”
Hope must be restored, he said, urging both sides to engage with each other and with the international community to preserve and advance the achievement of a two-State solution. “The alternative is perpetual cycles of violence,” he said. “We must overcome the current impasses and refocus our efforts on ultimately returning to meaningful negotiations to end the occupation and bring a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Delegates, including Ethiopia’s representative, overwhelmingly called for both parties to cease hostilities, return to peace talks and refrain from exacerbating the deteriorating situation. The speaker for the Russian Federation called for international cooperation on the Palestinian question to be rekindled in the spirit of United States-Russian Federation cooperation and the Madrid process, as well as a relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
Many speakers condemned Israel’s expanded settlement activities. The representative of the Netherlands pointed to the planned eviction and demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, calling on Israel to reconsider those actions — which, if carried out, will have serious consequences for both the villages’ residents and for the two-State solution itself.
Concerns were also raised about worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza. With the area on the verge of an abyss, France’s delegate said the Council’s incomprehensible silence is getting deafening by the day. He called on the United States to maintain its commitment to Palestinians as part of an international mobilization to support UNRWA, while Sweden’s representative expressed deep regret over the United States’ decision to halt funding for UNRWA despite that body’s critical role on the ground, contributing to a serious $186 million shortfall. Some delegates, including representatives of Peru, China and Bolivia, called for augmented funding for UNRWA to help to address the population’s many needs.
Kuwait’s representative said Palestinian suffering must awaken the consciousness of the international community to end the injustice. The Palestinian question is the top priority of every Muslim and every Arab, he added.
Also delivering statements were representatives of the United Kingdom, Poland, Côte d’Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea and the United States.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5 p.m.
NICKOLAY MLADENOV, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, presented the seventh report on resolution 2334 (2016), covering the period of 13 June to 12 September. At the outset, he highlighted the serious financial situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Turning to current developments, he said that, during the reporting period, no steps were taken to cease settlement activities, which violated international law and erected an obstacle to peace. Providing a snapshot of approvals, tenders or construction of more than 3,000 housing units in occupied territory, he raised concerns about demolitions and seizures of Palestinian-owned structures by Israeli authorities across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israeli authorities also declared the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar a closed military zone in advance of expected demolition of its structures.
Turning to escalating violence that brought Israel and Hamas almost to war three times, he said Palestinian protests at the Gaza fence continued, with the Israeli Defense Forces responding, causing the deaths of 29 Palestinians and the injury of 900 others. Hamas and other militants fired some 500 rockets, Grad missiles and mortars towards Israel, which itself fired back some 400 missiles and tank shells, destroying three tunnels, killing 18 Palestinians, including five children, and injuring 118. A total of 37 Israelis were injured in the exchanges. Calm was only restored after interventions from Egypt and the United States. Citing other examples, he said Hamas continued to incite violence with rhetoric while some Israeli officials called for targeting Palestinians launching incendiary kits and balloons into Israel and the extrajudicial killing of Hamas officials.
Negative developments outweigh positive news, he continued, expressing grave concern at the continuing deterioration of the humanitarian, security and political situation in Gaza, where a power crisis is coming to a head. The United Nations has run out of funding for emergency fuel despite calls for donors to urgently contribute. Exacerbating the situation are Israel’s temporary closures of the Kerem Shalom crossing and reductions in the fishing zone at a time when the Palestinian Authority has decided to reduce salaries, energy supplies and overall spending. The humanitarian community appealed for $540 million in 2018, of which only 29 per cent is funded.
In addition, no steps were taken by States to distinguish between Israel and the territories occupied since 1967, nor had any collective efforts been made to launch credible negotiations, he said. The United States, which repeatedly announcing its efforts aimed at a peace plan, suspended more than $200 million in 2017 for the West Bank and Gaza and $25 million for East Jerusalem hospitals, and closed the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Office in Washington, D.C. The Palestinian Central Council ratified the continued severance of political relations with the United States until the latter revisits its decisions regarding Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and settlements. Earlier this month, Paraguay announced it would move its embassy back to Tel Aviv.
Since July, he said, the United Nations has led unprecedented efforts, with the Governments of Egypt and Israel and other international partners, to prevent the outbreak of hostilities, respond to humanitarian needs and support the return of the legitimate Palestinian Authority to Gaza. Sharing some observations about the implementation of resolution 2334 (2016), he said, among other things, Israeli settlements remain illegal and the violence, terror and risk of conflict in Gaza remain obstacles to peace. Calling for an immediate end to violent actions, he said Israeli forces have a responsibility to exercise restraint. Calling on the international community to join the United Nations in condemning violence and incitement, he cautioned that current trends are imperilling the viability of a two-State solution. “There has been no positive movement by the parties to take steps to reverse negative trends on the ground,” he said. “Twenty-five years have now passed since the signing of the Oslo Accord. It was a historic moment that captured the world’s attention and filled Palestinians, Israelis and the region with hope that a genuine peace could be realized. Sadly, that courageous vision of a lasting peace now lies in tatters.”
Hope must be restored, he said, urging both sides to engage with each other and with the international community to preserve and advance the achievement of a two-State solution. “The alternative is perpetual cycles of violence. We must overcome the current impasses and refocus our efforts on ultimately returning to meaningful negotiations to end the occupation and bring a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that, 25 years after the Oslo Accords, Palestinians and Israelis are losing hope. Hardly 1 in 2 Palestinians has faith in the two-State solution, according to opinion polls, yet no viable alternative has emerged. The current political gap must be bridged, but a peace plan divorced from the two-State solution will be doomed to failure. Recalling that 10 Council members, including France, have called for written reports on the Palestinian question, he thanked the Secretariat for preparing such a report in June and called for the practice to continue. He urged Israeli authorities not to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar and forcibly displace its residents, which would fly in the face of the fourth Geneva Convention and relevant Council resolutions, creating irreversible political consequences. Stating that Gaza is on the verge of an abyss, he said the Council’s incomprehensible silence on the matter is deafening. He pressed the United States to maintain its commitment to Palestinians as part of an international mobilization to support UNRWA, adding that the President of France will meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority in Paris tomorrow, and in the same spirit, with the Prime Minister of Israel on the margins of the General Assembly next week.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) reiterated her country’s commitment to achieving a two-State solution through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with all parties focusing on steps conducive to peace. Describing the hatred and dehumanization on both sides as repellent and dangerous, she cautioned Israel against demolishing Khan al-Ahmar and displacing its residents. The United Kingdom is firmly committed to supporting UNRWA — “a lifeline for millions” — but it is concerned by the United States’ decision on its funding, she said, calling on the international community and other donors to join the United Kingdom in stepping up support for the Agency. She emphasized, however, that, for UNRWA to have a sustainable future, it must undertake realistic cost-saving reforms. There is an urgent need to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza, she said, noting that recent deaths on both sides reflected the importance of ending the cycle of violence.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that, 40 years after Camp David and 25 years after the Oslo Accords, there are troubling indications that past efforts are being undermined. How else could the United States’ decision to close the Palestinian office in Washington, D.C., be understood, he wondered, calling for international cooperation on the Palestinian question to be rekindled in the spirit of United States-Russian Federation cooperation and the Madrid process, as well as a relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Noting his country’s initiative to organize a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, he said trends resulting from unilateral decisions must be reversed. In Gaza, robust assistance to Palestinians must dovetail with rebuilding Palestinian unity. Emphasizing the work being carried out by UNRWA, he expressed support for the inclusion of regional players in a Middle East settlement. A fair solution to the Palestinian issue is essential for resolving the situation in the wider region, he said, proposing also that the Council consider his country’s vision of confidence-building measures in the Persian Gulf leading to a regional security architecture.
FRANCISCO TENYA HASEGAWA (Peru) called for ending settlement activities, including the planned demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. Attention is needed to reverse the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza by, among other things, addressing the root causes, he said, reiterating the need for UNRWA to have predictable funding. Efforts must also be made to end violence and to achieve a political agreement.
MA ZHAOXU (China) said prospects for a two-State solution remain elusive, settlement activity continues and violence persists. The international community must promote a political solution, with the Council taking the lead. The international community must also uphold the two-State solution and scale up political and diplomatic efforts to end all settlement activities and demolition plans and to lift the Gaza blockade. A viable way forward should be to identify ways to break the stalemate. Sensitive issues, such as the status of Jerusalem, must be properly addressed to avoid triggering new regional rivalries. He also called for a boost in support for UNRWA to meet urgent needs.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said “the Israeli settlement policy continues unabatedly despite repeated international condemnations”. He seconded calls to Israeli authorities to reconsider the decision to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al‑Ahmar in the West Bank. Stating that Israel’s settlement policy is illegal under international law, and calling for steps to prevent acts of violence against civilians, including terrorism, provocation and destruction, he cited resolution 2334 (2016) and “well-established [European Union] policy” on the distinction between Israel within pre-1967 borders and occupied territory. While another devastating conflict between Israel and Hamas has been averted, he said “it is imperative to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza”. He expressed deep regret over the United States’ decision to halt funding for UNRWA despite that body’s critical role on the ground, contributing to a serious $186 million shortfall. Commending Jordan’s commitment to UNRWA, he urged all countries to step up support. He reaffirmed Sweden’s support for an end to occupation and pursuit of the two-State solution, for which there is no viable alternative, calling for redoubled collective efforts to salvage it.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said the tense security situation on the ground requires that the de-escalation process continue. To that end, she called for stronger cooperation with Egypt, Jordan and other countries in the region. She underscored Poland’s support for a negotiated two-State solution and said the situation in the Gaza Strip is deeply worrying. Inflammatory rhetoric and provocations on both sides are a significant obstacle to restarting the peace process. She expressed deep concern about the deterioration of UNRWA’s financial situation, particularly on youth, and warned: “A lack of hope and real perspectives for young generations — especially in Gaza — could very easily be used for inflammatory rhetoric.” Invoking the international community’s responsibility and duty towards the Palestinians refugees, she stressed that, if the Agency is unable to continue its work on a sound financial basis, there will be grave security and humanitarian consequences in the Palestinian territories and other countries hosting refugees.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) expressed concern that, despite a request by 10 Council members, no printed report from the Secretariat was circulated. Stating that the Government of Israel continues to show a complete disdain for Council resolutions, he said administrative and legal actions are fermenting negative trends on the ground and being used by the Israeli security forces to justify violence against Palestinians and their property. Bolivia is also concerned by the 27 per cent unemployment rate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — the highest in the world, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). He said his country also rejects the politicization of humanitarian assistance, as seen by the withdrawal of support for UNRWA. In that regard, he called on Member States to continue to contribute to the Agency on the understanding that its funding crisis will only worsen the quality of life for all Palestinian refugees.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said it is not an exaggeration to say that Gaza is just a few weeks away from a catastrophic collapse of basic services. Efforts must be redoubled to protect civilians and to compel Israel to respect and implement Security Council resolutions, including a halt to illegal and illegitimate practices. Systematic crimes against unarmed Palestinian civilians amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, he said, adding that the decision to move demolition equipment to Khan al-Ahmar is a gross violation of human rights that also undermines efforts towards a two-State solution. He called anew on the Israeli occupying forces to respect Council resolution 2334 (2016) which stresses that Israeli settlements on Palestinian territories are a gross violation of international law and an obstacle to peace.
He said his delegation looks forward to regular written reports from the Secretariat, in line with requests from 10 Council members. On UNRWA, he said the basic services it provides to more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees are under pressure due to its financial crisis. In that regard, Kuwait calls on donor countries to continue providing the Agency with sustained financial support. Noting the millions of dollars that Kuwait has given to UNRWA in recent years, he said a recent meeting of the League of Arab States on the funding crisis reflected that organization’s full support for its mandate and its rejection of attempts to undermine its role through systematic campaigns launched against it. Concluding, he said Palestinian suffering must awaken the consciousness of the international community to end the injustice. The Palestinian question is the top priority of every Muslim and every Arab, he added.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said it is vital that the parties refrain from actions which may increase frustration and mistrust. The security and humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to be a source of grave concern. Doing everything possible to avoid the worst is still a matter of priority, he emphasized, welcoming United Nations engagement with Egypt and other parties to address the situation in Gaza. Progress in the Egyptian-led reconciliation process is key, he underscored. Twenty-five years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, peace in the Middle East and Palestine continues to elude the international community. He stressed the need to reinvigorate efforts aimed at achieving a comprehensive, lasting and just solution.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) voiced regret over the absence of dialogue on overcoming the impasse to implementing the Oslo Accords, calling on both sides to return to peace talks and set the stage for a fair and lasting peace. Coming to the negotiating table was urgently required, he said, expressing support for the France-led joint declaration signed in January 2017 by 70 countries and international organizations reaffirming their commitment to a two-State solution. Turning to other regional concerns, he remained alarmed about the escalating military and humanitarian crises in Yemen, reiterating his call to immediately cease hostilities. On the Syria crisis, he shared concerns about the current situation in Idlib and called on parties to end the violence.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), welcoming efforts to restore calm and expand humanitarian assistance to the region, echoed United Nations warnings of a cycle of conflicts in the Middle East. He welcomed the circulation of a written report in June and said it is important to continue the standard practice of receiving reports ahead of the reporting period. He called for a complete freeze on settlement construction, stressing that the deliberate policy of demolishing Palestinian buildings and settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem undermines the viability of the two-State solution. Kazakhstan is concerned about the Israeli authorities’ intention to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin community of 181 people and it is alarmed about by Israel’s announcement of a plan to expand the Tina Omarim illegal settlement in Dahrieyh, in Hebron. “We call on the Israeli authorities not to proceed with the demolition and stop efforts to resettle Palestinian communities in the West Bank,” he said. Supporting UNRWA is critical, especially as the situation in Gaza is desperate with over two thirds of the population dependent on humanitarian aid. Stressing the need to unite all Palestinian factions under a legitimate and democratic Palestinian Authority, he called upon the Middle East Quartet to resume its indispensable negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OSTEROOM (Netherlands), noting that 25 years have passed since the Oslo Agreements were signed, said progress remains incomplete, with widening divisions further entrenching themselves between Gaza and the West Bank. Illegal Israeli settlements continue to grow unabated, he said, condemning Israel’s recent announcement that it will build 2,000 new units. Voicing concern about waning support for a two-State solution on both sides of the conflict, he spotlighted the planned eviction and demolition of the village of Khan al-Ahmar and called on Israel to reconsider those actions — which, if carried out, will have serious consequences for both the village’s residents and for the two-State solution itself. Emphasizing that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is worsening by the day with unemployment now above 50 per cent, he called on parties to ensure that protests at the border remain peaceful, and on Israel to ensure that its responses are proportionate, necessary and in line with international law. “In the absence of economic recovery, people are dependent on humanitarian aid,” he said, voicing support for UNRWA and welcoming additional funding by its partners during the Agency’s financial crisis.
Job Obiang Esono Mbengono (Equatorial Guinea) said peace between Israel and the Palestinians is an increasingly distant prospect, with the Oslo Accords in danger of becoming obsolete amid a lack of confidence in the viability of the two‑State solution. The parties must refrain from actions that will complicate the situation, he said, adding that Israel must understand that it must drop its demolition policy and excessive use of force. Emphasizing that the insurgency in Gaza — a direct result of the Palestinian Authority’s absence — threatens Israeli security, he called for greater support for Egypt’s initiative to promote intra‑Palestinian reconciliation. He voiced extreme concern over UNRWA’s financial situation, joined other Council members in calling for written quarterly Secretariat reports, and appealed for greater efforts to resume negotiations that would lead to a two-State solution based on 1967 borders. Both parties have the same right to live in peace and security and they must respect Council resolutions in that regard, he added.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said today’s debate was excessively and unfairly focused on Israel. However, if one country is the source of instability in the Middle East, it is Iran, she said, adding that it is difficult to identify a conflict in the region that did not bear Iran’s fingerprints. She cited Iraq as an example of Iran trampling on the sovereignty of its neighbours, with proxy militias operating openly and the Tehran regime attacking the headquarters in Iraq of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, killing 11 people, in Iran’s first direct military strike into Iraqi territory in more than a decade. “This Iranian interference in the sovereignty of Iraq should be of great interest to the Security Council for many reasons, not least of which is because it occurred in clear defiance of Security Council resolutions,” she said, stating that General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force and the subject of a Security Council travel ban dating back to 2007, is leading an effort to influence the composition of a new Iraqi Government.
Recalling rocket attacks two weeks ago by Iranian proxy groups against the United States Embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Basra, she said the use of proxy forces did not give the Iranian regime plausible deniability when such incidents occur. “The Trump Administration does not and will not buy that,” she said, adding that her Government will hold the Iranian regime accountable for attacks on United States facilities and personnel and will not hesitate to protect American lives. The United States is committed to helping Iraq create an inclusive and independent Government and to recover from years of conflict and tyranny, she said, but Iran’s interference is pulling Iraq back into conflict and division — and it is doing the same thing in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region. All Council members who respect the principle of national sovereignty should be concerned and those who support the right to self‑determination of the Iraqi people should go to their defence, she said.